April 5, 2013
by Derek Defoe
Life goes by pretty fast. Far too fast to spend your time watching bad movies, unless you can find some kind of pleasure in it, which is something I've experienced with the cheesy 1981 horror film The Evil Dead. Much to my surprise, the first movie I've went to see this year, now in its fifth month, was the remake of that movie, Evil Dead. Not that the multiplexes weren't offering up quality pictures in the last few weeks with films such as G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Call, Olympus Has Fallen, and Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. So why, of all movies released this year, would I finally make the trek out to my local theatre and finally land on Evil Dead? I don't know. I know Evil Dead. I like Evil Dead. I may as well see a movie called Evil Dead. I think that's what the brass refers to as "name brand recognition."
The style is very reminiscent of other horror remakes of the last decade, in a similar visual vain as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes: it looks washed out and grimy, and if you feel the need to take a shower after seeing it then the filmmakers have probably done their job. It's very much a modern horror movie. It looks and feels like one. But of course, it's an adaptation of a horror film from the late 70's/early 80's, and I think something has been lost in the translation. You could argue horror films of an earlier era featured characters who wanted to have a good time but have their buzz harshed by a crazed maniac, a terrifying monster, demonic force, etc. Today, I think the characters enter the first act already doomed, and are meant to meet humorless fates. Maybe we used to think, "aw, those poor kids, they had their whole lives ahead of them," and maybe now we think, "well, perhaps they're better off."
Certainly there's no trace of humor to be found in this 2013 version of Evil Dead. I don't think any character so much as cracks a joke before the "action" starts. But how could they, given the circumstances? It's a pretty unique premise, which I both have to applaud it for but and am baffled by: instead of a cabin being ideal for a care-free getaway for a group of friends, it's seen as an ideal, isolated location for a heroin user, Mia, to detox while her brother and friends (one of which is a nurse) to stand by for moral support. THANKFULLY the movie isn't some withdrawal-induced hallucination where the Mia character awakes to find she imagined everything and realizes she killed all her friends in a psychotic rage. Actually, you know what? You could debate that. But never mind. I think it adds to building tension of the first act because when one character finds the "Book of the Dead" locked in the cellar, and like a complete idiot, reads from it, awakening the evil in the woods, Mia begins to see terrifying things, as any junkie would in such a state, and of course, no one believes her until its too late. She becomes possessed by an evil force, and carnage ensues.
It's in the actual carnage that I started to lose faith in the movie. The great thing about the original Evil Dead is that there seemed to be no real rules. Crazy shit happens for almost no apparent reason. The laws of logic and gravity and reality as a whole have no place in that damn cabin. But Evil Dead 2013, although plot-wise plays against any expectations any audience member familiar with the original may have, and might I add desperately so, it makes a major, irrecoverable error in setting up rules for itself.
So let me see if I get this straight: according to the book, once the incantation is read, a woman will be possessed by this evil demon thing, which may or may not be related to tree rape, and will continue to do crazy shit such as burn herself with scolding hot water and harm animals, and pass along second-hand possessions where the possessees will also do crazy shit like tear their faces off. I don't know, it's all there in the book, I don't have my copy with me right now so this is just based off immediate memory. But if the primary possessed person is able to "harvest five souls," something bad will happen. I'm not sure what. Think the ending to Cabin in the Woods, probably bad to that level. The only way to stop the evil is to stop the primary possessee, and "cleanse her soul," either through gruesome option A: setting her on fire, or not-so-gruesome option B: burying her alive. Get that done and everything should be fine. Does that make sense? I don't feel like I'm explaining this well. Maybe I should have been taking notes.
So when it all boils down to it, only the possessed Mia and her brother David are the last two standing. Just kidding. The other guy is left for dead waiting to pop up possessed at the right time, but you already knew that. David can't bring himself to burn Mia to death so instead buries her alive. He waits a minute or two. If that. Then he digs her back up and using a home-made defibrillator he assembled in the workshed (1987: chainsaw-for-a-hand, 2013: home-made defibrillator...just saying), he brings her back to life, thus finding a loophole in the book's prophecy, having his cake and eating it, too, and although she has been battered and bruised and burned and her fucking tongue was split in two, she comes out of the ground fresh as a daisy.
