Everyone Else Is Talking About The “Evil Dead” Remake, So I Guess I Will, Too


Evil-Dead-Poster

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat — first-time director Fede Alvarez’s new remake/”reimagining” of Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic The Evil Dead (this time going out minus the article at the beginning of the title, so it’s just Evil Dead, thank you very much) is not, as its ad poster claims, “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” That’s actually a gutsier tag line than it sounds on first reading, since it’s essentially promising that not only is this flick scarier than anything you’ve already seen, it’s scarier than anything else you’re ever going to see for the rest of your life. It can’t live up to that, period — and truth be told, it’s not even very scary at all.

Which isn’t to say that it’s bad or anything. In many key respects — eschewing CGI for “real” special effects, not even trying to cast somebody new in the role of Ash since  absolutely anyone would suffer in comparison to Bruce Campbell (who, along with Raimi, is on board as at least an air-quote producer on this one) — Alvarez and  his cohorts (including, it pains me to say, co-screenwriter Diablo Cody, who I was fairly certain was going to fuck things up here in some way, shape, or form but, pleasingly, doesn’t) get a lot of what they’re trying to do here right. The film is gory beyond belief, moves at nearly the same breakneck pace as its ’81 template, there’s a sublimely wrong tree-rape (yes, you read that correctly) scene,  the script provides a believably updated reason for why our five protagonists are getting together in a remote cabin in the woods — that looks very much like the original, might I add — in the first place ( I won’t spell it out too specifically but it gives new meaning to the old “withdrawal’s a bitch” cliche), and the performances are, on the whole, fairly solid.

They’ve also wisely chosen not to mess with the whole “haunted book inked in human blood and bound in human skin that releases untold evil onto the world” premise, so points all around for not only not messing with what worked in the original, but also for not trying to catch  lightning in a bottle twice by hewing too closely to it. Alvarez seems to have gone into this one knowing what he should and shouldn’t play around with, and that puts him a step ahead of your average horror remake director.

Here’s the rub, though — whenever you’re trying to update the look and feel of a $375,000 production on a budget of $14 million, something’s bound to get lost in translation, and no matter how hard it tries, Evil Dead circa 2013 just can’t capture the grittiness, the grime, the immediacy and, dare I say it, the heart of its progenitor. Alvarez is definitely going for an old-school approach here, and I commend him for that, but it’s still (and obviously) not old-school in actuality. Once you poke beneath the paper-thin surface, it becomes fairly obvious that any successes the new film has are more or less of the cosmetic and superficial variety. It looks good, sure — but it still feels kinda wrong, even though it’s doing its level best to cover that up by, again to its credit,  not giving you too much time to think.

I mentioned before that I by and large liked the cast — Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore and, especially, Jane Levy as our doomed (or is she?) central “heroine,” Mia — all do a nice job. But none of them especially stand out, either, which isn’t too bad a mini-metaphor for the movie itself as a whole — it’s thoroughly competent in terms of its execution, but there’s not much extra “spark” to the proceedings. Alvarez seems to understand the essential ingredients for making a solid, respectful, won’t-piss-you-off updating of a classic, but he’s got some way to go before he can create a genuine classic from whole cloth himself.

In some respects, there’s really not a whole lot he can do about that — The Evil Dead was shot in a remote Tennessee cabin while Evil Dead constructed its own location in New Zealand that set out to ape the look and feel of middle-of-nowhere USA as best it can — but that’s just endemic of the greater problem at work here, namely that this is a story that just plain not only doesn’t need a so-called “upgrade,” but literally can’t survive one with its celluloid soul intact. I give Alvarez all the kudos in the world for trying, and for at least understanding the surface elements of what made the original the undeniable classic that it’s rightly hailed as, but so much of what made Raimi’s flick the singular triumph that it was can never be duplicated. Hence, I guess, why I just referred to it as a “singular” work. In short, while we’re still talking about the first one some 32 years after its release, I’ll be damn surprised if people are talking about this remake very much even a year from now.

Still — they did what they could here, I suppose. I had an exchange with a couple of friends on facebook earlier today about the endless stream of remakes in general that we’re forced to navigate, and it made me realize that at some unspecified, silently-arrived-at point, I went from going into these things thinking “I hope they get it right this time” to  “dear God I hope they don’t fuck this one up.” It’s a subtle shift, sure, but it  certainly speaks volumes about the general performance of the studios’ big-budget-remake machine. I’m pleased to say that Alvarez et. al. don’t fuck this one up (and whatever you do, hang around until the credits are over — you’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face even if you don’t actually like the film at all), but it is what it is. The Evil Dead 1981 was a product of blood, sweat, tears, determination, and — weird as it may sound — love, put together by folks who didn’t always know what they were doing but were always giving it more than their best effort. Evil Dead 2013 is, for all its attempts to duplicate the trappings of its predecessor, a professionally-executed Hollywood production. You tell me which is gonna be better.

Hell —  tell me which has to be.

