Stan Against Evil: Comic ‘The Evil Dead’ Wannabe (Review)

Stan Against Evil Season 1
John C. McGinley, Deborah Baker Jr.

Stan Against Evil could have been titled “Sam Against Evil” since it borrows so heavily from Sam Rami’s stock FX and many of his “gags.” Although the vomiting of black goo did not go into the sheriff’s mouth, unlike the stuff that Mrs. Ganush regurgitates into the protagonist’s mouth in Drag Me to Hell.  The pilot of Dana Gould‘s creation feels like a small screen The Evil Dead wannabe with comic aspirations.

While John C. McGinley is a personal favorite from his days on Scrubs as the irascible Dr. Perry Cox, it feels like McGinley is channeling that character into an Raimi verse and it does not fit. 

McGinley is small town Sheriff Stanley Miller who served in the post for 28 years before being let go after an incident at his wife’s funeral.  Stanley attacks an old woman who makes faces at him during the graveside service.

This sounds funnier written down than it does being acted out on the screen. The scene just lacks something. Which is the problem with the pilot full stop. It  lacks any cohesion and McGinley’s Miller, who is, in essence, Dr. Cox with a badge, feels out of place.

Watching the pilot one wonders how Stan managed to keep the job so long.

The “comedy” horror series takes ideas from a couple of sources. The LA Times actually liked the pilot and pointed out, quite rightly, that Stan Against Evil borrows heavily from not only Raimi, specifically The Evil Dead and the brilliant Drag Me to Hell,  but Joss Whedon’s Buffy-verse is touched upon very lightly as well.

While the sincerest form of flattery in Hollywood is imitation, it is not surprising that the show has taken the Raimi/Whedon route. Although it should be pointed out that the humor is nowhere near as spot on as the source material borrowed from.

Stan Against Evil Season 1
Stan Against Evil’s Mrs. Ganush…

Herein lies part of the problem. The Evil Dead has already been brought to the small screen. Bruce Campbell has donned the chainsaw arm for Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz. So if fans of that sort of comedy horror fun want a Rami product they need look no further.

Show creator Gould has mapped this new series out like a live action The Simpsons  treehouse episode and it is lacking. Annoyingly, the prosthetics are impressive. They could have come straight off of an Evil Dead assembly line.

But as good as the makeup and special FX are, the show falls very short of any sort of noticeable goal. McGinley seems to be “freewheeling” his lines instead of working from any sort of script.

Janet Varney as the new sheriff in town; Evie Barret, has been woefully miscast or, at the very least, misdirected. She is all wide eyes and over-reactions  and has been given a two demential character with absolutely no depth.

(To be honest, none of the characters have any depth. One feels that that if they stood sideways all the players would disappear except for a thin outline.)

The rest of the cast have their work cut out for them as well. Deborah Baker Jr. and Nate Mooney both have characters so shallow that there can only be an improvement as the show progresses.  Unlike another comedy that was hard to get into, “Crowded” (on NBC) where everyone tried too hard, Stan Against Evil feels like no one is trying at all. 

This new offering on IFC may eventually find its feet. So far the comedy it has on offer feels misplaced. So far this feels like Scrubs meets The Evil Dead and it is missing the comedic mark.

Stan Against Evil premieres tomorrow, 2 November, on IFC.  This was show that we wanted to enjoy, McGinley is a favorite, but based on the pilot, it is a not so clean miss.

We recommend it only to the most resolute John C. McGinley fans.

Road Games (2016): Twists & Turns (Review)

Joséphine de La Baume & Andrew Simpson in Road Games

Written and directed by Abner Pastoll (His second feature length film.) Road Games follows the journey of English hitchhiker Jack (Andrew Simpson). The young Brit is making his way from Nice to Calais to catch a ferry back home.  He rescues  Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume) from a driver who is arguing with her and the two agree to team up. 

After a long wait for a ride, a car stops.  The French girl is reluctant to get in but eventually joins Jack in the car. The driver; Grizard (Frédéric Pierrot) is a bit odd but friendly. He invites the two back to his house where, he says, his wife Mary (Barbara Crampton) will cook them a meal. 

Back at the family home, which is an immense mansion,  the hitchhikers get settled in and clean up for dinner.  Jack learns that yet another strike is taking place at  Calais so he will have to wait to catch a ferry back to England.

Grizard  tells Jack earlier that Mary is English as well, but the woman is really from America originally.  The older couple act bizarrely and at one point Mary tells Jack to lock his door at night.

At dinner, they all talk about the hitchhiker murderer; a serial killer who is quite famous around that area. Véronique calls the infamous murderer a “serious” killer.  The atmosphere in the house is strained and weird.

At one point Jack tells the group that he is a vegetarian.  Grizard reacts poorly to this news and calls the young Englishman a “Homme-Lette.” (Which seems to be slang for gay…)

Things get strange and after Jack spends the night with Véronique, the young French hitchhiker goes missing. Grizard tells Jack that she left without him.

Road Games is slow but methodical in its build up of suspense.  The moment that the two hitchhikers meet up with Grizard and his wife Mary the tension sets in and never leaves. There are some satisfying, and surprising, twists in this French/UK thriller.

The cast is an intimate affair. There are only four main characters and French actor Féodor Atkine is Delacroix;  a road kill collector who is much more than he seems. He is the fourth   piece in this well put together puzzle. 

Pastoll has delivered a film that has the audience asking questions right up until the end. (Pay attention to the closing credits, as there is a hint of something to come.)  A very satisfying film that delivers  an impressive tale where the choice of serial killer changes constantly.

Set in the gorgeous countryside of France, with what appears to be a  few shots of Kent, the film looks brilliant.  The film was shot in both countries and while Kent could have been interior scenes, there are some bits of countryside that look decidedly English.

While the film hits all its marks, keeping the audience second-guessing until the very end, there is one sequence that is confusing.  At one point  the two hitchhikers flee and grab an car. Before leaving the enormous house, Véronique grabs a set of car keys.

The two head to a heretofore unseen car and use it to drive away.  As the film continues this mystery seemingly sorts itself out but not quite.

If there is one bone of contention, it is Grizard’s overwhelming verbal outburst toward the end of the film.  It really did drag the scene out that bit too long.

This is a 5 star film full stop.  Clever, suspenseful and really entertaining. Leaving out the serial killer slant the film and its characters are all quirky and odd enough to make some to the scenes nigh on unbearable to watch.  Pastoll’s lack of music in some sequences adds to the sense of uneasiness.

The cast all do very well in their respective roles and it was nice to see Re-Animator actress Crampton again after her recent appearance in We Are Still Here.  Irish actor Andrew Simpson  does very well in his role of hapless traveler Jack. The French cast really sell their characters and this small group work very well together indeed.

Road Games is streaming on Netflix and is also available on Amazon.  At just over 90 minutes the film is worth the time spent watching, just for that final plot twist alone.  Pop some corn and grab a coke, this is a good one.

(Note the film does utilize subtitles extensively. It is, after all, set in France.)

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