This movie boasts the tagline of “The most terrifying film you will ever experience.” Frankly, that should be taken as merely a marketing idea used to generate interest and talk about the movie. Still, it requires a response from pretty much every movie reviewer out there. For me, no, it was not at all the most terrifying movie I have ever experienced. My feelings on the film are mixed. This has something to do with whether it is a good remake or not, and almost as much to do with if it’s an effective horror movie.
Five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin with the intent of allowing their friend Mia (Jane Levy) to undergo a full detox from her drug addictions. However, when they discover a Book of the Dead, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons living in the nearby woods, which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival.
I go into these remakes with the intent of judging them on their own merits because do so otherwise almost dooms you to hating it outright. However, even though it has been a while since I’ve last seen The Evil Dead, it’s not a complicated movie to remember. Partially, I feel this is a movie best experienced if you haven’t seen the original because I found myself sort of just waiting for it to get to the point. I saw it going through a couple of the motions from the original as well as setting up its drug intervention plot, and I was just waiting for it to get the new, good stuff. This is just the first act of the film, but the film does feel a little uneven in never really giving you a sense of distinct plot progression. This is partly due to knowing the original as well as I do. Knowing how the original was plotted out, where the story turns were, and how and where it ended caused a problem for me here. This remake lead me down the same path that the original took for long enough to where I anticipated it continuing down that same path, but then, only after I began to believe that did it throw a major swerve at me. My knowledge of the original film worked against my enjoyment of the remake because it kept making me believe it was going to do the same thing when it wasn’t. In the second act, there’s enough familiar material with a new spin on it to make it interesting, but it’s still familiar material that will stir up memories of what made those moments classics in the first place and how they are just here for fan service. They are surely well done moments, never betraying the severely serious horror tone, but yeah, they were just better back when they were original ideas instead of retreaded concepts.
This movie surely has some frightening scenes and definitely one terrifying moment. I did get some serious chills running through me at various points, but it took until all hell broke loose before any of that happened. Up until then, it was cheap jump scares of dark figures just lurking in the distance not actually doing anything, or having any relevance to what was going on. Even the reprise of the tree rape scene just felt monotonous because it was nothing new to me. Again, it’s an example of being familiar with the original being a detriment to experiencing this remake. I’m sure someone seeing that cold would be very frightened and unsettled by it. Ultimately, the film is a mix of creepiness, skin crawling sickening imagery, jump scares, and shock horror. I can get into the first two, but the latter two mostly left me a little lukewarm. As I’ve said in many previous horror movie reviews, it takes no talent to just soak the screen with gore, or have something jump out at you abruptly. I give more credit to well crafted suspense and tension, which there is some of that here, but mostly, Evil Dead wants to be shocking and creepy. There are a number of effective moments of frightening gore, but the movie didn’t keep me wrapped up in tension and fear.
The make-up effects are indeed top notch. The people responsible really did a fantastic job creating a very raw and visceral look to all the gore. This all looked like practical blood splattering everywhere, and the make-up work on the possessed characters was well done, even if it lacked originality. Frankly, their make-up design was more akin to Linda Blair in The Exorcist than any Deadites we saw in the original Evil Dead trilogy. The self-mutilation also follows more along those lines instead of the demon possession simply disfiguring each person by default. Frankly, yes, the self-mutilation is simply there for more shock value, which is fine, but it only carries the film so far. What worked better in the original was the severe whirlwind of insanity the characters were caught up in, but I never felt like this film jacked itself up to that level.
The film is nicely cast with a few good talents, and a few that were just forgettable. My favorite was Lou Taylor Pucci, who portrays Eric the very 1970’s looking friend who does unleash the evil, but is ultimately the one guy with his head screwed on straight to understand what’s going on. You have to respect those characters in a horror movie. The guy that knows what has to be done, and doesn’t disillusion himself about any of it. Everything’s gone to hell, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to end it. Jane Levy is also stellar. She takes Mia on a very wild ride from the troubled addict to the psychotic and manipulative demon possessed girl to a completely different turn in the final act. She’s got some excellent talent, and she shows some special diversity with all she is saddled with in this role. Shiloh Fernandez is fairly good. He doesn’t standout too greatly, but he does a good job that services the role well. As David, Mia’s brother, he has moments of compassion, conflict, and conviction with the latter two being his strong suits. Those are the aspect where he becomes a stronger presence on screen. The other two ladies on the cast are the forgettable ones. Jessica Lucas’ Olivia, the friend with some kind of medical knowledge trying to ease Mia’s withdrawal symptoms, just came off as heartless and unlikeable. For a friend trying to cure Mia of her addictions, she felt a little too much like a borderline bitch than a caring friend. Elizabeth Blackmore as David’s girlfriend is even more bland to where she might as well have blended into the cabin’s woodwork.
