Remakes, amirite? Boy, that train just keeps on a-rollin', bypassing torture porn, zombies, found footage, and all the other horror trends of the last decade. Because remakes are here to stay, most horror fans have relented and called a...well, not a truce with them, per se, but more of an uneasy cease fire à la that between North and South Korea. There's a never-ending standoff at the demarcation line, with constant vigilance on both sides: remakes pull their pants down and wave their asses about, taunting not only to remake the most beloved films in the genre, but also to remake the remakes. Over the line, fans fume and foam and rage, moan and bemoan, and then hand over their dollars. So it has been and so it shall ever be.
As for me, I try, at least, to be largely open-minded about these things. Sure, I don't much see the point of a new version of whatever. Sure, sometimes I see a trailer (like this one for the most recent Carrie remake) and I am all "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, TRAILER FOR THE MOST RECENT CARRIE REMAKE"...but hey, sometimes remakes are good. Sometimes they are really good! And they're not much worth getting our collective thongs in a twist over- no matter what, the originals ain't goin' nowhere. You can't touch old Carrie, new Carrie! I'll just watch that! And as for you, middle Carrie remake, I've never seen you, so just keep quiet!
You know, something like that.
Anyway, all this brings us to Evil Dead, director Fede Alvarez's rehashening of Sam Raimi's beloved 1981 film. Man oh man, when this project was announced one hundred years ago, you could feel the burning gaze of indignant horror fans right through your computer screen and smell their smoldering black novelty t-shirts on the wind. Was Diablo Cody really going to write it? Was there really going to be an Evil Dead without Bruce Campbell? Would someone really dare to make Ashley J. Williams a girl? Froth froth froth.
Then last Friday came, Evil Dead opened, and fans around the world started touching themselves over Alvarez's efforts, hailing it as one of the best horror films of recent memory. But is it, though? Is it? THIS IS THE TIME WHEN I TELL YOU WHAT I THINK.
As in the original version and also 63% of all horror films, Evil Dead puts five young folk in a cabin in the woods, then later violent mayhem ensues. Rather than the typical sex-n-drugs-n-Jenga setup, however, Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues ground the weekend getaway idea with a wee bit of gravitas: Mia (Jane Levy) is at the cabin to detox, her friends and estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) are there to hold her hand, hold her hair while she barfs, and help her through it.
It's an admirable attempt by the filmmakers to elevate Evil Dead above the typical brainless horror fare, but ultimately the drug angle is only a MacGuffin to get the gang into the middle of nowhere. It doesn't prove as central as it could have, or maybe as it should have. As a narrator, Mia is highly suspect and hey, maybe she's just seeing things or making shit up so she can go home. Are these happenings really happening? I am just saying, maybe a little suspense would have been nice, a little metaphor use to jazz things up. After all, this is Evil Dead and we all know how it's going to go: you find a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, you read from a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, everyone goes deadly nutcake, the end.
Maybe it's best that there was minimal setup, though. Don't get me wrong, I loves me some character development (I yearn for it, really) and I'm willing to wait a long while for things to actually happen, but here is a sample of the dialogue:
"Mia, exposition exposition. Exposition."
"But David, exposition! Exposition exposition EXPOSITION."
And so on. It was pretty dreadful. Couple that with a few Telegraphed Horror Movie Moments™(gee, I wonder if that nail gun we're seeing in close-up will be used on a person an hour from now!) and unfortunately, I was getting impatient for these fools to wander into the basement, open the book, and get on with it already. Then they did, dropping any pretense at character development, metaphor, or whatever. They really got on with it. What I mean is, Evil Dead is profoundly violent and so effing gory, I can't believe it was playing next door to, you know, Tyler Perry's Whatever Whatever at the cinemovieplex. It's rated like a pirate-level ARRRRRRR, the R is so hard. Razor blades, needles, electric knives, chainsaws (of course), yes, the aforementioned nail gun...I haven't seen this much blood flying on the screen since...well, ever.
The gore, in fact, is likely the biggest thing Evil Dead has going for it. Jane Levy does an alright job as Mia- she's best when she's possessed- but ultimately the acting and the script are the weak links in the chain. Remember when everyone was so concerned about the possibility of a "girl Ash"? Well, for most of the film "David" fills that role and let me tell you, a Real Girl Ash would have been about as exciting and emotive. Not that one goes into Evil Dead expecting a well-acted treatise on the human condition or what have you (the original certainly wasn't that), but pile up enough questionable actions by the characters and all the dopey dialogue and you realize it's really just an okay package in an exceedingly dazzling wrapper.
There is fanservice aplenty throughout the film with winks, nods, and Easter eggs, from Cheryl's demon voice to Sam Raimi's infamous Oldsmobile to the sly use of the original's iconic poster art. It's fun, if nothing else.
And then there's the tree rape.
Of the sequence in his film, Sam Raimi said, years later, "I think it was unnecessarily gratuitous and a little too brutal." He's right, but then The Evil Dead is a pretty brutal film, nearly as gory as its remake. The sequence returns in 2013, but it's surprisingly tamer- see, it's not the trees raping Mia as they did Cheryl; it's more of a wormy, slimy, branch-y thing barfed up by a deadite witch that then makes its way between Mia's legs. It's more Cronenbergian than its predecessor, but it's still gratuitous. The rules of possession in Evil Dead are fast and loose- sometimes it's transmitted by bite, sometimes...not? It just...is?- and so there's no reason the wormy, slimy, branch-y thing couldn't have been barfed out of one mouth and forced down another. It would have provoked the requisite hoots and hollers from the audience, which, you know, would have been more palatable than a rape scene doing the same.
Sure, the old "Well, what do you expect from a horror movie?" arguments can be trotted out here, but when we live in a culture where defense lawyers claim that 11-year-olds are willing participants when they're gang-raped, when politicians bandy about terms like "legitimate rape" and offer up scientific "facts" about pregnancies resulting from rape, scenes like that in Evil Dead do matter. They're worth talking about, even if it's fantasy.
So all in all, I suppose it depends what you're looking for; I mean, it's not as if the movie isn't fun in that exceedingly gory, "is this really fun?" kind of way. Strip away the blood and guts, though, and there's not much left. When it was all over, my lasting impression was an intense desire to go home and watch the original.