So, where was I?
I’ve got a backlog of horror movies to cover, but I’m going to start with two: on October 7th (Sunday) I watched Brian Yuzna’s Beneath Still Waters and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (bet you thought I was talking about another movie featuring a structure in the woods … don’t worry, I’ll get to that flick).
So, I’d never seen Beneath Still Waters before, but its trailer was on one of the Clive Barker movies I watched last week (can’t remember which one) and, since it was on Netflix instant, I added it to my queue. The basic premise: in the 1960s two boys wade into a Spanish town that is being dammed and flooded to create a lake for a bit of mischief, smashing windows and whatnot. They hear a noise and see an open door down the road–one boy races ahead to see if someone needs help, the other follows behind, pausing to locate his glasses that were knocked off. When they enter the building they find scores of people tied to the floor writhing. This is always a good sign. “Lets untie them!” the first boy says. A voice from the corner says to ignore them and to untie him instead. He is standing upright, with a bag over his head. Of course, the boy rushes right over. With his hands untied, he removes the bag and rips the metal collar that is chaining him to the wall. Then he rips the boy’s jaw off in a fit of mad glee and tosses his body to the writhing people who begin to devour him. The boy with the glasses rushes off and we flash forward 40 years and the town is underwater.
Two girls are sunbathing by the lake. One is awoken from a nightmare where her grandfather is warning her of something. Once she is shocked awake there is some friendly banter between the two of them and then they decide to go for a swim. They go out into the lake and a surprised by a young guy who must be really good at holding his breath since neither of them seemed to be aware that he was even around until he appears. It’s all in good fun (obviously) and he appears to be in a relationship with the one girl, but then starts goofing around in the water with the other one (the one who had the dream). The non-dreaming girl starts to stroll back to shore and then starts freaking out because she thinks something is grabbing her underwater. Dream girl rushes to her aid while the guy is laughing at them both. There is some sort of black slime on her leg that she wipes off. The guy is suddenly sucked underwater. The girls freak. He reappears laughing. Then he’s sucked under again–for reals this time. Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake there is a lovely reporter who is reporting on something with the help of a handsome (movie context)
cameraman photojournalist. She gets a phone call from the dream girl who happens to be her daughter. She rushes off. The photojournalist gets into diving gear because his real reason for wanting to be at this Spanish lake is to photograph the town under the lake.
It’s all very creepy, swimming around this underwater town, but creepiest of all is this light that seems to be coming from one of the buildings. He swims closer and swirling around him is a black cloud of CGI something and then he gets caught in an underwater current and is sucked away … to pop up on the side of the lake where the young guy was pulled under. This section of the lake is now a crime scene swarming with Spanish cops that function as well as American cops do in these situations, which is to say badly. Black slime is all along the shoreline and everyone keeps touching it. The head police guy stares stoically toward the water, observes his officers and then gets some of the slime on his shoe and wipes it off. Then, the mayor appears and tells the head police guy to not make a big deal of it, to try and downplay it until the towns 40th anniversary of the dam celebration is over and then he wanders over to the police line and assures the sobbing mother that figuring out what happened is everyones chief concern. When the photojournalist appears, he is immediately the prime suspect because of reasons. When dream girl’s mother, the reporter, vouches for him, the police guy gives him some bullshit about diving permits and then takes his camera out of spite. Meanwhile, there are divers arriving to search for the lost kid, but they need one guy who can do something or other, which is something or other that only this guy can do. So he heads out into the boat with the divers. He tells them about the weird light in the underwater city. They dive, he stays to talk into the walkie talkie and monitors the something or other while they are below. They swim into the city, to search apparently for this guy who might have magically been transported there by underwater currents like the one that spit the photojournalist out on the shore. They don’t find they guy, but they find the light. One of them swims in, gets freaked out and swims out like a bat out of … an underwater building that is standing in for hell … followed by the other diver and a cloud of black CGI. They make it back to the boat, but something falls overboard while they’re freaking out, so one guy goes after it. They motor after him for 10 feet and then the dude’s head pops up, followed by other limbs.
Basically, at this point, this is Amity and the shark is black goo.
As the movie progresses, they find the little kid with glasses who has grown into a creepy old man and dream girl goes to babysit some lady’s kids. Before they visit him, they find a weird guy who runs the dam–the photojournalist saw that there were cracks in the dam, but dammit, no one would listen! Corruption! This town is corrupt! The damn dam was built because of graft and stuff! After they leave to talk to the creepy old guy with glasses, the weird guy who runs the dam is chased around by some monster that came from the water. The photojournalist and the reporter, from the creepy old guy with glasses, discover that the guy who had a bag on his head at the beginning of the movie was a creepy satanist with magical occult powers and that his cult was taking over the town. They learn that the town was able to be flooded because of corruption and graft by the mayor 40 years before (who happens to be dream girl’s grandfather & reporter lady’s dad) but the reason was because of this satanist cannibal cult that was taking over the town (montage of horrific things) and now that evil was back because when the creepy old guy with glasses was a kid with glasses his dumbass friend let the leader go who is waiting for this special anniversary to do terrible things.
