Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty, Sian Davis
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Expectations: I don’t know. High but also low.
As a die-hard fan of the original films:
The 2013 version of Evil Dead is everything I feared it would be. Instead of encapsulating that rebel, low-budget spirit of the original, it feels incredibly mainstream and not the least bit fresh. I suppose that’s to be expected of a mainstream remake of a genre classic, but I had hopes that with Robert Tapert, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on-board as producers they’d make sure that they did justice to the legacy of Evil Dead.
What makes Evil Dead a hard one for me to write about is that I can see both sides of the argument. Purists think this should never exist (like most remakes), but modern viewers unwilling to venture into low-budget territory have come to this one in droves. I’m firmly in the purist camp, but I do think they got one thing perfect. This Evil Dead isn’t so much a remake of the original as it is a similar situation with entirely new characters and a lot of cherry-picked elements and shots from the Raimi films. This is definitely the way to go to avoid people like myself bitching about how “the new Ash isn’t as good as Bruce Campbell,” and other such unwinnable arguments. So now there’s no Ash at all. Which is exactly how this movie should be. Ash and Bruce Campbell are inseparable.
No matter what changes were made to the characters, the same premise exists as the basis for the mayhem. Five college-age kids come to a cabin in the woods and awaken some ancient, evil bullshit thanks to a book bound in human skin in the basement, the Necronomicon. But this time, the kids have all assembled there to help Mia kick her drug habit, which is a noble cause but it takes up the entire first act of the film and ultimately doesn’t mean anything or pay off at all. I’ll admit to nitpicking a bit, but even if I’d never seen the originals I can’t imagine not noticing how a third of the movie was essentially meaningless. I respect them for trying something different than the old standard “kids going into the woods to fuck” thing, but generally it’s better to have a story that runs through the entire film, no?
In terms of modern horror, though, this is better than a lot of what I’ve seen. I didn’t care too much for it because I inherently don’t care for modern horror, but it does a lot more right than your average mainstream horror film. It’s Rated R and gory, if nothing else. But what that means in today’s film language is that the gore will be incredibly realistic to the point of turning me off completely.
Many horror films of the ’70s and ’80s feature incredibly bloody FX, such as the first two Evil Dead films, and many of these FX look pretty realistic. But even the most realistic of these still looks somewhat fake. The mind — the adult mind, anyway — is never completely fooled, so there was always an element of watching horror to confront our demons and our fears, and to overcome them. Stephen King wrote about this phenomenon in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre. His focus was on the monster movies of the ’50s, but the same principle applies to the entire genre. Horror allows us to deal with extreme fear in manageable ways. But modern horror never feels like it’s working at this level anymore, at least to me. The extreme violence is so realistic that I might as well be attending a deranged anatomy class. It’s tortuous to watch. Evil Dead might not be torture porn in the normal sense of the genre, but it definitely tortures its audience to a certain degree. And I watch horror movies to have fun, something that very few modern horror films are ever concerned with providing.
As “good” as this remake might or might not be, I don’t think anyone could argue that it’s pretty far from being the vibrant, interesting piece of amateur art that Raimi’s original Evil Dead is. That film was created from scratch and it builds a rich world of demonic possession as it moves along. The remake simply takes what it wants from the original and crafts a threadbare story that doesn’t matter around these elements. There’s even a few moments that are style recreations or homages to shots in the original film, which feels cheap, lazy and simply calls attention to the fact that there’s very little style exhibited in the other scenes around these small moments. I don’t know, if I were making my feature film debut with a high-profile film like this, I’d try a little harder.
I should mention that towards the end of the film, it finally seems to break free from the tired shackles of convention and actually forges ahead into exciting, thrilling territory. It’s only maybe 10 minutes of the movie, but those 10 minutes are pretty good. Not wholly redeeming good, but good nonetheless. You have to seriously suspend your disbelief to enjoy them, though, as some RIDICULOUS BULLSHIT happens just prior. The FX, all achieved through practical, traditional means like the good ol’ days, also look incredible. I don’t care for the hyper realism of modern FX, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re incredibly well-realized. You will squirm. And if you don’t, they should check your mental state because it ain’t gonna be pretty when you snap.
Oh, and the music is horrible! Generic mainstream music that tries to guide you towards emotions with the subtlety of an atom bomb to the face. For me, that probably killed this movie’s chances more than anything, but I definitely hate this kind of music more than your average bear. And while I’m listing random thoughts: how many fucking times do we need to see the same goddamn Necronomicon page foreshadowing a later event? They show many of the pages at pertinent times throughout, but there’s one page shown over and over again. And when the time has finally come for this overly foreshadowed event to pass, what do they do? They cut to the goddamn page again — mid-fucking-scene! — in case you aren’t paying attention to the exact scene you’re watching AND you missed the last five times they showed the page. WTF! ADD filmmaking at its
But I also understand that some of my issues are of the “old man shaking his cane” variety, and those who don’t share my affinity for horror films of the past will likely find this Evil Dead to be quite the horror film. And that’s what it really comes down to. If you’re a die-hard Evil Dead fan who never really cared for the modern version of horror, this movie is completely pointless and will most likely just piss you off at how homogenized and mainstream the genre has become. But if you are a fan of modern horror and you always thought Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead was cheesy and “too old,” then you’ve probably already bought the Blu-ray because this is one of the best modern examples of the genre. And really, I don’t think either side is wrong. But is this really the state of the horror film today? That the remake of a genre classic, lacking the heart and the spirit and the artistry of the original, is lauded as the best horror film in recent memory? Ugh.
