Evil Dead baby!
Forget Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell parading down the red carpet at the Paramount Theater in lovely downtown Austin promoting their little magician flick. For the 1,200 or so blood-thirsty ravenous horror fans circling the entire city block, it was all about the Evil Dead last night.
When word first leaked out that the remake of the The Evil Dead was indeed going to happen, the internet exploded. Disgust, disdain, and dastardly dismemberment were the order of the day. The main question on everyone’s split bifurcated tongues was simply, “Why?” Why the fuck would you mess with a classic horror film that has meant so much to so many and truly helped usher in a new era of ultra-intense gore and insanely creative shoestring budget filmmaking? For many, like me, it was akin to cinematic treason.
Now let’s be honest here. Most of you never saw the original The Evil Dead on a big screen during its initial theatrical run way back in 1981. Some of you, like me, may have been lucky enough to catch the brilliant 1987 remake Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn on the big screen during a very, very limited run (Alameda Theater in Houston, Texas with about seven other brave fanatics in the audience!). The less said about ED III: Army of Darkness, the better. At least for this article.
In reality, most of you were privy to the hellish wonders of the Necronomicon via one of the many versions on VHS or DVD and in the safety and comfort of your own home. While still awesome, not the same thing as sitting in a crowded theater with a bunch of strangers who have all purposefully chosen to spend their hard-earned money to have the shit scared out of them.
It’s obvious my reticence at the announcement of the ED remake was palpable. That is, until the unholy triumvirate of director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and human punching bag and star Bruce Campbell’s names were attached (detached?) to this updated rebirth.
Now I am not one to dismiss horror remakes out of hand. Classics such as John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly being the two most obvious and successful examples of remakes done right. More recently, I actually enjoyed The Last House on the Left remake (until the microwave scene at least) and I Spit on Your Grave. So, I approached the world premiere of ED with an open mind.
My open-mindedness was expanded even further after I was able to ask several of the key participants in the new version about the pressure of re-making a true genre classic. It’s one thing to remake a reviled lesser film such as I Spit on Your Grave (though I am a big “fan” of the original), than it is to tackle a monster like ED. I wanted to make sure that the new blood valued the original as much as I still do, and that they were aware that there are, obviously, going to be a shit-ton of skeptics out there. Naturally, everyone involved sang the praises of the original, while stressing that theirs was a new entity altogether. So far, so good. Then, a quick chat with Rob Tapert drove the point home that he, Campbell, and Raimi simply felt that the time was right to unlock ED upon a new generation of horror fans.
Red carpet done, time to mosey on in and grab a seat inside the Paramount. The house was packed. Bruce Campbell was in attendance, as were Rob Tapert, new director Fede Alvarez, and the five lead actors, Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore. SXSW Senior Programmer Jerod Neee came out, giddy as hell, and said picking ED was a no-brainer. The crowd was pumped, the excitement was tangible, and then…
…we get a period piece prologue that held no tension whatsoever for me. The reveal was obvious and the much-ballyhooed claim that “this is all practical effects!! No CGI!!” is absolute bullshit. I guess they made that widely reported claim before they tacked on this wholly unnecessary intro.
Sadly, my enthusiasm was immediately dampened. Of course, the audience was lapping it up and cheering. That’s part of the fun of attending film festivals — hanging with other film lovers and cheering on the films you are all witnessing together. Being a hardcore horror fan is soooo much different though. We are enthusiastic, pumped, ready to accept anything as long as it is well-written, earnest, and most important of all, scary!
The next 45 minutes did not fare much better. So concerned about differentiating itself from the original film, the ED remake spends far too much time establishing a fairly interesting reason for the presence of five seemingly smart young adults in a cabin in the woods. The way this is achieved is by turning Mia (Levy) into a drug addict who is trying to kick, and her friends are determined to not let her leave until she makes it through the initial withdrawals. A fairly creative way to keep everyone intact and isolated.
As such, the first act only serves to show that actresses Levy, Lucas, and Blackmore, and to a lesser extent, Fernandez, aren’t quite up to snuff. Most important is Levy’s task of playing a convincing hard-core drug addict who is agonizing while going through the most painful experience OF her life. She doesn’t pull it off and opts for the stereotypical junkie tics and not much else.
The lone exception, however, is Lou Taylor Pucci. He is cynical, bitter, and dismissive, and also the funniest character in the film. The tortures he endures in the final third of the movie bring to mind Bruce Campbell’s days as Ash, but to the nth degree.
It’s this amped up attitude throughout the final third of the film that almost saved it for me. As with the first two EDs, the remake pumps up the gore to absurd levels and is truly the main calling card for this version. While the make-up jobs are stellar, I had difficulty getting over the Regan-esque demonic voices and the Samara-like wet hair. Also, so much of the film is shoot way too dark making it extremely difficult to fully appreciate the make-up. Frankly, not being able to see it at times made things less scary.
Ah, scary. The big stickler for any hard-core horror fanatic. We’ve seen so many horror films that we know all the beats, all the tricks, and are seldom, if ever, scared any more. In lieu of good scares, I seek out films that fill me with a sense of dread. Unfortunately, ED does neither. I actually only jumped one time during the entire film after a car crash scene. Otherwise, it’s the same old loud noise scares and jump scares, just like the ones that have ruined so many mainstream horror films during the last 15 years or so.
On the plus side, the effects were pretty sweet. They’re not scary, at all. But I can absolutely appreciate the artistry on display.
Does the new ED appease old school ED fans like me? They try to by incorporating several iconic images from the first two original films such as Raimi’s always-present Oldsmobile, the skeleton necklace, and the chainsaw, amongst several others. But they almost feel a bit too forced. If you’re going to go out to the world and boldly assert that you are Frankensteining your own creation, then do it all the way.
When I watch a horror film, I want to be transported for 90 minutes into an ethereal hellscape that makes me appreciate my life even more. With the remake of Evil Dead, I mainly sat in my seat and simply thought, “Why?”
That question was answered during a lengthy, late-night Q&A by none other than Mr. Bruce Campbell his own bad self. He said that during the filming of the original that he, Raimi, and Tapert could not afford to buy a pack of gum between them at the end of the day. I appreciated his honesty. He also added that the old fans need to move on and unlock hell’s door for a new generation. “Besides,” he added, “you can dust off your DVD any time you like and watch the original.”
Seeing this remake makes me want to do just that.
Corey Mitchell writes best-selling true crime books, watches and writes about horror movies, and listens to and writes about heavy metal. He is also the co-founder and director of the Housecore Horror Film Festival and co-author of Philip Anselmo’s upcoming autobiography.