So, I saw the one movie I’ve been looking forward to more than any this year, the remake of the horror classic, “THE EVIL DEAD”. I thought it was okay. It didn’t blow me away but it didn’t disappoint. I had a good time in there, but I know I could’ve had a better one, and I certainly know I could’ve had a worse one.
Technically, this new “Evil Dead” is brilliant. It’s shot fantastically, the special effects are great… It’s a very well put together horror film; possibly one of the best I’ve seen in a LONG time. There’s tension (even though anyone worth their salt knows exactly what’s going to happen, largely because it’s a remake of one of the most iconic horror films of recent history, but that’s a whole other thing I’ll talk about later), it’s creepy, jokes are well executed, there are moments that genuinely instill terror… or at least they would if this weren’t a remake.
I may be going into some fairly spoiler heavy details about the events of the film to get to the roots of what I did and didn’t like, so you should probably turn away now if that sort of thing bothers you. I WILL signpost things if they come up though.
The biggest problem with the “Evil Dead” remake is that it is a remake of what is (arguably) one of the most notoriously watched and loved horror films ever. Horror fans of ALL generations have undoubtedly seen the original, and that immediately works against the remake, PARTICULARLY when it’s given the “Cabin in the Woods” treatment it received here in Australia. Here in Australia, it has (so far) received an EXTREMELY limited release (which baffles me given how well it performed in other key territories), which has seen people turn up in droves to see it… but the problem there is that these are generally all people with an affinity for the original, so really, nothing is all that new or shocking about this film.
Everything that happens in the new “Evil Dead” is as plain as day to anyone who knows what happens in an “Evil Dead” film. You see a character with a nail gun, fixing a door — you know that nail gun is going to be turned on someone horrifically. You see a hypodermic needle — same thing. Very little about the way this film plays out surprises you, because you know the nature of the film and the defining points of an “Evil Dead” story. Added elements and the shake-up of certain ones are definitely intriguing but not nearly enough time is given to fully flesh them out.
Speaking of fleshing things out, because you know this is an “Evil Dead” film, you know not to get too invested in certain characters. I will say that at certain points I expected characters to do certain things or perhaps take a different direction, but those moments were fleeting. There was a HOPE that there would be more change than there was from the formula. Again, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but the potential was certainly there to do more with the characters, and really, it’s been there since the original anyway, so as far as being a remake goes, it’s faithful in that regard. The characters spend more time giving us moments of expository dialogue than developmental material, most of which is common logic stuff or stuff that we know because we’re familiar with Evil Dead and don’t really need to hear it. At the end of the day we don’t really NEED to hear much of it at all, because actions tend to speak louder than words and it’s not hard for the human brain to connect dots when we have visual presentations to rely on as well as scripted dialogue. I’m not saying the script is bogged down with it, there’s just a bit more than there needs to be.
The other problem is that you can pretty much tell, right out the gate, who’s going to make it to the end of the film… sometimes just by looking at them.
BEYOND LIES SPOILERS:
I was genuinely surprised, and almost disappointed, that the “Ash” character didn’t make it to the end. I would’ve loved to have seen a struggle somewhat akin to the Ash vs Scotty one at the end of the original, and with the somewhat surprising return of Mia, it could’ve been a really nice way to lead into the final battle and really push how much of a “through the wringer” experience the whole thing is meant to be. That said, kudos to the film makers for having the balls to kill of their leading man.
Mia’s return/purification was also somewhat surprising and, again, a touch disappointing. David burying his sister alive was a great moment; very well shot and genuinely disturbing at times. I guess I’d hoped — or if I’d written it — I would have liked Mia’s soul to have been saved, even if her body couldn’t be. Also, wasn’t the demon able to overcome horse tranquillisers and have enough physical strength to throw her brother around like a rag doll? I guess it kind of works against the idea of the “big bad” needing five souls to re-enter our world, but even that element of the film had me scratching my head a little bit.
The thing I love about all the original “Evil Dead” films is the mystique of the Necronomicon. We don’t know what it is, we don’t really know what it details in it’s entirety — we just get a translation of ONE incantation. This new Evil Dead gives us it’s own mythology and kind of loosely explains various rituals that have to be performed for this evil one to come back… I THINK. I may be putting my own assertions into that, but that’s what I gathered… but now that I think more about it, I’m not so sure. Basically, the Necronomicon in this film has a few pages illustrating various acts of torture, but it never really tells us whether these are things to be done FOR the demon to return, or anything else really… it could just be an attempt at bridging why Mia boils herself, and why that other girl I barely remember starts cutting her face off. I kind of just put it down to the old “Exorcist” thing of demons basically delighting in causing as much horror and pain to humans by mutilating and exploiting the bodies they take hold of and breaking the wills and faiths of those around them. It should also be noted that there’s an extremely heavy influence of “The Exorcist” present in this film. REALLY heavy.
