Thursday, August 28, 2014

Long Live the B-Movie

I'm finally back on campus...back for another semester, another year of college life and all the challenges, stress and struggles that come with it. I find myself transitioning into the IC flow once again and with the first day of classes now over, the summer's relaxation seems distant. Last night offered a nice opportunity, though. It was a chance to become immersed in the atmosphere of a film favorite one last time without the bothersome reminders of deadlines and upcoming assignments hanging over my head. I had a 9am, but my materials were all together and I had nothing better to do, so I figured why not pick something fun and practice some cinematic meditation. Naturally, my choice was Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II.
Now, Evil Dead II was never a film I expected to love. It's a bloody, zany horror comedy with extensive practical effects work and a wild, untamed energy. The film is relentless in its commitment to the weird and outlandish, the demented dark humor and the gory kills. Prior to this summer, the world of 80's horror schlock was not one I was familiar with. Stubbornly holding onto my Criterion collection and the ponderous art house cinema I treasured, there was something about that era/genre mix that made me uneasy. The addiction to foreign art house film is overstated, as I am not one to shy away from the occasional blockbuster (Guardians of the Galaxy, anyone?) or hesitate to revel in some unabashedly comedic cheese (I'm looking at you, Coming to America). Still, 80's b-horror was an untapped area for me and I wanted to finally give it a shot.

The power of camp compels you!
Fright Night was the beginning of my little endeavor. Not a perfect film, but perfectly entertaining for what it is. Vampires, flamboyant hair styles, an 80's dance club and Roddy McDowall. All good fun, but I was only scraping the surface. Next came the gut-busting Re-Animator, the ridiculously unintelligent The Stuff and the comic book come to life, Creepshow. It all crescendoed in my first viewing of Evil Dead II. The film was mad. Limbs were flying. Cartoonish blood geysers everywhere. Bruce Campbell gets into a life-or-death scuffle with his freshly possessed right hand and a mounted deer head comes alive and laughs hysterically as all the other objects in the room follow suit. 

Taxidermy has never been so lifelike.
By the time the credits rolled, I knew I had just seen an instant favorite. The film didn't take itself too seriously and had the best balance of horror and comedy that I'd ever seen. The one-liners were goofy, the story was strung out and yet, there was something endearing about it. This wasn't the end of the horror-thon, though. Twenty films (including the dreadful Maximum Overdrive and Galaxy of Terror) would be viewed before my movie intake went back to normal, but none would reach the heights of Evil Dead II.

Don't worry, I'm getting there!
So, patient reader, why is it that I have gone to the trouble of sharing my adventures in the 80's campiness of ghosts and ghouls, monsters and slashers? It's because today we talked about passions. What do we want to do? What makes us happy? I've recently had my doubts about filmmaking. I question my abilities. Am I up to it? Is it genuinely enjoyable?

Peter Jackson, circa 1991
Perhaps I should pair Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (AKA Braindead) with Evil Dead II on this point. Here are two films that convey an excitement, a zest for filmmaking in every frame. With the energy, the tone and the sheer creativity of visual effects, scenario setups and comedy, they showcase a go-for-broke mentality and no matter how bizarre the subject matter is, one can't help but admire the spirit of these two directors. I'm not the only one that saw past the gore and bad taste, as Raimi was given the chance to direct the Spider-Man trilogy and Jackson went on to make Lord of the Rings. Noticeable passion kickstarting flourishing careers and more ambitious projects.
Not bad, Mr. Jackson.
Watching Evil Dead II again reminded me of the fervor that can come with filmmaking (even under extreme budget constraints). I won't necessarily be breaking into the realm of b-horror this semester, but I aim to recapture the same passion that was expressed in so many of the 80's horror flicks I viewed this summer. For all their indulgences and gross-out tactics, these movies represent a level of creative commitment and raw enthusiasm that is often missing from today's soulless studio tentpoles and pandering, end-of-the year Oscar bait.

Long live the B-movie!

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