A go-for-broke 'Evil Dead,' and a dull 'Emperor'

Back in 1981, director Sam Raimi made a $90,000 horror film called "The Evil Dead" that sparked a cult phenomenon. It spawned two sequels with a campier tone, a legion of die-hard fans and followers, and it launched the career of B-movie king Bruce Campbell. More than 30 years later, Raimi and Campbell are revisiting and re-inventing the low-budget franchise as producers of "Evil Dead," a wildly entertaining movie that pays tribute to the original while charting its own course forward.

The man who plead his case for the new "Evil Dead" is Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez. He convinced Raimi and Campbell that his take was the way to go, and boy, was he ever right. Rarely do you find a modern reboot that has the power to satisfy fans of a revered franchise while simultaneously grabbing audiences unfamiliar with the original and kicking them in the teeth.

At this point in the horror genre, especially after last year's "Cabin in the Woods" poked fun at the very conventions "Evil Dead" are based on, you would think there's nowhere to go but down the same old, tired path. But Alvarez proves there's still a lot of room for thrills and unexpected fun in a movie that consists entirely of five young people holed up in a cabin.

The first notable difference is the premise. Mia (Jane Levy) is trying to kick a drug habit cold turkey, so when she says she wants to leave, her friends won't let her. It's a creative way to solve the problem that plagues so many horror movies: Why don't the kids just leave? The small but crucial amount of character development establishes the differing relationships so that when the each of them eventually becomes "possessed," these traits are carried forward.

"Evil Dead" is relentless. Once it starts, it never lets up. It becomes a constant barrage of gory fun, and in the spirit of the original, Alvarez and his team use make-up and real-world special effects rather than relying solely on CGI. Another distinctive and key part of the original series were the off-kilter and exaggerated camera angles. Alvarez adopts the film language of Raimi's films, adds more to the bag of tricks, and keeps the sardonic attitude without necessarily being slapstick.

Click here for my on-camera interviews with director Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, and Jessica Lucas of the "Evil Dead" remake from KCTV5 It’s Your Morning.

Liberty Hall is now showing "Emperor," a dry historical drama from British director Peter Webber ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") set in the period directly following World War II. It stars Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Fox as Gen. Bonner Fellers, a Japanese cultural expert who has 10 days to decide whether Emperor Hirohito should be put on trial for war crimes.

For all of the important themes that "Emperor" bases its story around, it's surprisingly simplistic and ends up coming off impassive and procedural. A love story involving Fellers and a Japanese schoolteacher is told in flashback concurrently, and contains more passion than the war crimes plot, but that's not saying much. Even the performances fail to rise above the bland screenplay. Fox is as stolid as ever and Jones' MacArthur has his usual bluster (used to much greater effect in last year's "Lincoln"), so nothing in "Emperor" really surprises.

The Center for Global & International Studies at KU is having a free public screening and panel discussion of the Academy Award-winning Iranian movie "A Separation" Wednesday, April 10, at 5 p.m. at the Spencer Museum of Art. Asghar Farhadi's sublime and layered family drama was one of the best films of 2012 and shines a light on many cultural issues facing contemporary Iranians today.

"A Separation" is showing as part of the Persian Culture Fest, and the panel following the film will consist of KU Faculty and members of the Iranian community here in Lawrence. Don't miss this opportunity to see a truly enlightening film and be able to grapple with the subjects it brings up in a smart and thoughtful public forum.


On the opposite side of the coin, KU's Natural History Museum continues its Myths & Mayhem Film Series with a free screening of the hilariously bad Jan de Bont action/disaster thriller "Twister." Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt will chase tornadoes and flying cows Thursday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the museum's Dyche Hall while attendees can munch on free popcorn.

I love that the Natural History Museum, which is known throughout the country for its impressive exhibits and collections, is using a cheesy, big-budget '90s flick to lure people into seeing what they have to offer. Bravo. After the movie, Channel 6 Chief Meteorologist Rick Katzfey will talk about the science of storms and probably clear up all kinds of misconceptions brought about by "Twister."


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