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Evil Dead (2013); And My Disdain for Remakes

April 8, 2013

evil-dead-remakeMoments after leaving the theater at the end of Evil Dead, my heart was racing in anticipation; the synapses in my brain was dispatching information so rapidly it felt as if it were on the verge of a shortage. My palms were sweaty, I was almost heaving; I was furious. I was absolutely aghast that my frugal ass shelled out $13 for the Regal Premium Experience of a film that left me barely spooked and instead feeling as though I had been slapped in the face. The “re-envisioning” of The Evil Dead was a joke. Once I realized this, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I tried to comprehend the hype around the mess of a horror film I had just witnessed.

I don’t like remakes. I’ve said that so many times that it might as well be my motto. Only an extremely small amount of remade films have actually left an impression on me; and even fewer of those were horror films. Remakes are pointless. To me, their only purpose is to cash in on hype and expectations of a devoted fan base. Judging by Evil Dead’s earnings at the box office this past weekend, it succeeded in doing just that. I see most remakes as nothing more than a lazy attempt of creation. The original story is already prepped and splayed like a chicken, the hard work done. Now, it’s just time to stuff it with bland, mildly tasteful spices and repackage it under a different name.

Sure, there are a few exceptional horror remakes that have been spawned throughout the years. The 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre warped the original into something freshly gruesome, chilling, and feministically empowering. It wasn’t better than Toby Hooper’s bloody creepfest, but admirable in its execution. Similarly, was how Alejandra Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes pushed the scares of a family tormented by homicidal cannibals even farther than the original, just as Rob Zombie did with his gruesomely, titillating retelling of Halloween. These films left a stamp of individuality by their directors, despite utilizing stories from cult classics. Something Evil Dead (2013) fails at doing.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

In Evil Dead (2013), we are thrown into the sentimental story of Mia. A junkie having just survived an overdose, Mia’s determined to kick her addiction cold turkey with the help of a few long time friends and her vacant, older brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez). Early on, Mia notices the smell of rotting flesh, leading the group to the basement where they discover signs of a possible voodoo ritual and a mysterious book. Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), who I should mention is a high school teacher because the film makes a point to state this, begins to read aloud from the book, despite pages of warnings not to. However, the knowledgeable Eric trudges along and says a name so sinister it’s very utterance releases the presence of a demon determined to exact revenge and rape the souls of each cabin member.

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Jane Levy as Mia, along with most of the cast, brings sturdy displays of emotion to their paper-thin characters. There’s fear within their hollow character’s eyes and the actors seem to have a genuine desire to deliver their lines serious and wholeheartedly. Fede Alverez’s direction results in some fairly creepy, cool moments, and his screenplay co-written with Rodo Sayagues takes slightly interesting liberties with the original tale of a group of college students that decide to spend their spring break in a remote Tennessee cabin.

The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead (1981)

Evil Dead (2013) should also be commended for its extensive palette of gore. Blood lust horror fans will appreciate the good old-fashioned make-up work that displays gruesome images like split tongues, dismembered body parts, and mutilated corpses. But to say that Evil Dead (2013) is “the most terrifying film experience” is just undeserved hoopla. Sure, it’s a subjective claim, but the treatment of Evil Dead (2013) as if it’s a beacon to horror films is particularly infuriating. Eli Roth’s Hostel was so brutal and realistic in its portrayal of bodily harm that it was brow-beaten as “torture porn.” Hostel was frightening in its realism and effective make-up work, so much so that my titanium stomach turned having first seen it. How a scene of a person’s ankle ripping due to their tendon being sliced can be lampooned and considered over the top in Hostel, but a character pulling an arm so hard it shreds and tears away from their body is seen as cool in Evil Dead (2013) is beyond my understanding.

Although Evil Dead (2013) is gory, it’s far from chilling and the most aggravating element of it is that it’s script creates an atmosphere that is too contrived and convenient to ever feel a true sense of fear. Sam Raimi’s script for The Evil Dead (1981) was intelligent enough to create an environment void of viewers raising pesky questions like: why don’t they just leave? Or, how does this whole possession thing work? And, how stupid are these people? The characters in the original find themselves in their situation because they are subject to a demonic presence and simply bad luck. Throughout Evil Dead (2013), the characters are ultimately stuck in their situation because they are stubborn, ignorant, and make awful decisions.

