A couple weeks ago, the stars of the upcoming The Evil Dead remake commented on the tone of the film they’re about to shoot. It seemed to catch a lot of people off guard. Not our piece necessarily, but the fact that the talent involved (along with Bruce Campbell) were talking about a “seriously scary” movie seemed to flummox people.
Another aspect of the upcoming remake that has some people seriously freaking out? No Ash. No Ashley J. Williams. No Bruce Campbell. No Chin. Now, I love Bruce Campbell. I’ve seen Evil Dead 2 literally dozens of times. Which is why I think it’s a good thing he’s not in this movie.
You may think you want Ash in the remake too. But you don’t. Not really. Why? Because it’s a remake of The Evil Dead. Not Evil Dead 2. And there’s a huge difference.
Ash is not the embodiment of the original film. And humor’s not really a huge component either.
Hit the jump to read on.
In 1981, The Evil Dead intended to scare and shock. That tree rape is, and is supposed to be, horrific. That’s the intent, even if the success of the tone is a mixed bag. I think that Raimi’s at-the-time experimental camera work is often the sword upon which the perception of that tone falls. Some of the shots are so ambitious and self-conscious that they come across as comedic. And while comedy may have been a component of their design, it wasn’t 100% the desired end result. I’m not saying the whole thing is intended to be humorless – it’s a smart film that winks at the conventions of its genre, but that genre is most certainly horror.
The Evil Dead takes way more time in setting up its characters than its followup. Notice that the word “character” is pluralized. There are four other major players that aren’t Ash – Cheryl, Linda, Scott and Shelly. Elements in the sequel that are exaggerated and out of nowhere – such as the bridge being blown out – are actually set up in the first act of this film. It’s an entirely different, much more grounded experience. There’s no laughing lamps, no dancing nude bodies, no vortex, no rotating Ash flying through the woods. And even though it may use less buckets of blood than its more famous younger sibling – it feels twice as brutal. Even if Ash keeps his hand.
When the time came to make the sequel – six years had passed. And I get the feeling that Raimi was more interested in examining and celebrating the weaknesses of his original work than he was in revisiting its actual mindset. Which could be why Evil Dead 2 and Army Of Darkness have that madcap “Looney Tunes” aesthetic that is almost completely absent from the 1981 film. In essence – Evil Dead 2 is a spoof of The Evil Dead. I’m not saying the sequel isn’t awesome – it is. I’m not saying it doesn’t count as horror – it does. But tonally, it’s about almost as night and day different as Hot Shots is from Top Gun.
When people walked out of the premiere of the original Evil Dead on October 15th, 1981 in Detroit, Michigan – I’m willing to bet what the first thing on their tongues wasn’t. Bruce Campbell. Sure, he’s the hero of the film. Yes, even back then he displayed a great deal of charisma. But this wasn’t a one person show a la Evil Dead 2 and there were other cast members to account for. But none of them were really the stars either. The star of Evil Dead? The film itself. I’m not saying this to detract from any of the casts’ contributions to the film or Campbell’s deserved legacy and iconic status – I’m just saying none of them were the identity of the movie.
Ash is certainly a character in The Evil Dead. He even turns out to be the hero (albeit in a much more toned-down manner than in the subsequent films). The setup was a standard ensemble ‘Cabin In The Woods’ film. Structurally, it’s essentially a slasher movie – but with demons, possession and rapey trees in place of a guy with a knife. Sure, Ash becomes the hero and takes on the demons – but that’s what happens at the end of every slasher movie. He’s not a superhero in this one.
What is the identity of Evil Dead? The tone. The effects. The gore. The spirit. The invigorating roaming POV shots. The fact that the demons hang in the air like tortured marionettes. The fact that, instead of holding back on its meager budget, the film went all the way. But it wasn’t necessarily going all the way to make you laugh, it was going all the way to shock and scare you. It’s actually a remarkable achievement given the budget and the age of the crew who pulled it off. When people were walking out of that theater, they weren’t talking about how Ash held a shotgun – they were talking about the experience. The experience was the star.
When you heard that Friday The 13th was being remade, what was more important to you? Bringing back Mrs. Voorhees or bringing back Jason himself? Even though Jason wasn’t in the first film – he’s the identity of that franchise. And if Evil Dead 2 hadn’t taken such a radical left turn – Ash wouldn’t be the identity of this franchise. The tone and experience would be.
So if one were to attempt anything new associated with this brand – offering an updated version of that experience is really the only thing that makes sense. It’s the only thing the producers of the new film – which include Sam Raimi – could even hope to get right. And that’s what Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody have all stated as their intent. To bring that insane, f*cked up aesthetic to the screen. Of course the film should have great characters – it just doesn’t matter as much which specific characters they happen to be. It certainly didn’t matter in the 1981 film. No one who walked into that even knew who Bruce Campbell was. And they certainly weren’t expecting him to say “work shed”.
The one thing they for sure wouldn’t get right? Remaking Evil Dead 2. It’s a good thing they’re not even trying. And if they f*ck up The Evil Dead – which could happen – I’ll be as upset as the rest of you.
Let’s just be clear on which film they’re remaking. Not because I’m defending the remake necessarily, but because the existence of the remake has exposed the fact that not that many people have watched the original Evil Dead! And if they have, they’re certainly not remembering it properly.
Don’t you think it deserves better than that? Do me a favor – if you haven’t seen it in the past 10 years, watch it this weekend. Ask your friends who love Evil Dead 2 if they’ve actually seen the original. If they answer “yes”, well, all of this hullabaloo indicates that they’re probably lying. Make them watch it too. It’s a horror movie. With scares. I promise.