27 responses to “Everyone Else Is Talking About The “Evil Dead” Remake, So I Guess I Will, Too

    • Actually, they do talk about Van Sant’s “Psycho,” mostly in a bewlidered, perplexed, “what the hell was he thinking?” kind of way. I don;t think this new “Evil Dead” will be discussed or debated — for good or ill — to nearly the same extent. It’ll just kind of drift off into the distant, foggy recesses of the collective mind’s memory swamp.

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      • I think it’ll depend on how fans who will grow up liking this remake will remember it. We have to remember that not every horror fan nowadays have seen the original. The younger crowd grew up on these remakes and see them as being superior because of the slicker sheen to everything.

        I don’t mind horror remakes and remakes in general since in the end their quality (or lack thereof) never diminishes my love for the original. I think this remake (and the planned sequel which Campbell has mentioned will coincide with a 4th film in the original series then tying the two “realities” of Mia and Ash together) doesn’t fail in what it set out to do and that’s to make a fun, gory thrillride. I think Alvarez would’ve made a major mistake in trying to match the fandom for the original.

        As someone who considers the original one of the best horror films around I will admit that it’s a film that really has only a small percentage of true zealous fans. I believe the majority of those who say they love and prefer the original only do so because it’s what the film’s fandom requires of them and to go against it would not be something that would be appreciated. Hell, I still see people thinking the original was a horror comedy (some reviewers seem to point this remake’s lack of the giggles as mossing the point of Raimi’s film) when it wasn’t hilarious at all.

        But I agree that people will not be talking about this remake the way people have talked about the original, but then that film has had 30 or so years to develop a following. I say give it time and depending on how Alvarez turns out as a horror filmmaker I think this remake will have life beyond it’s release date.

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        • Sounds optimistic to me! I fully agree that there;s nothing at all funny about the first “Evil Dead” flick, which is why it’s my personal favorite of the bunch — the farther they drifted into comedy with the sequels, the worse I feel they became (although I really do enjoy all three). I honestly don’t think this remake has any chance of achieving much longevity, though, simply because there’s nothing remarkable about it. Even somebody who doesn’t like the original “Evil Dead” has to admit it’s a pretty remarkable achievement and that it has a real energy and vitality to it that can’t be faked. This remake is perfectly competent, as I said, but it doesn’t stand out in any memorable way. I think the best it can hope for is to achieve the status of, say, Tom Savini’s 1990 “Night Of The Living Dead” remake (although I think that was a lot better than this “Evil Dead” remake, but bear with me for the sake of comparison) in that it isn’t fondly remembered to any particular degree, but is generally respected and liked by those who still bother to give it any thought. NOTLD 1990 isn’t anybody’s favorite film, but no one really hates it, either — the consensus opinion seems to be “it’s nowhere near as good as the original, but if they had to do a remake, I’m glad it turned out as well as that one did.” I think that’s going to prove to be the conventional wisdom with this film, as well.

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          • Yeah, that last sentence is going to be the norm for this film, but in the end people will still talk about it even if it means always trying to compare it to the original. I put this remake on average to above-averag level of horror remakes. It’s not on the same level as Carpenter’s The Thing, Kaufmann’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes, but it’s on the same level as Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, Reeves’ Let Me In and Verbinski’s The Ring.

            I think my optimism about this remake stems from the fact that despite its flaws in dialogue and characters’ intelligence or lack of common sense it was still fun to watch. Maybe I was lucky enough to have a good, responsive full crowd in the theater I frequent, but the audience participation was definitely above-average and probably made the film better than it should’ve been. Plus, any horror film that could pull off a hentai-level tree rape scene that would make even the most jaded hentai fan blanch or cringe deserves a slightly curved grade. LOL.

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          • I agree it was perfectly good and fun to watch — just nothing terribly special. Better than the average remake? undoubtedly (have to disagree with you about “Let Me In,” though — I thought that was a sensationally good remake). I saw it at a fairly packed screening, but the crowd wasn’t into it in any kind of boisterous way, which certainly would have added to the fun. I think most folks seemed to come out of it with the same general feeling I did — not bad, but no classic, and it’ll always and forever come up short when compared to the original. The other thing is — the original hasn’t really become dated or worn out its welcome or grown stale, which makes it tough on this remake, as well. You could show the original “Evil Dead” to some 15- or 16-year-old horror fan who’s never seen it and chances are very good that they’ll find it to be an extremely effective film, in the same way that modern audiences still find Romero’s NOTLD both effective and scary. The true classics have a timeless feel to them.

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          • Oh, I can find you some 15-16 yearlings who would laugh and get all snarky about the original Evil Dead. Youth is definitely wasted on the young, especially when it comes to the horror classics. I mean, some actually prefer the Snyder Dawn to the original. I mean I can understand why (faster, more action and faster) but I’m still at a loss as to why (I know that didn’t make sense but it does in my head).

            I hope Alvarez just continue to improve his craft moving forward and look at Evil Dead as a good first step.

