I moseyed down to a local cineplex yesterday for a twin-bill showing of Evil Dead, the remake (re-imagining, whatever) of the Sam Raimi classic, and The Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie’s newest flick. I just wanted to share a few thoughts on each movie.
Evil Dead establishes early that the viewer should not expect shlock or camp. Apart from a few minor bloody fingerprints of dark comedy, this is deadly serious start to finish. The screenplay (collaboratively written by four people, including director Fede Alvarez) works hard to illustrate the dramatic weight of each relationship impacting David, played by Shiloh Fernandez. From his junkie sister to his nurse friend with sexual tension to his childhood friend who has since soured on him, there is plenty at stake when most of these people die. Interestingly enough, his girlfriend seems to carry the least dramatic significance, which just never bodes well for a character’s fate. The dialogue in these early scenes is pretty stilted, and you can feel the wheels churning as they rush to introduce all relevant information before the bloodshed kicks in. When it does, where your ponchos, ‘cause it gets messy. This movie has a serious vendetta against human limbs. There are some really solid set-pieces with nasty FX and slimy sound, like Jessica Lucas’ creepy, cringe-inducing turn. Evil Dead aims to terrify, disgust, and delight gorehounds. While the scares aren’t as effective as the gruesome effects (which mostly avoid the trappings of bad CG), this is still a genre offering I would encourage horror fans to give a chance, even if they are reluctant due to the pedigree of the original film. But Evil Dead is a totally different animal. For instance, it doesn’t have “The” in the title. Jane Levy, who plays the recovering addict Mia, steals the show with her deranged, physical performance. She drools, crawls, screams, and creepily grins her way through violent personality shifts in the most crucial role of the film.
I then used my stealth skills to crawl on the ceilings and jump shadow to shadow to find my way to The Lords of Salem theater. Rob Zombie is one of those directors (like Tim Burton, David Lynch, or Alejandro Jodorowsky) that has his own stamp of style, a mark (of the devil) that is undeniably his own. Unfortunately, his trademark gallows humor only pumps out in inconsistent spurts, and we’re left with a film that is both thematically sprawling, physically claustrophobic, disinterested in narrative clarity and the relationships between its characters after the second act, and equates to a long stare at a painting. As the lead character, a radio DJ with a mysterious connection to Salem’s bloody history of witchcraft persecution, Sheri Moon Zombie is entirely passable. The range required for the role isn’t tremendous, but she’s appropriately amiable to receive our sympathies, and a victim of circumstance entirely beyond her control. The real trouble is that all the work to develop her character is discarded as the “LET’S SEE HOW CRAZY THIS CAN GET” approach takes lead, resulting in an eye-rolling number of dream sequences and inexplicable location changes. It feels like this was written in the same day-to-day manner as Lynch’s Inland Empire, a similar occasionally captivating but mostly deeply flawed film that left me disappointed. Most of The Lords of Salem felt like a reason to see how hot Rob Zombie’s wife is, and how awesomely her character’s apartment is decorated. Stylistically this film definitely aspires to be The Shining by way of Rosemary’s Baby, as directed by Jean Rollin, who never saw a lady draped in sheer cloth he didn’t feel compelled to film. I have long admired Zombie’s passion for film, his jubilant cinematic voice that brings a refreshing, approachable quality to a grindhouse mentality, but this lumbering, tedious film was barely worth my sneaky zero-dollar admission fee. But hey, genre heroes Ken Foree and Dee Wallace camp it up and have some fun, so that’s cool, right?