I didn’t really know anything about this movie--except that there was stuff to know about it: meaning that you kind of watch it with an understanding of the circumstances of its making. Basically the deal is that Dennis Muren and Mark Thomas McGee, made this in 1970 for $6,500. Muren later went on to ILM and won Oscars for Star Wars and suchlike. It is known for its groundbreaking special effects--and the fact that they were accomplished on such a tiny budget by kids with no filmmaking experience. There’s a monster movie enthusiast who comes on in an introduction and explains the differences between the two versions of the film--basically, one is the kids’ original film, one is the same film as it was released by a distributor, who added a few scenes of monster rape. Naturally, I opted for the version with the monster rape.
The credits, which I assume were added for the release version, have some very nice, hypnotic imagery of the interior of clocks. Then--an explosion! And this guy runs out of the woods onto a road, where a car with no driver [although it certainly has a driver in long shots] hits him! He is taken first to a hospital, then to a jail cell, where he ends up stabbing a reporter with a cross he’s carrying. The reporter goes to the next room--with the cross--and listens to a tape the guy made, and we flash back to tell the entire story.
Basically these two guys were going to the woods for a picnic and to meet this professor of David’s--that’s our survivor from the beginning. Also on hand is Jim, and he’s brought his date Vicki, and she’s brought a friend for David, Susan. They encounter an oddly menacing ranger, Asmodeus, who doesn’t seem all that concerned that the house of the professor they’re supposed to see has been crushed. Then they go deep into a cave, and eventually encounter an old man.
Now here is where the movie takes a go at a nearly impossible-to-pull-off cinematic trick, which is the completely blank screen to simulate total darkness. The reason it rarely works--as you can see here--is that after about 30 seconds of darkness, the sounds you’re hearing are no longer involving, and just start to seem silly. But what they do here is have flashes of sights or sudden scenes in a flashlight, and by God, it pretty much works! Blow me down. The reason I said you can see the duration it works for, because some of the scenes last longer in blackness and you can judge for yourself the exact moment the spell wears off and it all starts to seem silly.
Anyway, the old guy gives them a book--it’s one of those Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ones, he was done with it--no, actually it’s some ancient book from whenever, and the guy is pretty adamant that the kids HAVE to take it. After they get out, you have your first indications that Jim is a GIANT COCK toward women as he tells one of the women who saw the skeleton that it must have been something else and she’s not even sure WHAT she saw--although she is. A few minutes later the guys are trying to open the book while the women are having their picnic all by themselves. Vicki says “I didn’t make all this food for the ants,” and Jim looks at David and snidely repeats this line, before dismissing the women again. This guy is a dick!
SPOILERS > > >
The professor appears, grabs the book, and promptly dies. Then Susan goes off to look for the guys, and encounters Asmodeus. Here’s where your tacked-on monster rape comes in--in tongue-o-vision! You see, there are numerous shots of Asmodeus coming right at the camera, quite slowly, with his tongue sticking right out, as though the camera is Susan and we are invited to thrill to her horror as she receives a nasty invasive tongue kiss from a monstrous man in a uniform. It might sound like a typical Saturday night to you and me, but she’s upset by it. Mildly. Because she is under the thrall of the spell or whatever, but is found before real damage is done. A second later she is cheerfully saying “I just felt strange. I’m all right, really!” Yeah, getting raped and felt up by a monster can make you feel “strange.”
Then Jim holds a piece of paper that appears to be blank and starts supposedly reading these LONG notes of the professor’s, still looking at the top of the page when he is several paragraphs in. It warns them that the book is highly supernatural and unleashes monsters from a hellish dimension, all of whom will want the book. Because hellish dimensions don’t have libraries--or Kindles. First, it would be fun to combine this movie’s hell-book with the concept of the bookmobile [right?], and second, can’t have a movie like this with Kindles around, can you? The haunted e-text? Anyway, all such thoughts are wiped away by the awesome spectacle of a stop-motion octopus destroying the professor’s cabin.
So the kids realize that various religious symbols offer them protection, and they search around for twigs to make them from. You’ll note that they are remarkably calm, considering the fact that there are rampaging monsters just off camera. Then one huge stop-motion monster gets quite an extravagant death scene, then Susan loses her crucifix momentarily, and becomes evil the second she does. Maybe these kids should just pack up and LEAVE? Ya THINK? But no, now they want to stick around and bury the professor’s body.
So they split up for some reason, and Jim encounters Asmodeus by himself. Now you know, an actor has many bodily resources as his or her command, but it must be said that Jack Woods as Asmodeus employs his tongue more than most. He acts with his tongue! And it must be said, he delivers quite a good, menacing performance. Anyway, soon this quite good-looking stop-motion giant comes. Then Asmodeus turns into a giant bat and flies around, then comes and picks up Susan in another good effect. Then hell breaks open, and the angel of death comes out and tells David that he will die in exactly one year and one day, which happens to be EXACTLY the day the guys in the mental institution are listening to the tape! The reporter guy leaves, passing Susan on the way in, presumably to kill David. The end!
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So there’s the whole aspect of how amazing these effects are, considering the fact that these young people made them by hand and with very little money. In that respect, they truly are amazing and ingenious. And there’s so many of them! It’s not like they blew all their money on one, but they’re throughout the entire movie and they look quite good.
But the real shocker is that, aside from all that, it’s quite a fun, energetic little movie! That is to say, you’re not just watching it as a student film or within the context of “pretty good for a bunch of kids,” but it is actually a good, involving movie. Sure the story is just silly fun, but it has a number of good spooky moments that have nothing to do with effects, but are the result of just plain good writing and effective direction. It really is an achievement and, well... don’t you wish YOUR low-budget film ended up in the Criterion Collection?
The other thing to be said about this movie is that it is CLEARLY the basis for The Evil Dead. Bunch of kids in the woods find a book of evil, recite some words from t and in doing so unleash a bunch of nasties straight from hell. But that doesn’t diminish Evil Dead, it just makes it more of an homage and labor of love. In both cases, two movies that are just about showing you a good time and being filled with really cool stuff. Yay!
You sure should, but you must understand the context that it is basically an extremely good student film.