Apr 18, 2013


(Spoilers abound.)

With the release of Evil Dead, the umpteenth remake of a beloved horror property, I think it’s safe to say the redo/reboot/reimagining craze might be coming to an end. After all, every hot title from the ‘70s and ‘80s has been modified for newer audiences, with a range of quality from excellent to downright maudlin. Our remaining and untouched heavyweight titles are The Exorcist and Jaws, and despite having said the same things about Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, I doubt studios have the balls to try.

In the case of films like Halloween, a remake wasn’t at all necessary. Halloween, while not perfect, is damn near, and remains probably the greatest slasher movie of all time. However, in the case of Children of the Corn or Prom Night, there wasn’t too much outrage. Fans of those films or not, no one could argue they were perfect, or even good, and so there was massive room for improvement.

And then you have 1981’s The Evil Dead, a near-impossible film to recreate. Not because it’s flawless – far from it – but because of the circumstances under which it was made, and how those circumstances crafted the film and made it something extra special. To sit down and watch The Evil Dead for the first time (if it was the remake that led you there) is a fool’s errand. Quite frankly, the remake would be just that much better by default. A certain level of appreciation for guerilla-like film-making and no-budget improvisation are the direct result of The Evil Dead’s fan love. Sam Raimi and Co. had very little skill and even less money. And it shows, by god. The Evil Dead, as far as “should it be remade?” criteria goes, falls somewhere in the middle between the high watermark Halloween and lower titles like Mother’s Day or Night of the Demons. It was, simply, great and fun, and it skated by on its can-do attitude, but it also had massive room for improvement.

So Evil Dead 2013 (dropping 'The," because time is money) is finally arriving in theaters after years and years of speculation. And what a mixed affair it is. A twist on the old concept is a good one, to be fair: a group of friends are assembling in an old family cabin deep in the woods to take part in a drug intervention for Mia (Jane Levy), sister of David (Shiloh Fernandez). These two have history, involving a dead crazy mother and feelings of abandonment when one sibling couldn’t deal with all the goings-on and peaced out. But after Mia’s last overdose, which was nearly fatal, she’s decided enough is enough. She tosses her junk down a well and announces it’s now or never.

Then someone finds that damned book bound by human flesh and inked in blood, reads it, Mia is raped by a tree, and all hell breaks loose. Hey, sound familiar? It should, because except for a few million more dollars used directly on special effects and production design, you’re not going to be seeing anything new.

Last year’s Cabin in the Woods was successful in not only lovingly sending up the horror genre, but in rendering this remake completely irrelevant before it ever existed. After all the insane mythology that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard created in that super-fun and meta blast, kids in the woods getting mutilated simply isn’t enough anymore. Cabin in the Woods was a “game changer,” a term I abhor using, but one that is absolutely imperative to use here.

The script for Evil Dead isn’t real because there is no script. It’s filled with the kind of lazy exposition that I’ve grown to hate in films: when one character manages to shoe-horn information about the person to whom they are speaking: “Why, hello, Hairy Bearded Man! I see you have taken time off from your career as a high school teacher to be with us at this, my younger sister’s intervention!” Give me a fucking break.

The prologue, involving a witch, a group of inbred creepsters, and a father burning his own possessed daughter alive, promises something different and new. It promises a fleshed-out history of the Naturum De Montum, and a dabbling in everything that has come before the events soon to unfold. But after the opening, it’s the same story involving the same archetypes. Oh, only one of them is black now. How fine. And one of these characters is so terribly underutilized that you’d be hard pressed to remember her name (if it’s ever even spoken aloud). At least every other character is given some kind of trait or background to flesh them out them just a little, but for this one in particular, she’s clearly there to die horribly (after nonsensically cutting off her own hand, because hey, remember when the older movies did that??).

Evil Dead is 90 minutes of one character walking from one room into another, seeing something fucked up, and becoming possessed/mutilated/killed because of it. That’s… basically it. Watch as Girl goes into the bathroom and begins cutting off her own face, and then watch as Boy goes into that same bathroom a few minutes later to see what’s taking Girl so long. Say, what’s Girl # 2 doing? Oh, nothing – just walking around as everything goes to shit around her. Guess she’ll go into the cellar, where she gets stabbed and threatened with demon cunnilingus.