Where the original movie was a very rough quality movie shot on 16mm film, this remake is extremely polished. I’m sure that might turn some people off who feel the remake should adhere to that same quality, but for what it is, this Evil Dead is magnificently well shot all around. There’s some very moody and atmospheric hazy lighting in the daylight scenes. The woods are covered in this low hanging fog that just creates a beautiful grim visual. There is a great use of darkness to unsettle you, and even create the most terrifying moment in the film for me. There are things jumping out of the shadows, and then, there’s something frightening creeping out the shadows in the most unreal way possible. The chills hit me worse than a subzero winter breeze. The color palette of the movie is also very dark, dreary, and grounded. It has its own gritty quality despite the polished production values.
Now, I almost think the movie is too ambitious for its own good. I like that the film does throw serves at the fans of the original, and gives you an entirely different third act. It is well setup earlier on, but is entirely unexpected. It’s an intense and excellently done climax with plenty of blood soaked mania, but it’s almost being so severely different because it has to be. In order for this to be a distinctly different film in concept and execution, it had to do something very ambitious and extreme. In execution, this unexpected climax is amazing, but I’m not so wowed by the concept of it. Again, this is a point where being a fan of the original is a mixed bag. Yes, you get surprised when the film begins to take on its own path, and throwing ideas and twists at you that you didn’t expect. Yet, when they happen, it took me a while to actually accept them at face value, and bend my mind a little more to follow their creative direction. It’s hard to explain my reaction in detail without delving into spoilers, which I try to avoid in reviews of newly released movies. Simply said, a new form of evil emerges after there is a near polar shift in fate for one character, and it seems like such a severe story twist that I’m not sure it’s really earned. While these ideas and elements are all setup earlier on, it takes a bit to really accept them as reality in this story.
I’m sure there will be people who find this to be a very frightening theatrical experience. Those that do get scared to death by shock horror and a few jump scares will love this. The creepiness is not as abundant as either of those or the sickening display of gore. This is surely far from being a bad horror movie or remake. I just think that if a remake is going to take things down its own path, it should stay on that path and not try to constantly throw swerves at you. Either be original or be a retread. I don’t like a film that does half-and-half. There are nice tips of the hat to those that love Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic that are subtle, but the direct carbon copy story beats when it repeatedly shows the capacity for original ideas did detract from my experience. If you do have an open mind, you should go see this as it is a well made horror movie, but it is far from being the best or even most terrifying one I’ve ever seen. For those that do go see it, there is a post-credits scene that is indeed “groovy.”
This is an unusual horror franchise in that it never really took off. The original is a bonafide classic of extreme, gritty frantic madness. From there, it went in all kinds of sporadic directions never really settling into a consistent style. The first sequel ventured off into quirkiness, and the later sequel disregarded continuity entirely creating what is considered one of the worst films you could ever fear to endure. This entry was a little more stable in line with slashers of the era as it came from New Line Cinema. They honestly had a good approach that would make the franchise accessible to the general horror masses, but not laying back on the blood letting. However, this was the age where the MPAA was striking back at gory horror, and hacking and slashing the films down to extremely tame levels. The volume and style of violence in this film is comparable to any gory horror film of the last decade., but in 1989, this was threatened with an X rating (prior to the introduction of the NC-17 rating). Goes to show just how inconsistent the MPAA has been over the decades.
It has been several years since Leatherface last terrorized the Texan backwoods with his Sawyer family, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t continued his cannibalistic ways. In fact, Leatherface has been “adopted” into a brand new family of crazed Texan cannibals. The film begins with an effective scene of Bubba “Leatherface” Sawyer (R.A. Mihailoff) sewing together a fresh mask of flesh while one of his victims attempts to escape, but gets gutted with a chain saw instead. From then on, we follow the eventful journey of siblings Ryan & Michelle (William Butler & Kate Hodge) as they drive from California to Florida to deliver a car to their father, but they’ve just entered into the desolate Texas landscape. As they drive into the night, Texas state authorities are cleaning up a hazardous mess of bodies which have decomposed into toxic material – remnants of past Sawyer family massacres. The brother and sister pairing drive into the next day and a gas station where they encounter a hitchhiking cowboy named Tex (Viggo Mortensen, The Prophecy, The Lord of the Rings) and the wild-eyed store owner Alfredo (Tom Everett). Tex gets friendly with Michelle and Ryan, to a lesser degree, but the cordial moment is cut short when Alfredo pulls a shotgun on the threesome, and the siblings haul ass out of there, watching Fredo blast away at them and Tex. The two siblings quickly take off down a deserted road, but soon find themselves stalked by Leatherface and his new cannibalistic and homicidal family. Ultimately, their only hope for escape is in Benny (Ken Foree), a survivalist who not only has the firepower, but also the training to take down the entire psychotic family.