They race off to stop the terrible things! Meanwhile, one of the kids that dream girl is babysitting has wandered off after they all fell asleep. The mom comes home and freaks out and rushes off into the night to find her kid (surprise, while mom is in the woods, the boy pops up behind dream girl and his sister and says something to the effect of “so what are you guys looking at?”). Now dream girl and the kids go off in search of the mom who has slipped on a patch of black goo and is being eaten by the forest floor. Dream girl and the kids stumble upon the mom and then freak out and run away because the mom tries to do bad things. Then they are surprised by the head police guy who is now covered in black goo and is being used by the satanist guy to chase the girl to a place where the satanist guy can do bad things to her. Meanwhile, in town everyone has an orgy at the 40th anniversary celebration of some dam thing.
Many people are killed, the dream girl is saved at the last minute because the photojournalist guy jumps back into the lake and swims into the creepy building to toss a book into the evil fire that was burning down there. Then he swims up and carries dream girl out of the lake and the movie finally ends.
Crazy right. Craziest thing? Aside from some mediocre acting and some bad dubbing, this movie wasn’t completely terrible. It was definitely low budget, but it did a pretty solid job of indicating the evil that possessed this crazy cult and that was starting to possess the town on the 40th anniversary. The chief bad guy looked sufficiently creeps (and shared a resemblance with the creepy guy from the Phantasm movies). So, not terrible and not particularly good either.
Evil Dead 2, however, is made of awesome. The first Evil Dead was made on a shoestring budget by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell and through will, innovation, and just not knowing any better became a solid horror movie that was genuinely creepy and also kind of funny (though the laughs in the first one were largely unintentional, a byproduct of filming constraints and too much Three Stooges on the brain). The sequel on the other hand was a black comedy and a horror film that was both a sequel to the original and a remake. Since there were two different production companies involved, they needed to reshoot the introduction scenes–how Ash ended up at the cabin– and as a result tweaked some of the details (they first movie got pared down from five friends at the cabin to just Ash and his girlfriend, and now Ash gets the crap kicked out of him and sorta possessed instead of killed, as he was in the first movie). In the special features, Bruce Campbell said in an interview that some people watching the movie just thought that Ash was dumb enough to go back to the cabin again with another girl, which in the spirit of the movie kind of works too. This pattern of revision in the prologue chapters becomes a running joke by the third Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness, where Ash and his girlfriend, now played by Bridget Fonda, go to the cabin for the purpose of studying the Necronomicon, instead of haplessly stumbling across someone else’s research and accidentally resummoning the Kandarian demons that … never mind. If you are a fan of horror films, this is an essential movie to watch. It really cements the wacky odd style of filmmaking that Sam Raimi excels at and really gives Bruce Campbell his career. Watching any Raimi movie after and it’s impossible not to notice the camera techniques that he pioneered in the Evil Dead movies because he wanted to do something with the camera that, strictly speaking, wasn’t possible, but he did it anyway. (My favorite is his demon POV shot, achieved by tying the camera to a board and then having two guys run through the woods with it, lifting it over or under impediments along the way–a tracking shot that wasn’t previously possible because tracking shot means that the camera is physically on a track while it is following the action of the story, something that Raimi helped change).
Evil Dead 2 adds several new characters to the mix, though the stand out is still Bruce Campbell, who spends the first third of the movie acting against himself and the special effects. He finds a place that is both hysterically funny and offputting and then lives in that place, modulating back and forth so that the audience really can’t say for sure what will happen next. It’s this kind of unsettling level in comedy horror that Sam Raimi is good at exploiting, taking all the tried and true cliches and turning them on their head by just overusing them in such a concentrated way that they become original again. It’s like the cliche of the dark house where there is a noise that the protagonist is investigating and then the scare comes from a cat jumping out from nowhere–Sam Raimi will have three cats in a row, to the extent that it’s no longer startling and you’re laughing at the cat, and then he’ll throw a demon eating a baby at you and you’ve just shit yourself in terror, even though five seconds before you were laughing. He’s a sick fuck, and I love him for it.
So, nutshell: comedy, horror, Kandarian demons, a cabin in the woods, the Necronomicon (book of the dead). It all equals the purest form of awesome.
Movies to come: Werewolves! I rewatch Cursed and Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf. I also take a look at a documentary on the Hammer Horror films and a couple of indie-horror films from England and Australia. Plus, whatever I watch between now and when I post again. I’ve got a stack of DVDs and a full Netflix queue.
More later …