Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"The Trees Didn't Attack You!" Revisiting "The Evil Dead"

This picture is all I needed to see to start believing in the remake.

There will obviously be SPOILERS for the original film, but there might also be spoilers for the new version, too.  I haven't seen the new one yet, but if it's faithful at all, then some of this stuff will most likely spoil it.

*A note regarding remakes, reimaginings, reboots, and whatnot.  I don't take a side in the debate over these kinds of films.  I like and I hate some of these movies.  I don't think you can give a blanket response to all re- films.  It's just unfair.  So I might complain about the new Spider-Man movie being pointless while I praise Batman Begins.  If the film doesn't do anything new and interesting, in my opinion, I will trash it.  But I judge things from a movie to movie basis.  Therefore, I am excited to see the new Evil Dead film, even if it is considered to be a remake of sorts.  Plus, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are both very positive about this film.  How can you argue about an Evil Dead film with those two guys?

The new Evil Dead is getting some serious promotion, and it honestly looks pretty awesome, so I decided to check out the original film before I venture out to see the new film this weekend.  It had been over ten years since I had last (and first) seen the classic Sam Raimi film.  Aside from the most memorable portions (*COUGH* tree rape *COUGH*), I had forgotten most of the movie. 

What I do remember about The Evil Dead was the infamous "tree rape" scene.  In fact, I considered titling this article "Tree Rape," but that seemed somewhat offensive and gimmicky.  Regardless, that scene, in which a woman is held down by weeds and raped by a tree, stuck with me more than anything.  To be honest, my first response was stunned laughter.  Is that bad?  I don't care.  If you want to join a debate about it, click here.  The laughter may be a result of how I watched the film.  It was with a group of friends back in high school.  Most of us had seen Army of Darkness and I had seen Evil Dead 2, but we had not watched the original.  Assuming it would be a goofy film, we rented it.  The tree scene definitely threw us for a loop.  Thankfully, a few of us got called into work very soon after that scene, so no one (especially the girls in the group) could start to analyze my laughter.  So I went to work and eventually watched the rest of the film.  I remember dismissing the film as the lesser of the three, but that tree scene stuck with me through the years.

This is all I dare present from the "tree rape" scene.  Google it more at your own risk.  (This is actually from a similar, tamer version of a nature attack in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.)

Cut to last night.  I go down to my basement to get on the treadmill and watch The Evil Dead on Netflix.  Why is this important?  I think I may have found the perfect viewing experience for this, or any other, horror film.  First, I was in a basement alone.  My basement isn't like the cellar in the film or anything, but a basement is a basement.  Second, when I am on the treadmill the TV gets my complete attention so I don't think about the fact that I am jogging like a hamster on a wheel.  Third, you are running in place as you watch people run from demons.  It's a very empathetic way to view the film.  Anyway, I was involved with the film this time, to say the least. 

I may have come away from my initial viewing less than enthralled because of how I watched it: as a teenager and broken into separate viewings.  Paying close attention to it, I truly appreciated the film for the first time.  It was genuinely scary at times, funny here and there, gross often, and flat out annoying for a minute or two (that shrieking demon death scene...).  All of that equals a unique and enjoyable viewing experience.  I also noticed that despite the limited budget, there is some style to this film.  I love the camera movements and angles, and the homemade gore is disgusting in the best kind of way.  Plus, it does have that low-budget charm that ultimately leaves younger or uninitiated viewers with a very negative opinion of the film, while it leaves people like me with an overly positive reaction. 

That low-budget appeal is the basis of an argument Bruce Campbell makes for the new version in Entertainment Weekly.  To paraphrase, he writes about how great it will be to see a version of the story done with an actual budget.  I get that, and I am excited to see that as well, but I don't imagine a lot of money for better production values can replace the charm of this gross, cheap movie.  Campbell brings up another point that I have contention with: he thinks it's great that a version of Evil Dead will be widely available rather than seen intermittently by people who have a "weird uncle" who shows them the film.  While I didn't have a "weird uncle" who showed the film to me, I do like how I came across the movie.  Sure, I didn't love the film and didn't even watch it in one sitting, but it felt more special than just going to the theater on opening night.  We found the film in the old VHS section.  The movie was older than us.  A tree does something unspeakable to a woman in the first half hour.  It was weird.  It was memorable. 

Back to the movie itself.  The first time I saw the film, I was disappointed with how much Ash wasn't like the Ash that I knew.  This is my own fault, since I saw Army of Darkness before either Evil Dead film.  This also explains why I still consider Army the best of the three; first impressions and whathaveyou...  I was less than thrilled to see Ash as a lame boyfriend who only reluctantly uses his trademark weapons.  And he doesn't really mouth off to the demons at all.  Watching it now, I see the shades of future Ash in Campbell's performance.  He doesn't spout off catch phrases, but when he yells, "Shut up!" to his demon girlfriend, it makes me smile a bit.  You can hear in his tone that hero that will one day be very fed up with the undead.  It's in the physicality of the role, as well.  As Ash wildly throws haymakers at his demonfriend's head, you can't help but find a little humor there.  Is his reluctance to commit what is essentially domestic violence some kind of parable?  I hope not, because  I just find it all amusing.  His friend, near death, is sitting on the couch urging him on, and Ash is wild-eyed and pummeling away to no avail.  It's so frustrating and hopeless that you have to laugh.  Or maybe I just have to laugh. 

A hero is born...

It all boils down to Cambell's delivery, though.  While the first film isn't in-your-face and comic like the other two, there is still something there.  It's interesting to watch the origin of the character and the actor at the same time.  Still, I found myself expecting Ash to say, "It's a trick.  Get an axe," when the zombie was playing dead.  Of course it would make no sense for him to know that, but that's beside the point.  Also, "zombie playing dead" would be a great band name; feel free to steal that.

Even though the character of Ash and all his goofy adventures are my favorite parts of this franchise, none of it would exist without Sam Raimi.  His work on this film created a style that has led him to the heights of Hollywood.  I would argue that that is bad thing, but I'm starting to accept that Raimi might need to stay with the big event pictures for a while.  I'm not sure it's possible for him to replicate what he's done here.  He still values real sets and things as much as possible, but it seems like every film he's choosing to make is impossible to make without vast amounts of CG.  Here, he had no choice but to make things messy, and the film benefits from that.  The blood, the demon makeup, that milk-blood stuff they puke up, the over-the-top violence; it's all so much more fun, and at times, frightening, to see because you know that it had to be done onscreen, not on a computer months later. 

All of this leads to the remake, directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez, who wowed Raimi, and others, with his short films.  Raimi also made plenty of short films before he made The Evil Dead, so it's fitting that Alvarez would get to make his version of it.  From what I've seen in pictures and previews, it appears that Alvarez has made a worthy film.  The most important aspect of the film is the fact that there is no Ash character.  This is good for two reasons.  1. No one should try to be the new Bruce Campbell, especially since Bruce Campbell is still alive and well.  2.  More importantly, Campbell has suggested that eventually the two separate Evil Dead versions could merge.  Alvarez is already talking about a sequel, and the plan involves another Army of Darkness followed by a seventh Dead film that would tie it all together.  That sounds pretty great to me.

Even if the new version disappoints me, it has at least given me a reason to revisit this great film.  The tree rape is still effective (though I didn't laugh this time), but the rest of the film works so much more for me now.  Would a younger audience appreciate it?  Probably not.  Not yet, anyway.  But based on a picture I found during my research for this article, I think they might get the same experience from the remake that I got from the original anyway...


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