Then the perplexing bait-and-switch happens. All signs were pointing to the brother character, David, being the last one alive, but almost arbitrarily they toss all that aside and leave Mia as the Final Girl. Woah, woah. Wait. Hold on. I'm not sure I'm board for this, it's kind of like forcing me to go on a blind date here, I barely know her. In the opening scenes she was a drug addict and for the majority of the movie she was a possessed evil fucking demon, I'm not sure I have too much invested in her to see her as the hero just yet. No, listen, I appreciate you trying to switch things up, I really do, but you can't just do that. It's not being clever. It's just plain cheating.
So anyway Mia is running around or whatever and then the personification of the evil force emerges from the muck and is basically the girl from The Ring. So it chases her around and she finds a chainsaw but in a super duper suspenseful moment she tries to rev it up but it just won't start, because, oops, the a gas is on empty- OH, THANK GOD FOR THAT BOTTLE MARKED "CHAINSAW FUEL," THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE, they run around some more, it's literally raining blood so that's pretty cool, then the demon flips a car over on her or something and it crushes on her hand, and hey, pussy from 127 Hours, take note, it's incredibly easy to sever off your hand perfectly if you just pull really really hard, seriously, I bet you feel stupid for drinking all that pee, don't you? But anyway, Mia gets the demon right were she wants it, and it growls at her, "I'll feast on your soul!" So how does Mia respond? Come on, you know, say it with me now: "FEAST ON THIS, MOTHERFUCKER!" Well, she doesn't so much say it like it's a clever one-liner, or not really dramatic like the demon just killed all her friends or anything, more like the demon spilled her favourite nail polish and she's shriekingly upset at her. Then she saws the thing in half and blood spurts everywhere and she lives happily ever after, probably.
2013's Evil Dead is not without its charms. It really isn't. There's some good stuff here. There's pieces of a great horror movie that can be recognized, it's effectively gruesome and the effects are very good and very impressive- and hey, I'm all for practical effects in these movies. And there's some good cinematography and well-assembled shots that Fede Alvarez is sure to use in his demo reel when he attempts to venture into more "legitimate" filmmaking. And for what it's worth it does its best to remain respectful to the original so as not to upset the many loyal fans- and believe me, among these fans I include myself. But these horror remakes... I just don't know. They're like these little Frankenstein monsters unleashed into the masses, they're made from old parts and sewn together, they're meant to serve some kind of purpose but I don't think they behave exactly the way they are expected to behave and we're left with some kind of an obscene bastardization of all that is good, and we can't really blame it for being what it is. Evil Dead is what it is. It simply exists.
I felt detached watching it, I guess I reacted the way I was supposed to react to it: I jumped a little when there was a loud noise, I cringed a little when something awful was happening. But I didn't have fun. There was an underlying sense of fun with the 1981 film, and maybe with a horror movie like this, with the horror genre in the state that it's in, with characters voluntarily enduring suffering, long before it's even necessary to the plot, maybe it serves as penance for the care-free days of the past when a movie like this could call itself an experience in grueling terror with a hint of irony. But life goes by pretty fast. Should we not try to enjoy ourselves, even during the macabre?
I was told by attendees of earlier showings that I should definitely stick around for after the credits for a little "easter egg." I did. It felt like the bookend to a completely different movie. A figure appeared from the darkness: it was Bruce Campbell. He said his trademark line, "groovy," the camera zoomed in intensely, and cut to black. I guess this was throwing a bone to fans of the original. But it felt pretty pandering and shameless. I half-expected the camera to linger, and Bruce would shrug. "Yeah, sorry, folks."
The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi
Lou Taylor Pucci