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First Time Viewing: Horror Double Feature

In light of the fact that I’ve been watching a TON of movies lately while also trying to keep my blog up to date, I thought I would condense two different movie reviews into one post. This post will focus on two horror classics: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981). I hope you enjoy my thoughts on these two films!

Warning: These reviews contain spoilers

The Wicker Man (1973)

Rating: 2.5/5

To give a brief synopsis: The 1973 original version of The Wicker Man was written by Anthony Shaffer and directed by Robin Hardy. The film follows Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) as he investigates the disappearance of a little girl on the small Scottish island of Summerisle. While slowly unraveling the mystery, the deeply Christian official witnesses the strange pagan rituals and sexual practices of the island’s residences.

The most notable performance in the film comes from a young Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, who is both very charismatic, but also very mysterious. The songs – surprisingly – were also very good and fit very well with the tone of the film. Particularly, the song that Willow (Britt Ekland) sings to Sergeant Howie towards the beginning of the film is both beautiful and haunting. Robin Hardy’s direction I must say was also really good. He gives the various sexual acts and disturbing images/practices displayed in the film an almost mesmerizing quality to them. He also did a generally good job creating tension surrounding this missing girl and the practices of the townsfolk, specifically in a classroom scene is when I felt the horror, mystery, and tension between the lead character and the townspeople.

The ending, with the giant Wicker Man statue, has since become iconic, and for good reason. I genuinely did not see the twist ending coming, and the final images of Howie being burned alive, while the surrounding townsfolk sing joyously around him, is truly haunting. In fact, there are a lot of rather strange and haunting images and scenes sprinkled throughout, as I’ve mentioned before.

I think the biggest issues I really had with the film is the main character. While I thought Edward Woodward was very good in the role, I didn’t think the character was that interesting. In fact, all we really knew about him was that he’s very noble, a deeply devoted Christain, and a virgin. I also never really knew why he was so invested in this missing girl, outside of it’s his job. I just wish that they could’ve given us a bit more reason to be invested in the main character, or even the missing girl for that matter. This could be more of a personal gripe, but I also just didn’t find the central conflit/conceit of the film – a conservative Christain vs. a Pagan society – to be all that scary or compelling. This is also made doubly obvious to me when the film takes a large break in the middle for Summerisle and Howie to debate and explain their two different ideologies, which really slowed the pacing for me. Overrall, though, there’s a reason this film has remained in the cultural conversation since it’s release. While it didn’t always work for me, it’s definitely worth a watch!

The Evil Dead (1981)

Rating: 3.5/5

To give a brief synopsis: The Evil Dead (1981) was directed and written by Sam Raimi. The film sees Ashley “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell), his sister Cheryl Williams (Ellen Sandweiss), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), Scott (Richard BeManincor), and Shelly (Teresa Tilly), all college friends, taking a trip to a small, remote cabin in the woods. Little do they know, that the cabin contains an old book, the Necronomicon, which has the ability to awaken an ancient evil. Eventually, when these evil spirits are reawakened, Ash and his friends must fight for their lives or become one of the evil dead themselves.

The real star of this film is the horror make-up effects. The combination of gore, the make-up/appearance of the possessed characters, and especially the decaying effects at the end when Ash defeats the evil was also incredible. If you’ve read this far you’ve either seen the movie or you just don’t care about spoilers, but either way the gore and visual effects are super convincing and actually quite sickening. Sam Raimi does not hold anything back (from actually seeing someone stabbed by a pencil in the leg, to seeing the possessed characters decaying) which helps create a tense, visceral, and genuinely gut-wrenching experience.

If you couldn’t tell from the synopsis, the plot and the script is extremely simple, as are the characters. Where the film really shines – besides it’s special effects – is it’s direction. The evil dead PoV (when the camera sweeps across the forest floor and stalks the characters) has since become iconic, and for good reason. It definitely helps add to the tension and makes you question when (and if) it’ll get to the characters. There’s also a clever eye trick that Ash and his girlfriend Linda do at the beginning that’s more of a cutesy couple moment, which comes back later as a horror scare. There’s a couple of really clever scares like that.

I thought the characters where likable enough. They weren’t terribly interesting but they also weren’t the typical “asshole young people” that you often want to die in these types of horror films. I did at the very least care about Ash and his relationship/connection with Linda (which is good considering he’s the main character). In terms of complaints, the rules surrounding this book and the evil dead wasn’t very clear to me. At the end, when Ash is the only one left and his possessed friends are beckoning him to join them, I wasn’t sure why they couldn’t just possess him like they did everyone else? Also, when the evil dead is finally unleashed they are able to possess the trees but they don’t do that later on when Ash is outside? I thought the rules for what the evil dead can or cannot do and when they could possess someone was unclear. I also thought the third act – when it was just Ash – went on a little too long. It deflated a bit of tension for me having him be the final survivor for so long.

Overall though, I thought this film was really good! This film has inspired so many isolationist “cabin in the woods” genre horror films that came after, as well as so many horror tropes we see to this day. Give it a watch if you haven’t!

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