I know; it’s easy to get trapped on the couch. You’ve got your blanky, and the dog curled up beside you, and your giant television playing a non-stop A-Team marathon. In order to leave the couch—to actually get out of the house altogether—you’d have to put down that handful of nuclear orange cheez-wangers and operate a doorknob or two.
And let’s not attempt anything too ambitious. Let’s not be rash.
Why am I thinking about getting out of the house this week? It’s not because I think there’s anything better than sitting on the couch and watching movies (there isn’t, unless you’re going out to watch movies), rather it’s because the Dr./Mrs. and I just bought a house in ultra-conservative Berkeley, California.
I understand that as Berkeley residents we will be required to operate our own nuclear reactor and blacken tie-dye shirts by hand using the tears of hippies? So many new local ordinances to learn.
So yes. For us, the challenge was not so much getting out of the house as it was getting into a new one. But let’s not quibble. Other people—people in the movies—are more like you.
They cannot get out of the house to save their lives.
And that is the theme of this week’s Mind Control Double Feature.
Woman in the Dunes
Did you ever feel stuck in a rut? Well, you just hang on to your flippity-flops there pal, ’cause you ain’t seen nothing.
Woman in the Dunes is a 1964 Japanese ass-kicker directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Filmed in hypnotic, seductive black & white, this parable tells the story of normal guy entomologist, Junpei. He heads out to the coast to collect some bugs, but misses the last bus home. Helpful villagers find him a place to stay with a recently widowed woman—in a hut at the bottom of a deep hole dug in the sand.
Junpei’s pretty weirded out and uncomfortable, but he rolls with the punches. It’s like this: you know how you feel when you’re eating lunch at the beach and there’s a little bit of sand in your potato chips? It’s like that, but times a flibbitybillion.
In the morning, Junpei wakes up to discover that he’s trapped. The villagers have deliberately stranded him at the bottom of the pit so he and the widow can perform the important task of collecting sand. If he doesn’t play along, the villagers won’t send down any water and—small problem—they’ll probably get buried alive.
Sand. It just keeps trickling down into the bottom of the hole. Better keep digging or die.
Junpei isn’t so keen on this life and sets his sights on getting out of the house and the hole. Will he succeed? Will he fail? Will he be eaten by giant worms? I’ll never tell.
But I will say this. This is the kind of movie that starts and you’re all like, “Oh man. Arty-farty crap, booo-ring” and after about an hour you realize you’ve lifted a handful of cheez-wangers to your mouth but they never got inside because THE SAND IS COMING. Also, your fingers are all stained orange.
Women in the Dunes is one of those movies that’s very clearly about something other than what it superficially appears to be about. So clearly, if fact, that to tell you about it now would be insulting to your intelligence. That doesn’t make the film transparent or simple: it makes it brilliant. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino should watch this film? Maybe not. He’d make a version of it starring Christoph Waltz as Emperor Hirohito and Uma Thurman as nuclear irradiated sand.
I do not recommend watching this film on the beach.
Evil Dead II
Ahhhhhh! Fan-boy, scream-off, pants-wetting squeeeeeeeee! Everyone loves Evil Dead II. Everyone loves this movie so much it was pre-made once, then made, then three-quelized, and now it’s being pre-re-made! It’ll have a pre-re-quel?
If you haven’t seen Evil Dead II, now is the perfect time. Do not delay. Why? Because very shortly the new Evil Dead which is a remake of the movie that Evil Dead II is a semi-remake of which is also called Evil Dead will be out. Are you confused? Well, that’s natural.
Here’s a quick (vastly simplified) cheat sheet:
Sam Raimi made a low-budget horror/comedy called Evil Dead in 1981. It was about a guy named Ash and his buddies who get stuck in a cabin in the woods by the evil forces unwittingly released from The Book of Dead. The film was so awesome (but cheap) they made a sequel that replays a version of the events from the first film and then adds a bunch of new stuff. It’s less lo-fi than the original Evil Dead but still all super tactile, semi-goofy practical special effects. That second film was called Evil Dead II. Raimi then continued Ash’s story in a third film called Army of Darkness which should have been called Medieval Dead, but, you know, assholes. Now they’re remaking the original Evil Dead which has already been done brilliantly and long ago as Evil Dead II.
So why remake a brilliant movie that people adore?
To take your moneys, of course. And I am skeptical, seeing nothing in the new trailer that reminds of the genius of Evil Dead II. And what, you ask, was that genius?
Humor. While Evil Dead II is definitely a horror film, it’s also really funny and intentionally so. Bruce Campbell—playing Ash in all three films of the original trilogy—is a great physical comedian. He’s like one of the Three Stooges with an axe and hemophilia Still. This is a genuinely funny film and that only makes the scares that much more thrilling. (Meanwhile, the pre-re-quel just looks gory in exactly the same way that all other modern horror films are gory.)
Wait. Have I told you what Evil Dead II is about yet? Sort of? There’s a cabin. There’s a book. ‘Deadites’ get accidentally released from the book and then oh-my-god-demon-hand, chainsaw, screamy-screamy you’re all gonna die.
Sounds hysterical right? Good. Watch it. Then consider how easy it is for you to get out of the house. Compared to Junpei and Ash, you are a lazy lazy bastard.
Now pass me some of them cheez-wangers.
That weird split between high and low brow is something that has always fascinated me.
On rewatchability alone I think Evil Dead II would be in the top 5 of all time. But beyond pure rewatchability it is simply a fantastic film; scary, funny, inventive and with a central performance for the ages. Bruce Campbell is literal genius in this film. It’s a performance that actually deserves awards but will never be recognised for it, because… you know.. it’s comic. Can you imagine Daniel Day Lewis in EDII? He would be shit.
Is EDII in that American film heritage list? I forget what it’s called the one where they add a few films every year. Is it the AFI list? or Film Registry, something like that anyway. It should be.
I think Horror as genre get’s dumped on a lot in general. I didn’t really like horror that much (EDII and Nightmare on Elm St excepted) until the last few years. The AFI doesn’t even have a Top 10 horror list.
The one adjective I missed when describing EDII is exhilirating. The sheer insanity of the film is so much fun to watch.
Going further in regards to Raimi’s style and influence. The style and references in the EDII show that Sam Raimi has a deep love for the history of cinema and it reminded me of a post Film Crit Hulk wrote a while about Edgar Wright who when I think about it now is the closest filmic descendant of Sam Raimi, specifically in terms of how he uses homage and references to old cinema for storytelling purposes rather than stylistic coolness or pastiche like Tarantino.