Oh, speaking of, can we please have a moratorium on foul-mouthed, sexually explicit demon talk going forward? Yes, The Exorcist did it. Yes, it was effective…forty years ago. Let’s just stop. A demon threatening to give you a blowjob is not scary. Not whatsoever. It makes audiences laugh, as it should. If that’s your idea of scary, then Evil Dead is for you. Try to fit it somewhere in between your viewings of "South Park."

If I were still in high school, then I would call Evil Dead “fucking cool, dudes!” I would have been easily swayed by the film’s cameos – of the Oldsmobile, of Bruce Campbell’s post-credit one-liner, and of the original film’s audio recording that details the history of the Naturum De Montum. And I admit to laughing out loud during the end credits when seeing the “Fake Shemps” list. But watching this film with mature eyes, after a previous decade of horror remakes actually trying new things with old concepts, all of this so-called love and reverence for the original seems like nothing more than pandering. Yes, the violence is gruesome, near cartoonish, and certainly holds up its gnarled middle finger at its baffling R-rating. Yes, a demon broad gets chain-sawed through the head and blood flies in massive clouds as the infamous cabin becomes an inferno in the background. High School Me’s boner would have penetrated the silver screen; even as a more mature viewer I’ll say it was an awesome, over-the-top moment. It just would have been that much more effective had it been preceded by something a little more in-depth and intriguing beyond “kids go to the woods, kids find evil book, kids get dead.”

People seemed very optimistic about Sam Raimi’s involvement and I have to wonder why. Obviously the original film was his baby, and if anyone was going to take care of it, it would be him. But goodness, have you seen Ghost House Production’s filmography? The Grudge series? The Messengers? Boogeyman, for fuck’s sake? Let’s just say the double-team of Raimi and Tapert don’t exactly have the same luck and eye for talent as Jason Blum, who has produced much better horror fare (Insidious, Sinister). Raimi himself hasn’t even directed a decent film since 2000’s The Gift; his bizarre and stupid Drag Me to Hell has pretty much insured that I will never care about a potential Evil Dead 4/Army of Darkness 2, which is likely to carry forward the goofy "we're in on the joke now!" tone begun in Evil Dead 2.

All of the above sounds very embittered, I know. So let’s end with some positivity. Evil Dead still remains one of the better horror remakes – certainly the best since 2009’s My Bloody Valentine. There’s nothing inherently terrible about it. Lazy script and bland characters notwithstanding, Fede Alvarez’s direction is solid. Two things that were essential in the realization of this remake were kept in place: the eerie, dreamlike and almost surreal tone of the original, and the understanding that the new film not rest on humor, which too many people incorrectly associate with the original. (Funny it may have been, it certainly hadn't set out to be.) Additionally, the first scene showing a girl wandering through the woods filled with fog, lit from above by the sun, is gorgeous, as is much of the violence soon to unfold. And in the aforementioned prologue, in which a young possessed girl gives up on trying to charm her way out of the ropes that bind her, and in her sweet, innocent voice, tells her father she’s going to rip out his soul (sounding almost conflicted about it) – before she changes into the demon that has taken hold of her – it works. It’s eerie, and it’s effective in that way a remake should be: It remembers, fondly, the source material, but attempts to try something new. It’s just a shame this wasn’t attempted for the remaining 88 minutes of the film.

If you enjoy the original The Evil Dead for what’s presented on-screen, with no reverence for the behind-the-scenes struggles the filmmakers endured in getting that bastard into theaters everywhere, then there’s no real reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the remake. It is beautiful looking and superficial entertainment at best. But if what you appreciate about the original – much like I do – is all the hell Raimi and Co. endured in getting the film made and managing to do so under the worst conditions, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be disappointed. The tale of a 22-year-old amateur filmmaker creating a no-budget feature filled with demons, levitation, tree rape, stop-motion effects, claymation, innovative camera techniques, and oceans of blood, and driven by his love of schlock and movie-making, is far more interesting than a multi-million dollar remake funded by a major studio and produced by the guy who made Spider-Man (even if it is that same amateur filmmaker many years later).

Something special was lost in translation, and that isn’t groovy at all.

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