Reviews of “Within the Woods” (1978) and related work

“Within the Woods” (1978Moving picture, 31 minutes)

Two couples. Secluded cabin. Ancient Indian burial ground.

Pilot for a franchise of cliché-heavy horror that gradually picks up comedy and heroic action elements as the budget grows. Here, with a budget near zero, it’s quite serious. It took three days to make and served mainly to secure funding for the remake.

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The Evil Dead (1981Moving picture, 85 minutes)

Five people. Secluded cabin. The Necronomicon. A chainsaw. Rape by trees.

More money. Still pretty serious. Some black humour. Emblems include Bruce Campbell (cast as Bruce in the pilot, where he’s the first to go, here called Ash), zombies insisting on company (“Join us!”) and director Raimi’s “evil force” camera racing along with ominous sound effects.

References here: An American Werewolf in London (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), John Dies at the End (2012).

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Evil Dead II (1987Moving picture, 84 minutes)

It’s almost a remake of the remake. The first few minutes describe an alternate progression and ending of The Evil Dead (1981), and then some new people arrive to the cabin, on the next day in a “continuing” story.

Comedy horror bordering on slapstick, a bit like “The Beast with Five Fingers” (1919).

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Army of Darkness (1992Moving picture, 81 minutes)

Ash travels through time to the middle ages, where he accidentally spawns and fights a legion of the undead with chainsaw, car and shotgun.

The sequel to the remake of the remake. An action comedy. Ash has completed his transformation from ordinary guy to comically invincible chauvinist. Lots of cool one-liners but no horror. Check out the ending where he takes a drop too many, if you can find it; there are at least three versions.

References here: Ash vs Evil Dead (2015).

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Ash vs Evil Dead (2015Moving picture, 5.0 hours)

Seen in 2019.

This review refers to the first season only.

Having lain low for 30 years, Ash accidentally attracts new Deadites by reading the Necronomicon on weed. He just wants to get to Jacksonville.

Camp demonic horror in the style of Army of Darkness (1992). A good showcase for Bruce Campbell’s star quality. Alas, the US TV serial format apparently requires a procedural-style plotline, far removed from the high-concept butt-kicking of Army and worlds away from ever scaring a seasoned viewer. There’s more backstory about the book but most of the supernatural worldbuilding is still folkloric and what it calls “evil” is just short-term asshole behaviour without an agenda. The Deadites are effectively medieval Christian demons with unexplored, internally contradictory ontological powers: Boring clichés in nominally creepy makeup. In one cut they’re superhumanly strong, in the next they can be squashed like overripe fruit. Being thus poorly planned, the fights are also poorly executed, reliant on fast cuts and cheap tricks. There is no sense of escalation or a larger threat. The raw edge of the originals is gone.

The opening episode is good as far as weirdly formulaic US supernatural adventure TV goes, but I’m too bad at shutting my brain down to keep following it. If you want to bail out before it turns really sour, stop before episode 5, where Ash’s young sidekicks give him a prosthetic hand built out of a Nintendo Power Glove—or something like it—so Campbell can use his real hand more freely on set, thus saving production money and undercutting the idea that Ash has had to make sacrifices.

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