Category Archives: What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen?

What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… Eraserhead?

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Finally, I have seen a David Lynch film. This was one of the biggest gaps in my film knowledge (although there are countless others); I’ve seen so many comments along the lines of ‘this reminds me of David Lynch’ or ‘those scenes were very Lynchian’, and I had no idea what they were talking about. So I finally decided to check out his work and thought I’d start at the beginning with his 1977 work Eraserhead.

Jesus Christ. I was not prepared for this.

Plot: Harry Spencer (Jack Nance) is invited to dinner with his girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), and her family. However, when he gets there he’s informed that Mary has had a baby, although she’s not sure if what she’s given birth to is human. The pair move in together but Mary soon leaves when she can’s deal with the baby’s incessant crying, leaving Harry to deal with it all by himself.

And that’s about all I can say about the plot. Not because I don’t want to, but because I genuinely don’t know how to describe any more of it than that. It’s a virtually impossible film to explain; it’s hugely surrealist and good chunks, if not all, of it are up for interpretation. You may well find some Dali and Buñuel influences in there. Lynch has also clearly been influenced by German expressionist cinema; the chiaroscuro lighting, themes of madness, angular cinematography are all there in abundance. Even the ‘Man in the Planet’ character (Jack Fisk) feels like he’s been taken straight from an expressionist film.

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What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… The Evil Dead?

The Evil Dead

As I have mentioned before on here and on others’ blogs in the past, I’m not the biggest fan of horror films. I like them in theory as I’m fascinated by the paranormal, myths & legends, and psychological nutcases. However, when it comes down to actually watching a horror film, I’ll quite often want to weep within the first 15 minutes. Even horror films that everyone apparently thinks are awful will quite often reduce me to a quivering wreck. And yet I’m still somehow drawn to them.

I had seen the trailer for the remake of The Evil Dead and thought it looked fantastic, even though after just a two-minute clip I still wanted a massive cuddle afterwards. This intrigued me to check out the original, a film I know is loved amongst cult horror fans and is apparently the inspiration for many horror films that followed. So I turned the lights off (I like to do things properly) and booted it up.

Plot: A group college students take a holiday to a cabin in the woods where they find a creepy old book and an audio tape. When they play the audio tape it is a series of incantations of writings from the book which releases evil demons that one-by-one possess the hapless students.

The Evil Dead was made way back in 1981 and was director Sam Raimi’s first feature film. He had made several short films prior, including Within the Woods which would serve as a trial run of sorts to drum up investment for The Evil Dead.

Bruce Campbell as AshAs shown above, the plot of The Evil Dead is incredibly simple but that’s no bad thing at all; it’s the films simplicity that is it’s strongest element. We don’t need deep back stories or complicated love triangles; instead, we’re thrown straight into the story, essentially just being told to accept what’s happening without giving it a thought. The whole thing pretty much takes place in and around the solitary cabin which gives it a very claustrophobic feel, amplifying the horror.

And it is scary. Despite the fact that it’s obviously become dated and hasn’t aged particularly well, it still remains a lesson in how to do low-budget horror. There are a few jump scares, but the film mixes it up and there are plenty of other techniques used to get under your skin. The camerawork, for instance, is very clever; one scene sees Ash (Bruce Campbell) try to drive his girlfriend away from the cabin but stops the car to get out. It appears that the car is parked on flat ground but was actually parked on a slope and the camera tilted to correct the slope. This adds an eerie disorientation to the shot as Ash walks away from the car at a seemingly strange angle.

As I mentioned, the film hasn’t aged particularly well, which could well be why Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are revisiting it for the remake. The acting is pretty atrocious, although that’s what you often get with low budget films. You could argue that it’s part of the film’s charm, but there’s no denying that the acting is somewhat laughable at times. Some of the effects are also dated, but on the whole they don’t really take anything away from the film. The OTT effects are a hark back to the B movies that influenced the film and are what gives it some personality.

RaaaarMany cite The Evil Dead has an example of horror/comedy, albeit very dark comedy, but there’s something about that that doesn’t really sit right with me. I believe that this was never intended as a piece of comedy but as a proper, straight-up horror film. However, various things (largely due to the budget) led it to become slightly amusing in places. The bad acting, the over-the-top gore and make-up, etc, now seem worse than they did back then and any comedy drawn from them is likely accidental. Recognising this, Raimi maybe thought he would embrace it with the sequels (of which I haven’t seen but am aware). I could be wrong but I doubt Raimi would have made the film as it was if he had a larger budget, which could well have eliminated much of what added a level of comedy. I have a feeling that people may be laughing at it slightly more than with it.

What is very interesting is the obvious effect The Evil Dead has had on horror films that followed it. I doubt it was the first to feature an isolated cabin in the woods or a cursed book that released the dead, but it’s certainly one of the most influential. It’s hard to think that any filmmaker incorporating anything like that into a horror film doesn’t have The Evil Dead at least somewhere in their mind as they do so. It’s even spawned a number of comedy horrors, such as The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs Evilwhich use The Evil Dead as such an obvious point of reference that they don’t even attempt to hide it.

The film also gained a lot of its cult popularity from the fact that several attempts were made to censor it. Many countries, in fact, banned it for some time. It was labelled as a ‘video nasty’, a title reserved for only the nastiest and most disturbing films. This definitely adds to the film and gives it a certain level of expectation going into it. This could well explain why I was left feeling ever so slightly disappointed by it. It was entertaining enough but it didn’t really enthrall me as much as I was expecting. Perhaps if I had seen this when it first came out I would have a higher opinion of it. I appreciate and respect The Evil Dead’s significance and what it achieved with the resources available but I’m not sure it belongs in the higher echelons of cinematic greatness.

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What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… Unforgiven?

Unforgiven In the latest ‘What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen…?’ post, where I finally get round to watching films people are incredulous I haven’t already seen, I am going to be taking a look at the 1993 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Unforgiven. Spoilers, naturally.

Plot: In the little town of Big Whiskey, the local prostitutes are just trying to earn a living doing what they do. However, one of the girls rubs a customer up the wrong way (not like that) and ends up getting herself cut up and left with severe facial disfigurements. When lawman Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) fails to take the appropriate action over the offence, the other prostitutes decide to take matters into their own hands and offer a bounty on the offenders’ heads. This attracts the attention of cowboy  The Schofield Kid who approaches retired badass William Munny (Clint Eastwood) to help him with the hit. Munny begrudgingly accepts and enlists his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to help.

Unforgiven was the first western Clint Eastwood had made in seven years, since 1985’s Pale Rider, and would mark the last one he would make (to this point). Immediately this draws parallels with Unforgiven’s plot. Eastwood hadn’t retired from making westerns but had left the film until he felt he was old enough to play the character of William Munny. In the same way Munny shows that he still has what it takes, Eastwood also proves that he can still gunsling with the best of them. Is this a bit of self-glorification on Eastwood’s part? Possibly, but it really doesn’t matter. There is also a more gentle side of Munny, as suggested at in the film’s brief prologue text, which allows this to be a more rounded performance from Eastwood and one that would earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Whilst Eastwood is the cold hard killer with a softer side, Morgan Freeman’s Ned Logan shows absolutely no sign of ever being capable of taking someone out and is a rather odd character. He’s the other side of Munny, the one who can’t go through with the bounty and has fully changed his ways, but Freeman just doesn’t give the impression he could ever have been a killer and is not wholly believable. What is also little unsettling is the scene in which Logan is whipped by Little Bill. The symbolism of this scene is fairly obvious (whether intended or not) and coupled with the almost KKK-style display of the body illuminated by torches, it seems a little jarring.

Moral compass

Logan & MunnyA major theme running right through the heart of Unforgiven is that of morality. We are constantly being challenged to question the morality of pretty much all the characters. Who is wrong and who is right? Are any of them wrong or right or are the lines blurred? The prostitutes feel rightly aggrieved at the lack of justice but is it right for them to offer up a bounty on the offenders’ heads, especially when the victim seems happy enough to accept their apologies. Similarly, is Munny justified in taking on the hit? He wants to right a wrong (as well as earn some money) but killing someone who technically has already been sentenced, could well be seen as a morally wrong act. Logan decides not to go through with the job but was technically conspiring to murder and supplied a murder weapon. He seems to be doing the right thing but still has plenty of blood on his hands.

Little Bill is a prime example of the moral ambiguity present in the film. He stands for law and order and is trying to protect his town from violence. He’s building himself a nice little house. He seems like the epitome of all that is good. Yet for some reason he’s just as hateable as likable. He doesn’t dish out adequate punishment for the man who cut up the girl, yet kills Logan. For someone who apparently stands against violence, he’s quick to dish it out. He’s just a flawed individual, just like everybody else in the film. Maybe there is no wrong or right and the moral compass is one that never settles no matter which way it’s pointed.

Don’t believe everything you hear

As well as morality, Unforgiven also brings up the themes of lying and the way reputations can be built on little more than hearsay. Munny is apparently a hardened killer of women and children yet we know that he was married, has children and seemed to have changed his ways. Did he really kill women and children or are those merely tales spun that have been accepted as fact. Furthermore, the girl who is attacked apparently, according to The Schofield Kid, had her eyes but out and her breasts cut off. We know this not to be true yet that’s the story that has been told. An entire character, English Bob (Richard Harris), is based around the idea that the truth has been contorted and manipulated for one’s own ends, and The Schofield Kid is another who has lied to make people believe a certain version of events. Pretty much everyone in the film twists the truth at some juncture to serve their own purposes.

Unforgiven

So who are the ‘unforgiven’? Well, again, it’s pretty much everyone. Despite doing the right thing, Logan is unforgiven for his past crimes, as is Munny (although he pretty much gets away with his aside from losing his friend). The girl’s attackers are unforgiven despite offering to give her their best horse as recompense. Little Bill is unforgiven for not properly sentencing the attackers, whilst The Schofield Kid will never forgive himself for his crime. Every single character in the film has a rich story to tell which makes it one of the deepest westerns you could hope to see.

The cinematography is beautiful throughout, particularly the plains and landscapes. The snow-covered scenery is perhaps the most eye-catching (even if it does make the timeline of events rather confusing, suggesting more time has passed than it really has) and is especially remarkable considering it was not at all scripted and was a merely a freak snowstorm.

If this really is Eastwood’s last ever western, then what a high note to go out on. It might be a little bit of fan service and an ego trip for him but there’s also a lot to it than that. Cowboys have always been about bringing justice to the Wild West but Unforgiven, in a similar way to John Ford’s The Searchers, makes it difficult to always distinguish between right and wrong.

Chris

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