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          • I think the Snyder “Dawn” has the same essential strengths and weaknesses as the new “Evil Dead” — nice and flashy in terms of style, but no substance. Romero’s “Dawn” was total allegory from start to finish, yet Snyder managed to make a zombie set in a shopping mall that had absolutely nothing to say about the wastefulness and emptiness of American consumer culture. It’s almost amazing how completely apolitical and subtance-free it is. Fun? Sure. But destined to be remembered? Not really. And sure, you can find some younger kids who prefer the remake and who will prefer this new “Evil Dead,” too — but I bet you’ll find more young kids who still prefer the originals. Newness does not equal goodness to many of the young horror fans out there.

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  1. Very good and characteristically analytical review, Guru Ryan.

    Not a huge fan of the original Evil Dead – I think it’s fair to say it enters the realm of (not all that amusing) camp by virtue of its extremeness, along with the characters’ reactions thereto. Granted, not as overtly as the sequels. I don’t find it to be all that scary, either. But, especially considered in the context of the time at which it was made, it is a force to be reckoned with, on a number of levels, and a notable accomplishment, as you each have indicated. Still, I don’t think I will be seeing this new version.

    I like Bruce quite a bit, as do you, and so many others. However, it was Bubba Ho-Tep that solidified my high regard for Mr. Campbell. Now there is a masterful use of a shoestring budget, and an original (and actually-funny) horror/comedy. When are you guys going to review and shine some light on that under-illuminated little cult gem?

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      • I stand corrected, and enlightened. I don’t know how I missed that.

        Nicely done. You appreciated the same things about BHT as I (which, of course, validates your review). You even used essentially the same phrase to describe it – “little genre gem(s)”. It really is surprising how this film manages to engender such affection and sympathy for the characters, for all the reasons you cited.

        Thank you, sir.

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        • I honestly don’t know of anyone that’s seen “Bubba Ho-Top” that hasn’t enjoyed the hell out of it.

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          • I tend to look warily at anyone who say that they didn’t enjoy Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s like someone saying that they don’t like little kittens acting all cute. It’s against nature.

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          • Like I said, I honestly can’t remember ever meeting anyone who claims not to like it.

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    • I enjoy “Bubba Ho-Top” quite a bit, as well, Don Coscarelli is consistently one of the most inventive and unique directors working not just in the horror genre, but in cinema in general.

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      • So many great scenes and lines – Elvis doing battle with the scarab beetle, his voiceover narration, the identity reversal/torch-passing summit meeting between Elvis and the impersonator…one could go on for quite awhile.

        One of the many things I like so much about it is how I find myself rooting for these guys – Elvis and JFK – as they face down Bubba, with their walker and wheelchair. That the film causes one to be so emotionally invested in such a ridiculous confrontation speaks to the quality of the performances of Campbell and Davis (what great casting), and, of course, of the direction. The vulnerability and courage of the protagonists makes the viewer care. And I agree with Arleigh, again – the viewer finds themself not only quickly believing Elvis’s identity, but seriously considering that of JFK, as well.

        That’s quite a combination of accomplishments for a film whose plot synopsis sounds so silly. I don’t know whether or not the writer(s) intended to create such effects – they may have simply wanted to amuse, but this film, quirky and simple as it is, does that and much more. Funny, poignant, fun, thought-provoking, and brilliantly original. And Bruce. And Ossie.

        Love me some Bubba Ho-Tep. (I love kittens, too. So perhaps the analogy is sound.)

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      • That’s an experience I have had more than once after reading and possibly posting on this site. I am often reminded of movies I love to watch, and haven’t seen for too long. One of the benefits of visiting a site hosted and contributed to by informed and knowledgeable kindred spirits. (Thnk you, Arleigh, et al.)

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  2. Bubba Ho Tep was ‘alright’, when you say ‘like’ its in the same vein as ‘I like eating’ but would you pick pizza (evil dead) over plain lettuce (bubba ho tep). Def not Don or Bruce’s best……

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    • I would agree it’s neither of their best work, but then it has some awfully strong competition —

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  3. I will have to wait for the new evil dead to hit Netflix, the original film was just so unique and honestly, reboots are like saying that the original is outdated and unworthy of watching in a way. Nobody repaints a famous painting as new right? ok some try to to swindle dummies who who will buy anything. I guess we created this monster by allowing Hollywood to dictate to us what they think we want by their ticket sales….. As for remakes that totally blew? Psycho, Nightmare on Elm street, Friday the 13th…. remakes that were ok but not worth buying on dvd? new Texas Chainsaw massacre wasn’t bad… but we can all learn from classic films that worked way harder to be original than new films with a budget that makes use of cgi laden effects, In the end its an age old argument, what is relevant now? well, I say to hell with Hollywood and we should stick to the originals and make Hollywood WORK for a change! Let them take more chances on NEW talent, NEW stories and ideas and when they do give these NEW fresh ideas proper publicity!

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