Monday, October 29, 2012

The Evil Dead Remake: Will it Deliver?

With the remake of The Evil Dead on the horizon, now seems as good of a time as any to talk about one of the best franchises that horror film has to offer.  

Fans have been clamoring for years for a fourth installment to the Evil Dead franchise, the last film of which premiered just over a decade ago. Instead of getting another sequel featuring Ash (played by the B-Movie king Bruce Campbell) hacking through monsters with his chainsaw hand while spewing one-liners, fans are instead going to be treated to a remake of the underrated first film of the series. Fans seem to be split between disappointment (an Ash-less Evil Dead film being the main cause) and excitement.

The oddest thing about the Evil Dead franchise (I guess I can’t call it a trilogy anymore?) is it’s inconsistency of tone. In the first film, five friends head to a cabin deep in the woods where they awaken an ancient evil. What follows is a series of gruesome moments: a book bound in human skin is found in the basement, a woman is raped by trees which cause her to be a host to some sort of demon, possessed individuals are disposed of by bodily dismemberment, Bruce Campbell is thrown into every bookshelf in the cabin, and ending it all is a disgustingly beautiful stop-motion scene of decay. Despite the hilarity to be found in some of the movie’s situations (seriously, he is thrown into every bookshelf) the tone is pure horror; the tree rape is still high in my list of most disturbing movie scenes.

Then comes the sequel, which isn’t even as much a sequel as it is a reboot. I have to admit to some head scratching as a kid, the first time I watched this one. Here the film opens with Ash, driving to the cabin with Linda (who doesn’t make it through the first one). What follows is a ten minute rehash of the first film, with a cast of two instead of five.  It’s also apparent from the beginning that the tone has taken a severe shift. This isn’t a horror film, it’s a comedy horror and while this is not a bad thing, I was off put the first time I watched it, as I was expecting terror instead of laughs. Although the film contains a few creepy moments, and will make you jump once or twice, it’s not really scary at all. The possessed are goofy, and laughable, instead of vulgar and disgusting as in the first film. Instead of possessed being dismembered while spewing blood and some sort of milky substance, Evil Dead 2 has Ash doing battle with his own hand, and laughing deer heads. This tone continues into Army of Darkness, which also works as a direct sequel.  The highlight of the two later films is Bruce Campbell’s portrayal as Ash. In the first film he was bland, but it seems he was reworked to be a badass, chainsaw-wielding king of one-liners. He truly is a riot to watch, and without him I don’t think the latter films would have found much success at all, and success they have found, as they remain the more popular films in the series.

So what can be expected of the new entry into the franchise? From the teaser it is very clear that this one will not offer many laughs. Don’t expect to see Ash fighting some of his usual enemies like his possessed hand, or mini versions of himself. As a matter of fact, don’t expect to see Ash at all. The entire group seems to have been re-worked, and now features a female in the lead.  The lack of Ash seems to be the main source of disappointment for fans, all of whom have hungered years for his return. Others (myself included) are looking forward to the film revisiting its grisly horror roots.

Although I love all of the films, I’ve always held a fondness for the first, and while it might seem blasphemous to Evil Dead fans everywhere, I’d even go as far to say the first was my favorite. As much as I love horror comedies, sometimes I just prefer my horror to simply be horror. I want to be frightened. I want to be disturbed. I want to have trouble sleeping the night after I watch the movie. Watching the first film left me glad I wasn’t going on a weekend getaway to the woods, while the latter films left me with a head full of fun quotes.

So with the redband teaser now online, fans can get their first taste of what it’s going to be like. Expect to see another tree rape scene, and although the glimpse of it we are shown is tiny, I have a feeling it’s going to be even more disturbing this time around. The setting looks nearly identical to the original film. As for as the possessed, they look even more disturbing. It seems someone thought it was a good idea to add masochism to the mix, and as many times as I’ve watched the teaser, my gut still clenches with the final shot of the girl sawing her tongue in half with the razor blade. A copious amount of gore is definitely a requirement that is being fulfilled.

So what’s the final verdict? Horror remakes are typically pretty awful, although over the years a few have managed to be good, and a few have even been better than the original (The Thing, The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). When I first heard of the remake I just kind of shook my head, and muttered something to the effect of “why don’t you just leave good films alone?” My trepidation decreased when I heard that Raimi and Campbell were signed on as producers. The two of them being involved seemed like a sort of safety net for the film. With the redband teaser now released, I now feel actual excitement. As much as I’d love to see Ash return and do his thing, it’s great to see the remake honoring the first film, which always seemed sort of “left behind”. And as long as a chainsaw and the necronomicon are both involved, it can’t be bad.

So what are your thoughts on the Evil Dead remake? Are you excited, disappointed, or a mixture of both? Comment below!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: A Season In Carcosa - Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

The late 1800’s were host to a few pieces of literature that would forever alter the way readers see the color yellow. The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, saw publication in 1892, and focused on a wife who obsesses with yellow wallpaper, driving herself mad. As creepy as this story is, it is mostly known today as an important work of feminist literature. It was three years later, in 1895, when Robert Chambers’ collection The King in Yellow would see publication, taking the connection between yellow and madness one step further, into the realm of the supernatural.

