Another holiday is upon us, which means one thing: more Beer And A Movie Crossovers! Are these reviews your favorite way to celebrate the holidays? They’re definitely mine. Usually Gabe and I watch very, very bad horror movies (sometimes they’re even so bad we stop watching them, as with ThanksKilling last year). However, this time we watched two movies which, even if they’re not good movies in the conventional sense, are part of the most famous camp classic horror trilogy of all time: The Evil Dead. First up were The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2!
I’m going to break the unwritten rule of these BAAM crossovers to speak seriously for a moment about Camp movies. Even though The Evil Dead is not a good movie in the conventional sense of the word, it has real value as a Camp film. Susan Sontag wrote a great (and short, at least for Sontag) essay on Camp which I highly suggest if you’re bored or feeling pretentious, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to cherry-pick a few points to illustrate basic tenets of Camp. In order to qualify as camp, a film (or book or lamp or whatever) must:
1) Be highly artificial
2) Be affectionate towards and/or serious about its subject matter
3) Be purposely or accidentally self-parodic
4) Value style above all else.
“Considered a little less strictly, Camp is either completely naive or else wholly conscious (when one plays at being campy).”
Did I just kill the fun of Camp for you? I apologize. Let’s dive right into the bucket of blood that is The Evil Dead, and I promise not to take myself (or this movie) so seriously anymore.
What do you get when you cross bad special effects, surprisingly good camera work, a cliche-heavy plot and some trees with boundary issues? The Evil Dead, of course! The movie that launched the careers of Sam Raimi (of Spiderman and Xena fame) and Bruce Campbell (of being-Bruce-Freaking-Campbell fame), this homage to 70s horror is a veritable treasure trove of innocent and intentional Camp. In brief, it’s the story of 4 friends who go to a cabin in the woods, discover an evil book of the dead bound in human flesh, accidentally unleash all sorts of demons, and quickly drop like zombified flies until only one of them – “nerdy” Ash, played by Bruce Campbell and Bruce Campbell’s Magnificent Jawline – is left to battle the corpses of his sister, his girlfriend, and his bro. Rough night.
The Evil Dead is, for the most part, innocent of its own campiness. Like many directors of camp classics (Ed Wood being the best example), Sam Raimi was trying to make the best movie homage he could on a very tiny budget. This very tiny budget means that makeup and special effects are inconsistent and often laughable, since they change scene-by-scene and often shot-by-shot. Added to this element is Raimi’s clear love of the over-the-top gruesomeness of the 1970s films he is parroting. When one character gets stabbed in the ankle with a pencil, the action keeps cutting back from reactions to the blood-oozing ankle, allowing initial shock to fade and be replaced by a giggling awareness that the blood effect used is very, very fake.
Probably the best example of camp in The Evil Dead is the infamous molesting tree scene. The premise alone is absurd: girl runs into the forest and gets sexually assaulted by trees. The scene starts out horrific: the girl is chased by an unknown demon in demon POV, until she’s tangled up in the bushes. Very quickly, it’s apparent that the bushes are purposefully tangling her up. After that, the scene slides into parody. The lingering shots of vines ripping clothes and caressing thighs becomes too silly, especially since the longer you stare at the vines, the clearer it is that they’re fake. I’m not saying the scene isn’t uncomfortable or in bad taste. It’s absolutely both of those things. But the artificiality of the premise and the effects pushes the scene from horror to camp, making jokes like the above easier to crack. But if The Evil Dead is mostly unconscious self-parody, what about Evil Dead 2?
Evil Dead 2 is an almost perfect example of self-aware Camp in horror (others include Cabin in the Woods and Army of Darkness). The film is almost entirely self-referential. The first 10 minutes are a hurried recap of the events of The Evil Dead (minus a few main characters). Instead of focusing on silly things like “plot” or “exposition,” the middle third of the film basically becomes a series of shorts of Ash trying to get out of the cabin, watching his dead girlfriend do a ballet with her head, being sprayed by all kinds of gore, fighting his own demon hand, and going quickly insane in a scene that reminded me a lot of the talking furniture in Peewee’s Fun House. Eventually plot does appear in the form of four more disposable characters to be possessed and/or maimed, but by the time they show up the film has already firmly rooted itself in parody.
Self-referential camp can be hard to pull off, since a film can quickly become self-aggrandizing or patronizing towards its subject matter. Like the earnestness of innocent camp, what saves self-referential camp from merely being bad is affection for its subject matter. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell clearly loved their first film together, and didn’t hesitate to bring the ridiculous events of the first film to their illogical conclusion. My favorite example is the aforementioned demon hand scene. Ash’s hand (but fortunately not the rest of him) is possessed by a demon, and immediately begins attacking him. It smashes him against walls, breaks plates over his head, and actually manages to knock him out before he gets the better of it by means of a chainsaw (and an accompanying hilarious blood splatter effect). All of this is done with great comic timing and mime worthy of Charlie Chaplin, making a scene which could (at least in theory) be scary into a slapstick parody of the constant demon-possession which makes up the backbone of the Evil Dead movies.
By now it should be clear that I love The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. This may be somewhat surprising, since I’m terrified of horror movies/haunted houses/things that go bump in the night. However, the inherent artificiality of Camp allows me (and presumably other scaredy-cat viewers) to distance myself from the possible horror of the situation and instead enjoy it for all its ridiculousness. I fear that with this Very Serious Review I may have dampened the enjoyment of these films, so I promise for Army Of Darkness I will be lighter. In the meantime, go check out Gabe’s review of both the beer and our two movies. See you here again soon!