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

It is revealed that Mia has tried the method of quitting heroin cold turkey in a locked house with her friends before. However, it ended quickly with a relapse. So, why do this method again instead of just taking her to rehab? It’s pointed out very early on that Mia’s childhood friend Olivia (Jessica Lucas) is a registered nurse. This turns out to be a mighty convenient reason that when shit starts hitting the fan, the cabin dwellers don’t see a need to leave for medical attention. Also, it’s perfectly opportune that Mia and David are estranged. His guilt over leaving his baby sister in troubled times of the past makes it all the more fitting of him to refuse to hurt or leave her when she’s possessed. It’s an admirable trait to want to convey, but spare me the forced emotional BS.

The Evil Dead (1981) was a campy, cheaply constructed horror film that’s passé by today’s standards with its excessive corn syrupy blood and dated carnage. But, it was a singular, innovative labor of love by Sam Raimi which translates into a horror film that leaves you astonished by its inventive terror, despite laughing at its frivolousness. I can only assume that Evil Dead’s (2013) intention as a “reenvisioning” was to create an atmosphere that the original financially couldn’t. If that’s the case, then fans of The Evil Dead franchise should rejoice in Raimi’s minuscule budget. What Evil Dead (2013) makes up for in monetary funds, it lacks in originality, tension, and any sort of distinctive qualities to set it apart from any of the other hapless dribble that tries to squeeze itself into the horror genre these days.

How many horror films have used the motif of a character crawling away from their predator only to be seized violently and dragged back? Let’s say there’s a tight close up focusing on a character looking in the mirror. Am I supposed to jump when the following shot reveals something else in the mirror? Or when a character thinks they’re alone and the ill-omened string symphony starts to swell, then ceases to a halt. Am I supposed to be alarmed when it’s revealed that someone else is in the room with them? I can’t imagine having a genuine reaction to these type of conventions featured throughout Evil Dead (2013), because these are standards that have been practiced in the genre since the likes of Nosferatu. Such conventions have been habitually used, reworked, and then done again throughout the years. A successful horror film sends chills down a spine because it attempts to work against what we expect to happen. Take notes Evil Dead (2013).

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

Also as Evil Dead (2013) slowly meandered on, I began to realize that I was becoming desensitized to its scares. The pacing of the film is quick, leaving rarely any room for viewers to take a breather and digest the large quantity of images meant to assault the senses throughout. Blood becomes synonymous with conversations, leaving me underwhelmed and bored by the time the dead finally rises and the film’s last act takes place. Another flaw I chalk up to Alvarez’s supbar direction is his need to show the audience every instance of foreshadowing instead of letting us see it for ourselves.

For instance, in Martin Scorsese psychological thriller Shutter Island, a character is interviewing patients of a mental home about a disappearance. He slides an interviewee a cup of water, to which the next shot shows the patient pantomiming drinking from it. Immediately after she pushes an imaginary cup back to the detective, but in the next shot with the detective, the cup is tangible. The scene puts viewers who were aware of the exchange on edge trying to make sense of what it means. These clues are sprinkled throughout the film until the end reveals the mental state of the detective. It’s a surprise to passive viewers who didn’t catch the clues before, but a reward for those who picked up on it. It’s a win win.

Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island (2010)

Instead of slight subtleties like the aforementioned scene, Evil Dead (2013) beats viewers over the head with moments of blatant foreshadowing. When Mia makes a character cross their heart that they won’t leave her, their response is “hope to die.” Well gee, I wonder if they’ll live. And honestly horror fans, raise your hand if you knew the lullaby Mia tries to remember with David would come back in the end. If your hand isn’t raised, then shame on you. Evil Dead (2013) plays out as though viewers have never watched a horror film before, or read a book and honestly it’s insulting.

