Thursday, October 15, 2015

Shocktober Revisited: More Brains and Swallowed Souls

editor's note: this was originally posted in November of 2011.
 I finally caught up on some horror documentaries, specifically More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead and Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead 2. The former you might have heard of; the latter is more incentive to pick up Lionsgate's 25th Anniversary Edition of Sam Raimi's splatter classic.

 Dan O'Bannon fans will be elated and disappointed while watching More Brains - the film reunites most of the surviving cast and crew members (including the special effects artist fired halfway through the film), but until the very end, O'Bannon - who passed in 2009 - is absent from the oral history of Return of the Living Dead. There's a lot of talking about O'Bannon, often in conflicting narratives (he was too demanding, too aloof; he was easy to work with and open to suggestions), but only in the closing moments does the writer / director have a chance to speak to the film's cult status. In what was his final interview, O'Bannon is candid about the audience embrace of the film and its legacy, and makes a knowing comment about "if I die tomorrow" before the film goes to credits.

 The story of the making of Return of the Living Dead from John Russo (producer / writer of Night of the Living Dead)'s original pitch to the decision of Hemdale Films to hire Dan O'Bannon to write and direct the film as a horror comedy, from casting to premieres, is an affair filled with gossip, contradictory stories, and debates about whether Clu Gulager really threw a can at the director in a fit of rage. I'm tempted to share anecdotes from the cast, or to mention the ongoing bad blood between the production designer (William Stout) and first make-up effects (William Munns) over the inadequate zombie masks and "headless zombie" appliance. The memories are sometimes contentious, sometimes defensive, but always entertaining. More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead is well worth the time of fans of Return of the Living Dead.


 Meanwhile, I'd like to thank a video store in the mall that will go unnamed until later this week for erroneously placing two copies of the 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn the weekend before the disc is actually released (it comes out tomorrow). I've bemoaned the endless re-releasing of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films on DVD before, and we're seeing the first instance of "double-dipping" in high definition for the trilogy. As Anchor Bay closes (or whatever is going on with Anchor Bay) and their catalog is divvied up by Image Entertainment and Lionsgate, we're likely to see another release of The Evil Dead before long, and I find it hard to believe that Universal's underwhelming "Screwhead Edition" of Army of Darkness is the be-all-end-all of HD releases.

 But for now, let's look at the Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn 25th Anniversary double-dip. As a sucker for supplements, I must admit the list of extras seemed very promising - collections of featurette's about the casing, effects, conception, direction, and filming. When I put the disc in, I didn't realize that all of these individually listed extras were part of one 98 minute documentary, Swallowed Souls. It's reminiscent of segments of Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, and is broken into chapters complete with claymation vignettes to bridge them.

 Like More Brains, the primary element lacking in Swallowed Souls is the presence of Sam Raimi. It's not as though his presence isn't felt, because the "making of" footage shot by Greg Nicotero features young Sam Raimi in abundance, but he's noticeably absent from the proceedings. On the other hand, the doc features an abundance of newly shot interviews with Bruce Campbell, who speaks candidly about Evil Dead 2 and shares stories I don't think I've heard anywhere, including in If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. Swallowed Souls also prominently features the rest of the leads of Evil Dead 2: Sarah Berry (Annie), Dan Hicks (Jake), Kassie Wesley (Bobbi Joe), Richard Dormeier (Ed) and Ted Raimi (Possessed Henrietta). Hearing their perspective on making the film is in and of itself a treat - many of them had no idea what they were in for.

 The entire makeup effects team, including Mark Shostrom (From Beyond, A Nightmare one Elm Street Part 2) and the first time in years that I've seen all three members of KNB (Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger) on camera talking about a project they worked on together*. Their camcorder footage, which documents the conception of Evil Dead 2's effects all the way through the film's production, are a treasure trove of unseen footage from Wadesboro, North Carolina in 1986. They gleefully exploit their creations and play around with camera tricks, mimicking Raimi's "evil force" camera shots.

 So here's where it gets tough - do you want to drop another $14 for Evil Dead 2 to see an admittedly great "making of" documentary? If you still have the Anchor Bay disc, you'll notice that The Gore the Merrier is still included, the commentary is still included, and I'm not sure that the picture is that much different. The price is fair so if you don't already have Evil Dead 2 on Blu-Ray this is a no-brainer, but wary double dippers are going to have to ask themselves if the making of justifies buying the film again. I will say that if it were released on its own, Swallowed Souls would be worth picking up in the same way as Halloween: 25 Years of Terror or His Name was Jason are. Evil Dead fans, prepare yourselves for the impending moral quandary. I don't regret it, but I also have the added bonus of picking the disc up early...

 * Since Kurtzman moved on to create his own production company, it's common just to see Nicotero and Berger appearing in "making of" documentaries that KNB did makeup effects for.

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