Evil Dead

Klaatu barada nik… (coughs)

Evil Dead (2013)

The original Evil Dead films hold a special place in my heart. Evil Dead II is one of my favourite films of all time. When I heard they were giving the series the shiny reboot treatment, I wasn’t angry like most Deadites were, just confused. How could it have a place in this post Cabin in the Woods world? How can you do something with the exact same premise that was thoroughly torn apart and dissected by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard mere months before? It has to be said that I fucking hate horror remakes. I honestly can’t think of one that was any good whatsoever. Horror fans are just above ’80s action fans in the list of groups who are most likely to get their nostalgia taken financial advantage of and I feel for them. I know what it’s like to have logic and general consensus dictate that the movie will be crap, but to have your heart persistently say otherwise. If anyone’s interested in coming to a group therapy session, we meet every Wednesday and every other Sunday at Ling Bo’s Bowling Arenatorium, Lane 5, opposite the “Muchos Nachos” stand.

“You shouldn’t have touched anything from that basement.”

This may all sound very familiar, but bear with me. 5 young adults travel to a cabin in the woods and accidentally awaken an ancient evil force by ill-advisedly reading from some kind of cursed tome. That’s pretty much all you need in the way of a plot outline. It’s the same as the original Evil Dead, countless imitators in the decades since and of course, The Cabin in the Woods. This being a remake of The Evil Dead, it sort of gets a pass in this respect.  It’s just like the Texas Chainsaw remake had to have Leatherface in there somewhere. It’s what you signed up for. What I will come down on like a ton of angry bricks though is the utter mundanity of our cabin-dwelling tosspots. There is no excuse for them to be this boring. Within seconds of learning their names and what they do, I’d forgotten who they were and what their relationship was to the others. The only one I remembered was Mia (Jane Levy) because she was the main one and got to do all kinds of fun possessed shit, plus the fact that her name was screamed over and over again. They’re all just generic good-looking cardboard cutouts that I didn’t give any real shit about. As such, I didn’t care whether they got offed or not. Look, I get that in the horror genre characters are often loosely sketched to make way for the carnage, but damn.

The film doesn’t start well. When the title flashes up on screen, it’s accompanied by a blast of horrific music, very much like Cabin in the Woods‘ intro. If this was the film setting up its stall and pretending that audiences aren’t as cynical as they are, then I was about 5 minutes away from fucking off and doing something else. Luckily it does improve. I liked some of the postmodern twists the script was given. In the original, the gang just go to the woods because they want to relax, drink and bump uglies. In Evil Dead 2013, they go to help Mia dry out and kick her drug habit cold turkey, which makes more sense than driving to a sketchy looking cabin in the middle of nowhere just for a holiday. Also, it adds a delay on being able to tell that something’s wrong with Mia as junkies going cold turkey can do some crazy shit. They don’t really do anything with this though, apart from have a throwaway line, which is a shame. I’d have liked the film to have taken its time a little more. Who knows, we could have characterised our leads a little better in those extra scenes.

There are some neat nods and references to the original series that made me smile too. Fans of Raimi’s clapped-out Oldsmobile will be pleased. I got the feeling that the film was relying too heavily on series goodwill at points, but only occasionally.  I would have liked more of an effort to establish its own identity, but we’ll wait until the sequel to see if we have to pull that particular ripcord. One of the main things I liked about Evil Dead 2.0 is the fact that they mostly kept things practical. I’m sick to the back teeth of CGI blood and gore. It’s lazy and never has the impact that proper old school prosthetics and pumps have. It’s fucking refreshing to have practical effects used in a modern horror and I was thankful for it. Some of the bits, like demon Mia bifurcating her own tongue on a Stanley knife have a real visceral “ick” factor to them which makes the film incredibly enjoyable. There’s a nice little Evil Dead II riff involving an electric carving knife which was also fantastic. One of the elements I always liked about the Evil Dead series was when the possessed would, as a last resort, seemingly return to normal, appearing to be in agonising pain or bringing up a shared touching memory to halt whoever was in the process of getting rid of them. Brilliantly, they’d then turn back and laugh at the anguish they just caused. It’s such a gloriously fucked up idea and they use it to great effect here.

I’ve heard people complain that this film is a little too po-faced for its own good. I’m on the fence about this. When people think of the campy horror and gross-out yuks, they’re usually thinking of Evil Dead II, which ramped up the camp value by several thousand percent. The Evil Dead was intended more of a straight-faced horror film and as such, I see why they’ve gone in this direction. On the other (possessed) hand, the serious tone does nothing to elevate the film above any of its contemporaries and makes it easy to dismiss as just another horror remake. I wanted the film to give me permission to cackle with glee at some of the tricks up its sleeve, wink at me and we’d laugh together. It didn’t happen though. It starts cutting loose towards the end, but by that point, you’ve had to sit through an hour plus of sullen attempts at serious horror.

Which brings me to another point. It isn’t “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”. In fact, I’d say it was pretty tame. I’m not saying this to seem like a hard man in front of my peers. I just don’t find this brand of polished horror particularly frightening. The film can be unquestionably disturbing at times, but there’s no real fright factor. I expected some truly disquieting stuff when it came to redoing the infamous “tree rape” scene, but nope- more modern in-your-face-horror, rather than careful atmosphere building and tension ratcheting. On the subject of tree rape, I found it kind of irritating that it’s all part of some big ritual. Forgive me, as it has been a while since I rewatched the original, but am I correct in thinking this wasn’t always the case? I just thought it was the woods just doing evil shit and improvising based on what the characters did. I find that a lot scarier than having a pre-written procedure for all this. Like most modern horrors, the film falls into the beartrap of explaining everything to make it seem more plausible, not realising there’s no faster way to kill intrigue or trepidation.

“I can smell your filthy soul!”

I enjoyed Evil Dead. Whilst I had problems with details and odd decisions, nothing could spoil my overall enjoyment of the film. I think my affection for the series was picking up the slack here and there and perhaps buffing out some of the flaws, but it was pretty decent. Roll on Evil Dead II: Redead by Dawn.

2 thoughts on “Evil Dead”

    1. I’d say skip the original and watch Evil Dead II. It’s a campy masterpiece. You get to see Bruce Campbell get in a slapstick fight with his own possessed hand. Bloody genius. Thanks for the kind words too. Means a lot.

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