Am I being too harsh? Where my expectations just too high? I probably am, and yes they sure as hell were. The Evil Dead trilogy is a cult classic, one that I grew up watching in shock, awe, and foaming at the mouth in pleasure. It’s so over the top that it’s perfect. I believe if you’re going to have the testicular fortitude to remake something sacred to a large amount of fans, or remake anything at all, then you damn well better do it well. J.J. Abrams knew how to with Star Trek, but Alverez fails with Evil Dead (2013).

Even as its own separate entity, Evil Dead (2013) isn’t even a notch above your average run of the mill gore fest. It’s gruesome, but not scary. It has a chilling aesthetic, but lacks originality. When it wasn’t jacking (or “paying homage”) elements from the original series, it was using constituents reminiscent of The Shining and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Evil Dead (2013) doesn’t work because in a post Cabin in the Woods, horror-parody era it chose to use the very same conventions that these parodies attack. The approval of this film by Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Evil Dead fans is astonishing to me. What makes this film on par with its ingenious predecessors in the eyes of others? I guess I may never know.

AVOID IT. There I said it.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott D permalink
    April 12, 2013 6:33 PM

    you are dumb and wrong on so many levels. This wasn’t a money grab. This was the original creator(s) appeasing the rabid fan base, and was the smartest way to approach a new entry in the series. Go watch your Texas Chainsaw remake, and your Norbits. You are more than welcome to your opinion, but your review is like voting for John McCain.

    • April 12, 2013 7:29 PM

      Lol at the John McCain bit, although I don’t get it at all. That being said, obviously you loved Evil Dead (2013) so please enlighten me, why? I’ve given an entire review explaining what I didn’t like about, so I’m curious as to what made you appreciate it so much that you felt offended by my review. And they made it to appease the fan base? The fans who saw it originally or more recently? Where did you get this information? And even if they did, don’t you think they knew they’d make money off that very same fan base? Thanks for read and comment though!

  2. Sean D permalink
    April 19, 2013 7:13 PM

    Just got back from watching the film, this review pretty much sums up my precise feelings about the experience, even to the point where me and my friends were talking about how to do remakes properly and mentioning Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. My biggest problem with the film is how they actually managed to take a tried and tested formula, and mess it up with angsty teen drama, which is in total opposition to the reason most people will be going to see the film, I came to watch Evil Dead, not Trainspotting: Dawsons Creek Edition.
    You make an extremely valid point about this being a “post-cabin-in-the-woods” world, and the biggest problem the film seems to have is a sense of self-awareness. It knows that Cabin In The Woods deconstructed the genre to the point of “cannot unsee” and tries to be more story driven, whereas a “real” Evil Dead film would drop any pretense or self imposed need to justify itself and just say “here’s some teens, they gon’ go squish!” because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re there for. It doesn’t need to be smart, it doesn’t need to be emotional, hell it doesn’t even need to be well acted, it just needs to know its audience, which this film fails in the majority of the time, even down to the gore. Not one scene in the film came even slightly close to the pencil-in-the-ankle shot of the original!
    anyway, rant over 🙂
    You wrote, in my opinion, a very honest and accurate review, it may be unpopular to some, but I’m on your side 😀

    • April 20, 2013 10:39 AM

      YES! Thank you! Within the first 5 minutes of Evil Dead when they show that “back story” scene I immediately thought, “ehh… I don’t think I’m gonna like this.” What made The Evil Dead so creepy was that evil arose after reading a passage in an evil book and because of that mistake some innocent people got possessed and killed. I don’t need to care about those people, I don’t need sentimental moments. I want surprises, gore, and down right creepy shit like the original except better but the remake failed tremendously at delivering that. Thank you so much for your in depth comment. It really makes my day that there’s at least one person out there who’s a horror fan and thought this film was a joke too. I know so many horror fans whose opinions I trusted that hyped this movie up so hard. I was extremely disappointed that they led me astray and were the ones who loved it. And yes, pencil in the ankle is what I want to see any day over anything all the bs that happened to Evil Dead’s “punching bag” Eric.

  3. Alethia permalink
    May 5, 2015 10:30 PM

    Both Evil Deads and Army of Darkness at least remembered to make me laugh between ridiculous gory goodness. This movie dragged on “Woe is me style” 1/2 an hour too long for me

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  1. A Year of Films to See and Avoid (2013) | The Cinephiliac

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