As a fan of the original, this one was a bit of a bummer. However, it had a cool style to boot, I guess. Nice review Will.
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think it had much of its own style.
Well, their first mistake was trying to make it scary. I always thought of Evil Dead as a comedy. I just can’t wrap my head around it being horror. Makes no sense to me. It’s like when Doom 3 turned into a survival horror game for some reason. My whole reaction was, “What? Why?”
To be fair, the first Evil Dead is pretty straight horror. There’s definite black comedy, but it’s not until Evil Dead 2 that the comedy is really overt. The tone of the first one is serious yet still playful, perhaps simply by virtue of being made in the ’80s. Things nowadays very rarely have much of a sense of humor. As much as I love Frank Miller’s work, I generally call this “the Frank Miller effect” and it’s killing everything I love. Everything does not require “a dark re-imagining.” The serious tone of this one also has strange implications considering what they’ve alluded to happening down the line with the franchise.
And Doom 3 was awesome. 🙂 The previous Dooms were similar if you played them without any codes. The sheer tension of having to conserve health, knowing that hordes of demons and your doom were waiting around every corner was frightening. But I can totally see where you’re coming from too.
I’ll take your word for it, since I haven’t seen the originals since high school. All I remember from them is the humor and the wild shit flying everywhere. I really ought to check them out again to jog my memory.
I think this may have more to do with my lack of connection to the horror genre. I never felt that tension you speak of in Doom. Those games never gave me more tension than, say, Street Fighter or Sonic the Hedgehog. Maybe I’m broken, but horror stories, or themes, or imagery, never seem to phase me much.
I generally like “dark re-imaginings,” but you’re right that it doesn’t need to be the only thing out there. There’s room for everything, but of course people are going to latch onto whatever trend they think works at the time and flood the market with it.
Ah man, that’s a while. They’re definitely worth re-watching.
The horror tension in Doom is only there if you let it be there. Like a lot of old games, you have to let your imagination run wild a bit to lose yourself in the situation, even though it’s fairly far from representative of reality. By Doom 3 time, tech had caught up and was able to represent that feeling more fully.
I also generally like those dark re-imaginings, I just get frustrated with that being the only thing out there. Although, the Marvel films are pretty far from that, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
See, I didn’t mind this one. I thought it was pretty creepy, had some nice scares, and offered a bit of a fresh take on the whole “isolated cabin” flick.
I can see what you’re saying though, with this film being outright horror and the original bing more comedy. Would you say that colored your expectations a little? It’s been decades since I saw the original Evil Dead films, so my memory of them is hazy, but it could a factor….
I did think the ending of this film, with the blood rain, became a little redious, but for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I held back and tried to make the review coherent, but I could really rip this film a new one. While it’s a passable modern horror film, it’s so lackluster as an Evil Dead film, it fails to capture any of the feel of the originals outside of using many of the same elements. For instance: The cabin in the original is a total character of its own; The cabin in this one is just a location.
My expectations for this were for straight-up horror, and the comedy of Evil Dead 2 & 3 didn’t color them at all. At least not consciously. I never expected the 2013 film to replicate most of the specifics of Evil Dead, just the basic setting and premise, which it did. I just think it did so rather poorly and without much in the way of innovation. I’ve seen all three original films more times than I could count, but I did everything I could to go into this one with a clean slate and an open mind.
I enjoyed the blood rain stuff, not because it made sense or anything, but it was the first time it felt like this version was doing anything on its own without standing on the shoulders of the Raimi films. The actual ending, on the other hand, could have used some of the energy of the original’s final shot! Ugh, I was so disappointed with this one.
Aw, dang. I’d been reading mostly positive reviews of this elsewhere, including among some old-school Evil Dead fans, so I was hoping to see another one for the pile. But the complaints you have certainly sound like they’re valid issues, since a lot of them are complaints I’ve had about many modern horror films (in fact, I just finished watching a fairly wretched one, Wrong Turn 2…)
Army of Darkness was my introduction to the franchise, so I’m a little out of order on the series. Caught the original a little bit ago, and hope to get to the second one before the end of the month. Solid films so far.
Glad to see you’re doing a horror theme month for October as well. Figured your site would have some interesting choices there.
I wish I could say that this one bucks the trend of modern horror, but it embraces it as much as it attempts to recreate the Evil Dead franchise. I honestly can’t imagine what any fan of the originals would see in this one, but I can only speak for myself. The positive response had sort of lulled me into thinking this would be good, s perhaps it hit harder when it wasn’t.
Hope you enjoy Part 2, that’s always been my favorite.
Every year it’s Horrific October around here! This year won’t be as bountiful as years past, but I’m glad you’re enjoying what’s here so far.