Archive for the ‘The Evil Dead’ Tag

What Lies Beneath “Cabin in the Woods” ?   Leave a comment

RULE No. 1: Never visit a remote cabin with no cell phone reception. Rule No. 2: Never go in the basement. Curt (Chris Hemsworth) and his pals commit horror no-nos.

By C. Michael Forsyth

Ever wonder why characters in horror movies choose the worst possible time and place to have sex? Why they descend into the pitch-black basement of a house that’s obviously haunted? Split up so they can be picked off one by one? All these questions and just about every other you’ve asked yourself while munching popcorn are answered in The Cabin in the Woods.

Produced and co-written by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Cabin in the Woods is a tour de force that works as a horror film, workplace comedy and genre-demolishing satire. It’s Westworld meets Wrong Turn meets Evil Dead, to mention just three of the innumerable movies to which it plays loving homage and/or gleefully skewers.

In the movie, five young college students fitting neatly into recognizable types vacation in an isolated cabin where horrific events begin to unfold. Unbeknownst to them, everything is being orchestrated by a cadre of puppet masters in a vast underground complex. The staff includes managers, technicians, accountants, maintenance workers and even geeky interns. (I don’t consider all this a spoiler since it’s revealed within the first three minutes — if you didn’t already figure it out from the trailer).

MONSTERS, INC. Horror is all in a day's work for company guys and gal Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker & Bradley Whitford.

The film derives much of its humor from the high jinks of these Dilbert-type drones. At one point, the bored-out-of-their-skulls staffers organize a betting pool on what horror the hapless vacationers will face first. En route to the cabin, the students ignore the cryptic warnings of a creepy old gas station attendant. When the guy later calls in to report, the staff puts him on speaker phone and giggle as he continues to drone on ominously.

WHO watches the watchers? Holden (Jesse Williams) happens upon a one-way mirror as Dana AKA The Virgin (Kristen Connolly) strips.

The concept is thought-provoking. What we generally think of as stereotypes – the Virgin, the Whore, the Jock, the Brain, the Comic Relief — are elevated to archetypes. It’s the best deconstruction of the horror genre since Scream, on a level that would impress Bruno Bettleheim, the celebrated analyst of fairytales.

RULE No. 3: Never allow yourself to be trapped in a siege situation.

Some critics describe the movie as an allegory for the process of filmmaking itself. How can you argue? The staffers even call their mysterious boss “The Director.” Beneath that layer of meaning, there’s also a wry commentary about our surveillance society. Marty, the wisecracking pothead paranoiac and “The Fool” of the group, points out that “Society isn’t falling apart, it’s coming together.” As he puts it, the “cracks are filling in” as technology devours privacy and living off the grid becomes increasingly impossible.

DUMBED DOWN: Jules (Anna Hutchinson) shows poor judgement after going blonde.

Tropes of the horror genre are simultaneously observed and lampooned. Sexy pre-med student Jules (Anna Hutchison) has just dyed her hair blonde when the story begins and it’s later revealed that a chemical secretly placed in the dye makes Jules, AKA “The Whore” act stupid.

While not likely to make you quiver in fear, the movie meets the basic requirements of a horror film: Suspense, characters you root for, formidable dangers and enough gore to satisfy fans of traditional horror flicks.

POTHEAD Marty (Fran Kranz) wields an unlikely weapon.

Brawny Chris Hemsworth (Thor in The Avengers) delivers a winning performance as Curt, the brave Jock. Fran Kranz earns plenty of chuckles as Marty, the Fool. He fills the position Shaggy did in Scooby Doo and looks the part as well. But the real stars here are Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the world-weary managers of the operation. Whitford, best known for his role as White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on TV’s The West Wing sends up his in-control, seen-it-all image with obvious relish. And Jenkins, looking like a worn-out NASA engineer, is even more droll and cynical than he was as the disembodied dad in HBO’s Six Feet Under.

The climax of the film is in keeping with its blend of humor and horror — way, way over the top, in a good way.

SPEAKING OF JOSS WHEDON…

HORROR and comedy were perfectly blended in Joss Whedon's TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

No one mixes comedy and horror better than Joss Whedon, as I’m learning right now as I watch TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time on Netflix. Somehow I managed to miss the series when it debuted in the late ’90s. I’m blown away by how good it is – one of the handful of TV series, along with Highlander, that is far superior to the film that inspired it.