The first four stories in Chamber’s collection are connected by common plot devices and themes: a play titled The King In Yellow, a mysterious and evil being also referred to as The King In Yellow, a symbol called The Yellow Sign, decadence, decay, and madness. Over the years these stories, along with others by various authors, have become something of their own Mythos, similar to what many people have dubbed the Cthulhu Mythos or Lovecraft Mythos. Despite the similarities and sometimes overlaps between stories from either Mythos, the “Yellow Mythos” is proving more and more that it can stand independently .

One of the authors who championed Chambers for years is Joseph Pulver Sr. He has written several stories and poems dealing with the King in Yellow, along with promoting other writers that do the same. One of the fruits of his labor is the recently published A Season In Carcosa. This small press anthology, published by Miskatonic River Press, contains twenty short stories and one poem, all dealing with the mythology of Chambers’ stories.

Anthologies are usually a mixed bag, and a perfect anthology is a rare thing indeed. While this anthology is not perfect, the good manages to far outweigh the bad. Pulver has managed to gather a nice variety of stories, from a very talented group of authors. Madness, decadence, and the King himself are explored in several ways. Some tales are modern and others take place in the past. The one common thread that connects all of them is the link between madness and the color yellow.

Some favorites include:

Beyond the Banks of the River Seine is another example of why Simon Strantzas is a must-read author. It has an antique feel and explores themes such as jealousy and competition between two young music students. While easy to see where the story is going, the arrogant narrator and beautiful language makes for an entertaining read.

It sees me when I’m not looking, by Gary MacMahon, has a noir feel, and follows a poet as he comes into contact with the Yellow Mythos. It’s definitely a more subtle tale, and is all the better for it.

Cody Goodfellow’s Wishing Well features a paranoid, mentally ill protagonist as he deals with a haunting past as a cast member an a surreal kid’s show. The man’s foggy memory mixed with the sheer wrongness of the show helps this story to leave a lasting impression. As I read passages about the show’s history, I couldn’t help but think of One Got Fat, a 1962 bicycle safety video which has the cast of youths wearing macabre monkey masks and never speaking a word.

Richard Gavin’s story, The Hymn of the Hyades, stands out because of the main character. Instead of a troubled or artistic adult, we are treated to a story from a child’s point of view. It’s refreshing to experience the madness of the King through the eyes of a child who can’t even come close to understanding what is happening.

Sweetums by John Langan is one giant set piece of madness and terror. Literally. A down on her luck actress takes a role in an auteur’s film, and wanders around a large movie set. It is literally a tour through scene after scene of surreal madness. The way she flits from room to room and sees smaller parts of the whole adds a very dreamlike quality to the story. There’s enough creepiness here for the story to stick with the reader long after reading.  

MS Found in a Chicago Hotel Room is one of the best stories of the collection. It is such an interesting spin on the King and has a nice twist on the ending. I will definitely be hunting down more work by Daniel Mills.

Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars by Gemma Files is another standout story. Files utilizes a second person narrative, which is rather uncommon. This is not an easy task to pull off, as it often comes off as feeling “gimmicky”, yet in this case it only seems to help immerse the reader into an unsettling tale about an eerie island that may or may not be a gateway to another world. This might just be the best story in the anthology.

Laird Barron also has a standout tale, D T, which is a story dealing with an alcoholic author and his doppelganger. Barron has never disappointed, and doesn’t start now.

There were a few mediocre to good stories, and only two that I found to be weak. One story in particular makes me wonder if the printed version was an unedited early draft. Movie Night At Phil’s is plagued with errors, both spelling and grammatical, to the point that it was a struggle to finish the story. As a lover of film I was looking forward to the story, but it just seems sloppy.This doesn’t seem typical of Don Webb, as his story Sanctuary (Cthulhu’s Reign 2010) is one of my favorites from that anthology.

Kristin Prevallet’s Whose Hearts Are Pure Gold is another story that didn’t work for me. The story has an interesting premise, following a sheltered girl who goes out on her own and spirals out of control. It also raises a question as to whether she is just mentally ill, or if the “yellow pin” she found at home is really the cause of what’s going on. As much as I loved those questions that were raised, the style in which it is written is extremely bland, blunting it from making much of an impact at all.

Overall, A Season In Carcosa is a strong anthology with a good amount to offer. If you’re a Chambers fan, than this anthology is must have. If you’re a fan of Lovecraftian horror, or any horror dealing with madness, then odds are that you will greatly enjoy this anthology. For any casual horror readers this book would greatly serve as a modern introduction into the “Yellow Mythos”. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

So it begins

Today marks the start of what I hope to be an enjoyable and successful addition to the world of review blogs. This is something I've wanted to do for quite awhile now, ever since I started reading them myself a few years ago. It took awhile for the proper amount of motivation to kick in, and without the encouragement from friends it probably wouldn't have. You could say that this blog is long overdue, if anything.

I have always considered myself an avid reader, and sharing my love of books with others has always been important. Whether it be through a book club, or just a chat with friends of similar tastes, there was always something refreshing about being able to share one's ideas and feelings about stories, books, and authors. It's a necessary outlet.

So what do I hope to accomplish with The Arkham Digest? I want to share my thoughts, I want to grow and improve as both a reader and a writer, I want to foster discussion among people with similar interests, and most of all I want to add to a community that I love.

So thanks, and welcome. Stick around and join in. Any requests, suggestions, and comments are encouraged, so don't be shy. After all, it's the readers who make the blog.

-Justin Steele