This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a bit down on his luck. He’s run up some pretty substantial debts, and will be in trouble for fraudulent affairs any day now, as soon as the bank realise the cars he has been claiming against don’t actually exist. The solution to his problem? Arrange for his wife to be kidnapped, so Jerry can collect on the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Unfortunately the miscreants hired to do the kidnapping, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare), bungle the escape, leaving enough clues for the police chief, a heavily pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to begin tracking everyone down and sorting this mess out.

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Snivelling, double-talking car salesman Jerry Jundegaard (William H. Macy, Oscar nommed but somehow losing to Cuba Gooding Jr.) has a plan. He needs money. His father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) has money, but hates Jerry. So Jerry hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife and demand a ransom, of which Jerry will keep half. What could go wrong? Well, quite a lot it turns out, especially if everyone involved is an idiot and you’re being directed by the Coen brothers. The men’s escapades are chaotic, unstructured and are all heading off in different directions until, at the 32 minute mark, heavily pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson shows up to set them in order. Frances McDormand deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal, nailing that wonderful sing-song North Dakota accent “Yah, you betcha” and, once full of eggs, keeping a straight face whilst clearing up the handbasket Hell’s clearly fallen out of around her. 

Few films as short as this (98 minutes) have room to divulge us with background lives – a meeting with an old school friend, conversations about stamps – whilst still keeping the action moving briskly. Every line is considered and real, every character feels genuine, and this is the greatest proof you can find against the argument that the Coens can only write caricatures. Often underrated, this film can never be over-seen, and no-one can call themselves a film fan unless they’ve both seen it, and loved it. The title of this blog was very nearly called Your Accomplice in the Wood Chipper, and a car boot opening has never made me laugh before.
Choose film 10/10

Evil Dead Trilogy

When five college friends go to stay in a mysterious cabin deep in the woods, it’s safe to assume they’ll be lucky to see their homes again, as they will undoubtedly encounter a clan of cannibalistic hillbillies or some centuries old curse. So when, in Sam Raimi’s schlock horror debut, the kids find the Book of the Dead, bound in human flesh, written in human blood, and play a recording of it being read, the dead become free to walk the Earth, and the kids must struggle to stay alive until morning, in the hope of finding their way back to civilisation. So far, so standard, but where the film differs from the gory also-rans is when a girl is dragged into the woods – by the woods – and raped by a tree. Plug sockets and light bulbs leak with blood, and one by one the kids become possessed by demons, with bloodied eyes, gnarled, pallid skin and faces like beaten up clowns. Raimi’s innovative camerawork and game cast – all terrible actors aside from our hero, the uber-chinned Bruce Campbell – stand this film out from its imitators and inspirations.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is that rarest of sequels that rewrites the entire plot of its predecessor in its first 7 minutes, showing what the film could have been had a greater budget been available – a more attractive love interest, advanced effects and even a back story for the Book of the Dead. Having discovered an audience for his own brand of homemade horror and slapstick splattery, Raimi lets himself, and reprising star Campbell, off the leash, balancing the grotesque with the quirky in such classic scenes as Ash cutting off his own possessed hand and replacing it with a fully operational chainsaw. The more what the fuck moments add to the feeling of watching someone’s head explode onto a screen – the maniacally laughing moose head and bizarre neck extension are standouts, and this remains a tremendously fun, if occasionally bat-shit insane adventure.
As with Raimi’s other threequel, 2007’s Spiderman 3, the approach to Army of Darkness is to take everything and throw it at the script, see what sticks, and include it all anyway. This leads to a film with a frankly ludicrous premise – at the end of part 2 Campbell’s Ash opened a rift in time, and is now stranded in 1300AD, and stretches it past breaking point with the sheer volume of ideas piled on top. The opening death pit scene is fun, but the ensuing insanity of a two-headed Ash (beginning with a repulsive eye growing on his shoulder), Gulliver’s travel style tiny men causing havoc and a skeletal army complete with beards takes it all too far. The result is a film still endlessly enjoyable and quotable, but lacking the overall playful sense of fun from the previous entries.
The Evil Dead choose film 8/10
The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn Choose film 9/10
The Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness Choose film 6/10