Tuesday, April 9, 2013

You're Hating It Wrong. An "Evil Dead" Review/Defense

*Disclaimer: There will be SPOILERS for the Evil Dead series in this review.  Also, I refer to a "young" audience quite often.  I only use the word "young" because "people who watched the movie but had not seen any of the original films before they watched the remake" is a pain to type over and over again.  I watched the original three films while I was a high school student, so I know that young people can and sometimes do have good taste in movies.

The Evil Kurgan would've had no problems at all in the cabin.

Remakes can be a tough pill for a movie fan to swallow. I take issue with several remakes/reboots/reimaginings for being “pointless.” Last year, I was particularly unimpressed with the new Spider-Man movie. I just didn’t think it offered anything new, and it was too similar to the recent films to justify its existence. Sam Raimi directed the first Spider-Man film, and he also directed The Evil Dead, which has just been remade as simply Evil Dead. This time, I think the remake (which is what I’ll call it for lack of a better word) is justified.

No it isn't, but I still liked it.
I’m a big fan of the Evil Dead series. The over-the-top gore coupled with comedic elements, not to mention a terrific Bruce Campbell, really work for me. A remake of the ultra low budget first film could have been a disaster (and some will tell you that it, in fact, is). The first sign that it was going to be okay was the fact that there is not an Ash character. No one is attempting, nor should they, to be the next Bruce Campbell. On top of that, both Raimi and Campbell have been very vocal about their approval of the film, which is very rare in the remake world (Raimi initially claimed he would not watch the new Spider-Man film at all). Armed with that knowledge and a love of the original films, I went into Evil Dead with an open mind, and I was pleased with the results. I might be in the minority on this, however.

I watched Evil Dead in a packed theatre on opening night. It was the single most annoying film-going experience of my life, but I still liked the movie. It was the audience that bothered me. They were all obnoxious, loud, and idiotic. I wondered why these people were even interested in the movie. I noticed a few people who were obviously fans of the series (we have a certain look…), but by and large this was an audience used to the crappy, banal horror films that get churned out each year. This was a product of the marketing for the film. Billed as “The most terrifying film you will ever experience,” Evil Dead was almost certain to disappoint most general audience members. First, it’s not that scary. Second, it’s an Evil Dead movie, and this series is not meant to be taken completely serious.


Evil Dead is one of those rare remakes that is meant for the fans. This film didn’t come across as a movie that was trying to introduce Evil Dead to a new generation. In fact, there is a possibility that this is not a remake at all, because Raimi and Campbell have mentioned possible plans for a crossover film linking this new series to the old one. Younger audiences most likely will not have seen the original, so any connections will be lost on them. And if they are told to expect a terrifying film, then when confronted with the idiotic, and hilarious, decisions by the characters in the film, they will dismiss the film as “stupid.” As a teacher, I get to talk about new movies with students. Only a handful have seen the film, and the most favorable comment was, “It was okay,” and the least favorable comments consisted of words like “horrible,” “stupid,” and “terrible.” They did not get to see the movie they were promised.

The young audience, to their credit, dislike the movie for logical reasons.  They found character actions extremely idiotic.  They are the type to scream, "You idiot!  She's still a demon! Kill her!" and "Why are you going back into the cellar, you moron!"  These are horror fans who are sick of seeing characters act stupidly as they try to avoid death.  They know that what these characters are doing is not realistic.  This audience also does not care for unrealistic survivors.  When a person is stabbed or, say, shot multiple times with a nail gun, (or both) they think that person should die or at least become ineffective for the rest of the film.  Or when a character comes across a book bound in human skin filled with demonic illustrations and cryptic warnings, they expect that character to know that reading from the book will only cause problems.  I agree with all of these issues as a member of a modern movie-going public.  I would consider these weaknesses as well...if this were anything but an Evil Dead movie.  You see, this stuff is simply what happens in this series.  The filmmakers know it's crazy and ridiculous.  The fans know it, too, which is why we enjoy it so much. 
Hopefully some of these young fans will look past the deceptive marketing and come to love the film for what it is, and not condemn it for what it wasn't.  But I don't have a problem with the people who hate this movie for not scaring them.  In fact, that vocal portion of the audience who hated the film probably make up a lion's share of the gross thus far.  So the movie wasn't necessarily made with them in mind, but their money will serve the interests of the fans and a sequel can be ordered.  That movie will hopefully please the franchise fans even more.
In my opinion, fans of the series get the movie they want to see. Despite that, at my screening I heard a fan angrily say that the remake “only had three things in common with the original.” And fans abound on the internet are freaking out, as well (but don’t they always?). As for the guy at my screening, I didn’t ask him to elaborate because his complaint made no sense to me. How can a fan of the original be upset that a remake wasn’t a carbon copy of the original?  Did this type of fan want to see someone do a Bruce Campbell impression?  What would be the point of that?  Remakes are usually hated because they lack originality.  Evil Dead is certainly not original (but it's not like demonic possession was some new found concept when the original came out, either), but it is at least a different take on a similar story.  If you want to see The Evil Dead, just watch it again.  Plus, the original film was a bit of a remake of an earlier Sam Raimi movie called Within the Woods.  Double plus, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn essentially remakes the first film during the opening minutes.  The point is that we've seen Ash and his battles at the cabin; we don't need them recreated shot for shot. 