The playfulness is pure joy. In the episode I saw last night, Xander believes Willow has turned into a vampire and thrusts a crucifix in her face. When she fails to recoil, he shakes it like a flashlight that might need its batteries jiggled.

WHEN Angel was good he was good and when he was bad, he was very, very bad.


But drama is equally well handled. The brilliant storytelling is displayed when Buffy loses her virginity to good-guy vampire Angel. Following convention, love might cure him of vampirism. Instead, in an inversion of Beauty and the Beast, he becomes evil, his soul ejected from his body. In the hands of a less talented writer, the next scene would be Angel bursting into Buffy’s room, fangs bared. Instead he simply acts like a jerk, humiliating her by showing her the night of passion meant nothing to him. Far more sadistic. And, since this is an experience many a young woman will recognize, it helps to ground the series in reality, keeping it a coming of age story as well as a butt-kicking action/adventure show. The more you watch Buffy, the worse Twilight looks by comparison.

The intensely dramatic and horrific is always leavened by wit. In the episode in which fellow vampire slayer Kendra dies tragically she first gives Buffy her “lucky stake” — which she has nicknamed “Mr. Pointy.” In the same episode Buffy’s watcher Giles sheepishly admits that he’s been using the crystal orb that can restore Angel’s soul as a paperweight.

BOYFRIEND PROBLEMS weren't the only things Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had to worry about.

I’m only midway through Season 3 and have already met so many wonderful characters, most memorably Spike, the cockney vampire with the Billy Idol hair and penchant for puppy love. By turns terrifying and laughable, James Marsters is absolutely magnetic in the role. (He won the poll of Sexiest Male Screen Vampire on this site by a landslide). Speaking recently to a publisher who uses Marsters for a lot of audio books, I was surprised to learn the star isn’t even English!

Spike (James Marsters) is the bloodsucking blond British punk you love to hate in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

I love how characters are allowed to evolve. A pitfall of many series is that characters remain exactly as originally written and are unaffected by the events that befall them. Most infamously Dana Scully in X Files, who is skeptical of werewolves even after battling vampires.

DROPPING his English reserve, Giles became a father figure to Buffy.


Buffy’s mentor Rupert Giles (Anthony Head) could have been a thankless role: a character like Bosley in Charlie’s Angels who does little more than provide exposition then step out of the way to let the girls swing into action. Instead, he develops a tender father-daughter relationship with Buffy that is the backbone of the series. He’s allowed to have romances. And the shy British librarian is not above opening a jar of good old English whup ass to save Buffy’s bum from time to time.

ANY role in which you get to wear an eye patch ain't all bad. Nicholas Brendon as Xander.

In fact there are no thankless roles in Whedon’s world. Xander, initially merely a goofball, becomes an increasingly heroic figure, always willing to charge into battle though lacking any special powers. This “geek” eventually gets to kiss almost every girl on the show. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof), who briefly assumes the role of Buffy’s watcher and is even stuffier than Giles, is insufferable. And rich-bitch Cordelia is intractably airheaded. Yet even they get a chance to evolve into heroes themselves in the Buffy spinoff Angel.

ANNOYING Wesley and Cordelia developed into interesting characters in the spin-off series Angel.

Though the show premiered nearly 15 years ago, it doesn’t seem dated – you barely notice that the teens don’t text. Some aspects of high school are universal. You will always have good girls, snobs, class clowns and nerds. As in Cabin in the Woods, there are some archetypes that just don’t die. Or sometimes die violently.

Copyright C. Michael Forsyth

C. Michael Forsyth, the author of this article, has written a critically acclaimed horror novel Hour of the Beast. Plans for a major motion picture are now in the works!

To check out Hour of the Beast visit Amazon.com or save $4 by clicking HERE. The Kindle version is just $7 and the eBook is a mere $5.

The REAL Evil Dead: Nazi Zombies Raise Hell in “Dead Snow”   Leave a comment

THE FROZEN DEAD: Nazi zombies — I hate those guys.

