FOR ALL THE FLAK he’s taken in the past week for Oz the Great and Powerful — from critics as varied in sensibility as Dana Stevens, Ann Hornaday, Manohla Dargis, Scott Foundas, even perennial cheap date Peter Travers — Sam Raimi remains a demigod among cult-horror connoisseurs. Raimi directed and wrote the original 1981 Evil Dead and its 1987 sequel and did the same double-duty for Army of Darkness, which remains an upper-middle-camp rite of passage for most 16-year-old males. 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, if less shark-jumping in its approach, was a totally above-average divertissement in the Raimi horror-comedy catalogue. Leaving aside Oz, the Spider-Man trilogy, and 1999’s maudlin Kevin Costner baseball flick For the Love of the Game, Raimi’s chief contribution to the film universe has been his formal mastery of blood spatter — and how to make a packed auditorium laugh even as the skin crawls.
The world premiere of Fede Alvarez’s hotly hyped reboot of Evil Dead drew a crowd that wrapped not once, but twice around the 700 block of Congress Avenue in Austin. The Paramount Theatre, where just last week L.A. Theatre Works staged its bicentennial performance of Pride and Prejudice, would eventually reach its 1,100-seat capacity. The crowd, to put it mildly, was voluble — a thousand-plus humans hooting and hollering, unquestioningly delighted by scenes of impressive self-dismemberment and bloody vomit.
You know, art house stuff.
That Evil Dead was SXSW’s big-ticket offering for the opening night of this year’s festival isn’t particularly surprising or provocative. Annual counterculture frolics have a life-arc as predictable as the college revolutionary who returns for the 25th reunion with wife and two-and-a-half kids in tow. At first you’re fringy and edgy and muddy, but before long, Herbie Hancock starts to qualify as “adventuresome” programming at Bonnaroo, where Jay-Z now feels quite at home.
James Agee railed against the phenomenon we now call “mainstreaming,” the notion that society will inevitably tame and subsume the shaggy-haired visionary into the regulatory program of the culture. Agee relished referring to this phenomenon in castratory terms:
Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.
“Fury,” “deadliest blow,” “castrated,” “fatal misunderstanding”: points well taken, each a fitting epitaph for once-indie, now magnanimously corporate-sponsored festivals. This is why Craig Newmark refuses to “monetize” Craigslist: once you get big enough, you lose that sense of format-busting freedom.
Those buzzwords bring us back to Alvarez’s Evil Dead, which is full of sound and fury, not to mention deadly blows, fatal misunderstandings, and at least the specter of castration. Written by Alvarez and Diablo Cody (who came to prominence on the merits of a very indie f...read more