I am not criticizing any fan for disliking Evil Dead.  I will never be one of those people who claim complete strangers are not "true" fans of something just because they didn't love an entry in the series.  I only take issue with those who wanted a complete copy of the original. 

Most complaints I've seen around the movie sites consists of stuff about too many jump scares, plot holes, bad acting, weak character development, etc.  I don't want to recreate the same arguments that can be found on IMDb's message boards or the Slashfilm comment section, but I will side with the people who argue that these issues are all abound in the original.  Some argue that a remake should fix these problems, not just copy them.  Yeah, but these are the qualities that I do want a remake to copy because it adds to the feel of an Evil Dead movie.  Still, some fans hate this movie.  Fine.  You're not wrong.  You hated it, I enjoyed it. 

All of that said, I do have issues with the movie.  I didn't care for the back story opening because it led to too many unanswered questions.  Such as, if the brother and sister spent so much time there as children, why didn't they notice there was a cellar?  And how exactly did they keep the entire cabin from burning down after they set the demon on fire?  What happened to the strange, mutant hillbilly folk?  I'm sure there are explanations implied or something, but I hope there's more of an answer in a sequel.  It rubbed me the wrong way because the original series tended to explain things blatantly to the audience (not that we're idiots, we just want a straight forward funny demon-fighting movie).  I also did not care for how much the music was used to create mood.  I remember the lengthy silent moments of the original and they are much creepier than anything featuring standard "scary movie" music.  Hmm...what else?  I'm still not sure if I like that they included the chainsaw and had Mia lose her hand.  It felt a little too much like fan service to me, when the gore, the cabin, and the book were all I needed.  Though it was nice to see the car behind the cabin...but shouldn't that car be in the 1300s?  Finally, the addiction subplot bothered me because it seems like you could take this whole film as a metaphor for battling addiction.  One could argue that by the end of the film, none of that stuff actually happened, it was just how her withdrawal-induced mind perceived it.  Nothing against the use of metaphors, but I never considered Evil Dead to be a series that even allows theories to be applied to it.  It doesn't help that battling addiction is often referred to as fighting one's demons.  Thankfully, I haven't seen anyone try to posit that theory (crap, maybe I shouldn't have even mentioned it...), but that it even occurred to me is a little annoying. 
Yeah, this is an Evil Dead movie.

More importantly than all of that, I loved the majority of this movie.  Blood spraying all over the place, demon puke in faces, severed limbs, a chainsaw to the face...it was fantastic.  I found the atmosphere of the film to be sufficiently creepy, but it's just impossible for them to recreate the cheap, and kind of realistic, tone of the original films.  Overall, what sold me on this movie was the dark humor.  The gore was hilariously over-the-top, but the actions and responses of the characters really cracked me up.  David's constant affirmation that "Everything is going to be all right" had me laughing aloud every time.  It reminded me of Ash pouring water down Scott's dead face in the original and talking about how they would all make it out of there.  And, finally, there was a tree, or should I say root, rape scene.  Not that the scene was all that shocking or anything, but it was fun to spot the fans from the non-fans in the theatre.  Plenty of laughter from the fans and confused, unbelieving comments from the non-fans. 

Evil Dead was the experience I was expecting and hoping for.  If you're a fan of the series and you were left disappointed, that's unfortunate.  But if you have never seen the original trilogy and you hated this remake for any of the reasons mentioned above, like bad marketing, then I strongly suggest you give this one another chance.  But only after you've seen the originals.  After watching those, there's no way you'd buy into the misleading marketing.  No series featuring the line, "This is my BOOMstick!" could ever be considered terrifying.  Creepy and also funny?  Absolutely.  The most terrifying movie you will ever experience?  Hardly, and that's a good thing.

*Random final comment: I took particular enjoyment from the fact that a teacher named Eric brought all of this about by reading a book.  As an English teacher named Eric, I got a kick out of that.

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