By C. Michael Forsyth

Nazis are scary and evil. Zombies are scary and evil. Nazi zombies are twice as scary and evil, right? Not necessarily, as the movie “Dead Snow” demonstrates.

The Norwegian zombie flick is about a group of young medical students who take a fun holiday break in a mountain cabin – unaware that the snow-covered peaks are infested with the reanimated corpses of German troops who froze to death there during World War II. It isn’t long before the murderous Nazi zombies blitzkrieg the campers, who must fight for their lives.

The movie isn’t particularly frightening. Turns out that Nazis don’t become any worse by virtue of being walking corpses – they’ve already maxed out. And zombies aren’t any more evil because they’re Nazis. Regardless of their politics, zombies pretty much all do the same thing: Kill, disembowel and eat people.

The filmmakers had an opportunity to come up with a neat mythology explaining the German soldiers’ return from the dead. We know the Nazis were devotees of the occult. Or perhaps a Gypsy cast a curse on the mass-murdering troops. But no explanation is offered.

JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS: Nazi stormtrooper takes no prisoners.

Story logic is thrown out the window: The cabin has been in the family of one of the women for decades, yet she has no clue there’s anything dangerous about the area. In fact, she elects to get to the cabin by cross-country skiing instead of joining the rest of the gang in cars. The campers are warned about the Nazi menace by a creepy old geezer who stops by the cabin – yet he camps out in the middle of snow at night, only to become zombie fodder. The Nazis are drawn to their missing gold (an interesting, if not entirely original angle). Yet the attacks begin before the campers discover the gold. The zombie colonel (yes, the goose-stepping undead stormtroopers are still just following orders) commands hundreds of his men to rise from their snowy graves at once. But inexplicably, he waits till the end of the flick to do this, after dozens of the zombies have been picked off one by one.

The most original thing about the film is the setting, that forbidding snow-enshrouded wilderness. The landscape allows for set pieces I’ve never seen in a horror movie before. That scene when the undead horde suddenly rises from the snow on the orders of their mottled leader is especially effective. And you have to give the movie makers credit for braving the 15-degree weather, dangerous crevasses and foot-deep snow of the Scandinavian mountains to bring us the film.

ZEIG HEIL! Colonel Herzog is even more evil dead than he was alive.

The director Tommy Wirkola said in an interview with Cinema Junkie that he was imitating the style of Sam Raimi, creator of the slapstick-filled “Evil Dead” movies. The movie, he explained, was basically a chance to show Nazi zombies being killed in as many gory, over-the-top and humorous ways as possible.

“We tried to do Sam Raimi but in a new way and we just wanted a really fun, fun film. That’s it,” he explained. “We really didn’t bother too much about the rules.”

Sure, okay. I grew up on “Hogan’s Heroes”. I know how hilarious those bumbling Nazis can be.

Certainly there are some funny moments: After one of the campers is bitten on the arm, he hacks it offf with a chainsaw (a tribute to Bruce Campbell in “The Evil Dead”). As he stands there grinning triumphantly, a zombie emerges from the snow and bites his “wedding tackle.” He and his companion trade dismayed “Oh, oh, what now?” looks.

The difference is “The Evil Dead” trilogy truly worked as both comedy and horror. The stories unfolded logically and you truly rooted for Bruce Campbell’s character Ash to survive. In “Dead Snow” the supernatural story simply doesn’t come together and you’re not particularly invested in the characters.

So, while there is some gory fun here, I’m afraid I can only give “Dead Snow” a two out of five swastika rating.

MORE FROM THE AUTHOR OF THIS STORY …

Through January 27 only "The Identity Thief" is FREE on Kindle! (Usually  $5.99)

Through January 31 only “The Identity Thief” is FREE on Kindle! (Usually $5.99)


The tables turn on an identity thief in the latest thriller by C. Michael Forsyth. To check it out, click HERE.

The tables turn on an identity thief in the latest thriller by C. Michael Forsyth. To check it out, click HERE.

The author of this review has written a critically acclaimed horror novel. The Horror Fiction Review raves that Hour of the Beast is a “rip-snorting, action-packed sexy college romp.”

You can check out Hour of the Beast at Amazon.com, or save $4 by by clicking HERE. The eBook is a measly $5!

%d bloggers like this: