FEBRUARY 7, 2009
After swearing off such films, I apparently forgot to take obscure no-name Lionsgate pickups like The Evil Woods off my Netflix queue. So I’ll do that later, while you get to enjoy one (hopefully) final HMAD review for a movie you’ve never heard of, will never watch, and won’t even remember the name of once tomorrow rolls around.
Here’s the thing: You can’t duplicate Halloween, ever. There is just a perfect storm of skill aligning to make that film as perfect as it is. Even though there is more talent in John Carpenter’s (and Dean Cundey’s) ass hair than a lot of these other slasher directors have their entire body, it’s not impossible to think that someone more talented and more skilled than Carpenter/Cundey will come along someday and make their own slasher movie. But will he/she “get” what makes Halloween so (nearly) flawless? Doubtful, because they will be under the assumption that it’s possible to pull the same tricks.
Evil Woods director Aaron Harvey and screenwriter Jason Melling certainly think they’re up to the task, because they copy a number of Halloween’s elements - the very basic, everyday locale (in this case, woods in an unnamed state), the motiveless killer, even the overall structure is similar, with nearly an hour before the killing begins. But they fail in every possible way to achieve what Halloween did so effortlessly. For them, since they are possibly the only ones reading this review, I will break it down step by step.
Let’s start with the locale - the woods. It’s identifiable - everyone’s gone camping, and everyone who ever lived in a suburban town probably has a forest-y type area where they went to party, or play guns, or whatever. But the problem is, the film never offers any geography that we can understand. How far are they from the town? How deep into the woods are they from their car? None of these things are ever clear, so the stakes simply don’t work. In Halloween, we know that people are out at various parties, and when Laurie seeks help from the one neighbor who is home, they are frightened by her screaming and silly way of saying “keys”, so they do not offer aid. It’s simple and effective; we know that no help is nearby, and her reasons for sticking around (the kids) are clear.
Now let’s move on to the killer. Michael Myers had no motive to target these specific three girls. A common argument is that if the killer has a motive, he’s not as scary, but if he DOESN’T, then the movie is pointless. So why does it work? Well for starters, his costume is creepy as hell: a pale human face (that the most underplayed of all the slashers would have the face of a legendary over-actor is particularly delightful). And because of the holiday’s inherent spookiness, his personification of “The Boogeyman” is all you need to know anyway. In short - it works because of all of the elements - setting, costume, general urban legend - coming together under the hand of a master craftsman. Your killer, on the other hand, is a guy in the woods wearing a winter coat. See the difference?
Of course, there is an attempt to give the killer SOME sort of history, so a red herring guy comes along and tells our heroes the story of Cropsy, er, The Deranger, who was killed when, well, the same thing that happened to Cropsy happened to him. But this doesn’t work, because we never know if the story is true or not, nor does the killer ever take off his stupid coat to allow us to see burns or something that would identify him as the guy from the story. Film is a visual medium - having someone simply tell a story doesn’t cut it. Would Halloween work as well if we didn’t have that opening sequence of young Michael Myers killing his sister, and instead we just had the obviously crazy Dr. Loomis TELLING us that he’s dangerous? Pretty doubtful.
Finally, let’s address the structure. It’s admirable (in a way) that the film wasn’t a wall-to-wall killfest like some of the later Jason movies, but that only works when you genuinely like the characters you are following around. You like Annie, you like Laurie, hell you even like Bob. But your characters, and I can’t even recall any of their names a day later, are either whiny or abrasive. Even the Final Girl, the ONE character you should like just on principle if nothing else, is a bitchy sore-sport who complains about every single thing in the movie (sort of like me, in a meta way). She doesn’t want to camp, she doesn’t want to drink, she doesn’t want to smoke, she doesn’t like the other people... it’s just bitch bitch bitch nonstop. There’s a big difference between being wholesome and simply being a goddamn loser who should have been left at home. Even Laurie smokes a joint.
Then you have the main guy, who goes from annoying to kind of amusing to just plain annoying again. He’s the idiot’s idea of the “likable asshole”. You know the kind - he’s a dick and a moron, but in a charming way (for a great example, see Travis Van Winkle’s character in the new Friday the 13th). You need a capable actor to pull this off, and this guy is NOT a capable actor. He’s just a douchebag, and an unlikable one at that. I admit to chuckling after a while, such as when he refers to his friend as a “piece of shit” (every one of his lines contain one of Carlin’s 7 dirty words, if not all) and keeping his sunglasses on during sex, because I almost began to admire the idea of putting such a wretched character front and center. But then it began to wear thin again, especially since the script was clearly not long enough to make a feature length film, so he started just repeating lines of dialogue over and over.
Also - the movie simply lacks suspense. The killer only appears right before he strikes. If you take out the kill scenes, you wouldn’t even know you were watching a horror movie. If you’re not going to have a body count, you need to make sure the audience never forgets the imminent danger your characters are in, via POV shots and the like. We don’t want to watch a guy gathering wood - we want to watch THE KILLER watch a guy gathering wood.
I could address the movie’s other faults, such as the inexplicably dirty lens, nonsensical dream sequences (more padding), lack of an actual ending, and hilariously inept establishing shots that are clearly just photographs, but I think the point is clear by now. It’s fine to try to emulate Halloween - if you’re going to steal, steal from the best (it worked for Sean Cunningham) - but keep in mind that if you fail, your movie’s shortcomings will be all the more apparent and unforgiving.
Oh, and if you’re going to have a scene where the backwoods pervert (another red herring) jerks off to the sight of two of the girls sunbathing, you should have him do the same when he’s spying on the two guys of the group. Equal opportunity + weird homoerotica = movie being spared from the Crap bin.
(P.S. The DVD has a making of/outtake collection that proves that these guys are a bunch of glorified frat boys fucking around, so the idea that they were even trying to make something that would entertain anyone but themselves (if that), and my resulting review, is just my internal optimism taking control. My sincerest apologies to all.)
What say you?