To start off, this was a very troubled production. I can’t even begin to list the ways, but let’s just say that the film was so excessively violent that the repeated runs through the MPAA forced the release date to be delayed from early November, 1989 to January, 1990. At one time, director Jeff Burr was fired on Friday and re-hired on Monday. The shooting schedule was rushed, and the budget was tight. Also, I would have to say that calling this a “massacre” is false advertising as only two people outside of Leatherface’s adoptive family are killed in this film. There’s a lot of violence, but not a lot of death. Although, despite all this, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is quite a good film.
The cast is solid, very solid. There are no amateurs here like in many slasher films. R.A. Mihailoff was an experienced stuntman at the time, and did a great job as a slightly more evolved Leatherface that is more focused in his mayhem than before, but still remains very youthful in mind and impulsive in action. He was also one strong dude having to lug that HUGE 80 lbs chain saw around almost everyday. William Butler had some previous experience in slasher flicks, but this was his most featured role and he does well in it. As Ryan, he’s a bit pensive and uneasy trying to deal with heavy situations. Of course, Viggo Mortensen delivers an entertaining and intriguing performance as the crazed Tex with a bit of an odd cross-dressing undertone. He pulls off the insanity and the charm very well, and proves to be a solid and impressive actor more than a decade before The Lord of the Rings made him a household name. Viggo was a great actor that existed under the radar for a long time before that big break, and even this early on, you can see his quality and versatility. Tom Everett really fits perfectly as the wild-eyed, fidgety, and probably schizophrenic Alfredo. Definitely a classic character for these films. Dawn of the Dead alumnus Ken Foree brings a lot of energy and a decent amount of humor to the role of Benny. He truly endears himself as the hero of the film whereas there are usually only perilous heroines. Benny gets to kick some ass, and really give our psychotic villains someone to tangle with. Also, with the character being an armed survivalist, we get some nice action scenes and fiery moments. Definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable character. Finally, there’s the female lead in Kate Hodge. She really rates high as Michelle among the other female leads of the series who go through maddening events and experiences, but this time, she doesn’t breakdown into a traumatized pile of emotional goo – so to speak. Michelle comes out as a far tougher character, and proves that she might not only survive, but also endure in the aftermath of this Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
KNB EFX have been an industry leader in special make-up effects for a long time, and this is another excellent example of why. The MPAA would not have so much an issue with the gore level if Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Berger weren’t so amazingly good at their jobs. Everything has such detail and texture to really drive home the squirming realism of the graphic violence and trauma that characters are put through. While the film itself might not be very highly regarded, the effects work here should be given high praise and special notoriety.
Cinematographer James L. Carter gives the film a very strong look. Personally, I see a resemblance in the visual tone of this film and Jason Goes To Hell, despite having different cinematographers. Both films have a very dark, dense landscape at night with a tinge of blue that makes these two films look very similar. It adds a more grounded, hardened look to the filmed imagery. The filmmakers wanted this to have a real horror feel, and maintained a gritty look throughout that really enhances the horror aspects entirely.
I believe Jeff Burr did a fine quality job despite the turbulence of production. He crafted a film that probably shouldn’t have turned out nearly as good as it did. The screenplay was well-written by David J. Schow in his first break. While he had been writing material for a long while, this was the first script of his to get produced. Although, he hasn’t had a wondrous career with a couple of Critters films, an episode of The Outer Limits, and two episodes of Ridley & Tony Scott produced anthology series The Hunger under his belt, but he did deliver us the screenplay to the cult classic The Crow. So, he is highly capable of delivering brilliant work, but hasn’t had the rich opportunities to demonstrate that much. All in all, he did a good job here with probably the only consistently worthwhile TCM sequel.
I’m not giving this a great endorsement because it is almost perfectly formulaic for a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film, but it’s the characters where this movie holds strong. The story is mostly a direct template from the first film, but the characters are more original than the story. There’s also more suspenseful and intense action than before or since. Also, I like this design of Leatherface the best, and who can resist the massive chain saw given to him with the phrase “The Saw is Family” engraved on the side? Mihailoff’s representation of old Bubba Sawyer has a lot more aggression and coordination than before. Kate Hodge brings a much stronger and tougher heroine to the series, and I can’t help but enjoy every role I see Viggo Mortensen in. Plus, there is an entertainment factor here beyond the terror, but it never overwhelms or damages the integrity of the horror elements. So, I do recommend this film to anyone looking for a hardcore slasher film with a healthy dose of gore and action. The DVD that’s been available for a long while has both the theatrical R-rated and full unrated cut of the movie. It’s always been nice how New Line Cinema was generally comprehensive about those things, but any true horror fan would likely never mind the censored version, anyway. Considering the sporadic quality of this franchise, I feel this entry is among the most accessible, sensical, and satisfying of them all. As for the remake and prequel? I do have reviews for them, but I’m saving them up for the September / October Halloween season. A long way to go, but I’m definitely saving the meatiest horror reviews for that part of the year.