Now, before we start, let’s try and be objective, right? Sam Raimi’s original zombie trilogy is one of the enduring highlights of the genre, with Bruce Campbell a genius spot of casting as our rubber-faced hero, Ash. Despite still having Raimi on board, this time only as producer, 2013’s Evil Dead is more brutal, less tongue-in-cheek and in all a very different take on the story.
Taking the original premise of some friends encountering the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) in a cabin in the woods that goes and does all sorts of unpleasant things, director Fede Alvarez takes the movie in a more straightforwardly nasty direction than the original.
Making reference to a number of iconic scenes (memorably, the famous tree scene is even more savage), Evil Dead is a slickly-directed, gory thrill-ride which doesn’t for one second let up on the high-octane action. Still, by removing all of the quirky characteristics that made the original so distinctive, leaving a solid if pretty standard horror, what’s the point? Fans of Bruce Campbell, stop-motion animation and ridiculously gory comedy will baulk at this painfully serious exercise in soulless, homogenised horror. Those too young to remember may feel otherwise.
Less likely to ruffle any such feathers is the micro-budgeted The Sigil. Brandon Cano-Errecart’s found-footage movie follows a group of friends who investigate what seems to be a cover up regarding a uranium accident that killed 42 people. With a mildly intriguing premise suggesting occult links to a mysterious disaster, this begins badly with unconvincing, annoying teens just begging to be slaughtered. As the film progresses, frankly terrible action scenes unfold as the viewer starts to wonder if this isn’t some Wayans brothers spoof.
Slightly better, though still utterly ludicrous, is the latest in Arrow Films’ Step Into The Cult Arena series, the sleazy 1984 slasher also-ran, The Initiation. Notable (ahem) for being the debut performance from Spaceballs star Daphne Zuniga as a young college freshman contending with bitchy sorority girls and a killer bumping off her classmates, this conforms to every gratuitous cliché there is regarding both horror and college movies, with not one opportunity missed for topless female locker-room scenes.
Entirely devoid of suspense or even particularly effective death scenes, The Initiation’s only saving grace is a slightly intriguing Freudian dream analysis subtext (our star is conveniently studying such things), though this feels a little shoehorned in after all the breasts have been filmed.
We finish this round-up on a high, with the surprisingly chilling alien encounter meets home invasion thriller, Dark Skies. Starring The Americans’ Keri Russell and J. Edgar’s Josh Hamilton as a couple forced to defend their family from the unwanted advances of spooky extra-terrestrials, Legion director Scott Stewart’s film is both surprisingly emotional and quietly scary with some great creepy shots thrown in for good measure.
Russell and Hamilton are convincing as the couple unsure if they are going mad or not, though the real stars are the mostly off-camera and unexplained greys and their Exorcist-style nemesis, played with aplomb by Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson, J.K. Simmons. With the stakes raised and the action building to a crescendo, Dark Skies really comes into its own as a superior, intelligent thriller that references some of the classics but retains a vital freshness throughout.
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