What I found interesting about the demonic forces in this film was that there was really only one central “Deadite” that seemed to be spreading itself out amongst the others. The original Evil Dead kind of gave personalities to the other Deadites, and you had more than one on the loose throughout the film. The only one with any personality was Mia. The rest just kind of became animals, (Oh! On that note — how fucking awesome would a Deadite DOG have been?! But I digress… ) and it felt like they were almost “children” of the one central entity inside Mia. I point to the arm possession and those little, squeaking, black blobs whatever that other girl’s name was that squeezed from her hand as an example, and the general mindlessness the possessed (or infected?) seemed to show beyond causing harm to others. It’s a cool notion, and seeing the “entity” physically manifested as it entered Mia certain changed the mythos around and made it its own, but I kinda felt that the invisible forces of the original were scarier. Visually the new one’s more horrifying, obviously, and I think that might be part of it all.
I loved the possessed Mia, and I kind of dug the idea of her being possessed by a very specific entity, but again, I think the simplicity of the original worked better — they were demons and they were here to fuck with us. Here, the “Collector”, the evil inside Mia, is working to allow “the abomination” to enter our world by harvesting five souls. Okay, that’s a cool premise… kind of a convenient number, but it’s a decent enough idea… it’s just… kinda… not Evil Dead? And the “Abomination” itself, the true big bad of this story while a cool idea, felt horrendously executed. Was this the witch burnt at the stake at the start of the film? The book had something along the lines of Iron Maiden’s Eddie crawling out of the ground, but instead what appeared to be a nuded up Mia (or the witch) walking around playing hack and slash and it all felt a little bit like that awful French movie “Martyrs”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tense, and well shot, and it plays out well, but it felt like a significant step backwards in terms of horror. We had all these nods to and inclusions from “Evil Dead 2” (which itself is just a remake of the first), I was genuinely hoping for something along the lines of the abomination that rocks up at the end of THAT to appear. That said, I would’ve been completely happy with NONE of that sequence happening and Mia wandering off into the woods to find civilization, only for the audience to discover that she is either still possessed or has become the abomination herself. Again, what they have in this film works and is just as well delivered as the rest of the film, my problem is that I know “Evil Dead”, and I think there were better ideas to be mined and repurposed from the source material than trying to work new ones in like this.
END SPOILERS (for now):
However, the thing that I realised while watching this, and something that you may have already ascertained through my reviewing, is that this is a genuinely great horror film hampered only by its legacy.
When the original Evil Dead hit screens, nobody knew what was going on. It hit them like a freight train of horror. Back then you had things like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Alien”, “The Exorcist”, “Friday the 13th”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Cannibal Holocaust”, “Halloween” — these were the films that scared and shocked people before “Evil Dead”, and “Evil Dead” went out of its way to up the game. Look at what the remake has to contend with today — “Hostel”, “Martyrs”, countless “Saw” movies — it has to contend with torture porn. For Evil Dead to work, it’d have to be able to deliver the same shocks and horror the original did, but for an audience already half numbed to horror it needs to instill, and I think, if I DIDN’T have any knowledge outside of maybe a peripheral awareness of the original “Evil Deads”, it would’ve delivered on every level. It would probably be amongst the best horror films I’ve ever seen; I would tout how tense, shocking and horrifying it gets, but my attachment to the original definitely hampers the experience from reaching its full potential. For fans who have yet to see it, there is certainly enough there to keep you from getting bored. The references are there to be spotted and laughed at, and the new material certainly has its merits, you just won’t really be surprised by much — if anything — that happens in the film.
I honestly wish I could’ve been one of the people who would’ve been walking into this thing blind in the US. This movie, from what I understand, did extremely well over there, and I assume got a very significant theatrical release, so there would HAVE to be handfuls of kids at each screening coming to the whole thing fresh. Here in Australia, I’m only aware of extremely limited screenings. When I booked my ticket weeks ago, there was only ONE screening and it was at midnight on the same night as the Star Trek midnight launch in a cinema notorious for being frequented by hipster douchebags. It really does deserve a much bigger release, because it’s an extremely well made film and wouldn’t really have any problem finding that market, but there’s been zero marketing at all here. Like I said, it’s “Cabin in the Woods” all over again.
I really do recommend people see it. The grievances mentioned above are only minor things. At the end of the day, I still had a good time in the cinema, it just wasn’t as good as it perhaps could have been. The best “Evil Dead” remake that you could possibly ask for was published by Dark Horse Comics a few years back (http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/10-952/The-Evil-Dead-TPB) but it’s certainly the best remake since “Dawn of the Dead”, and I will say this… I would fucking LOVE to see an “Army of Darkness” movie set in this new “Evil Dead” universe.