Panto Gore – The 2013 remake of ‘Evil Dead’

22 Apr



Before discussing the remake of a popular movie, I’d like to trot out a couple of the cliches that get brought up every time we talk about remakes.

  • Remakes have been with us forever. Most of Shakespeare’s plays are based on pre-existing works.
  • Some remakes are good, sometimes even great. Look at The Wizard of Oz (filmed originally in 1910), The Maltese Falcon (filmed with Ricardo Cortez, 10 years before Bogart, in 1931), and Oceans Eleven.
  • Some remakes (Michael Mann’s Heat, Joss Whedon’s TV series of Buffy) enable writers and filmmakers to perfect their vision after abortive or sub-par first efforts.

And so to Evil Dead. Not The Evil Dead, you’ll notice. Just Evil Dead. Based on the 1981 film by Sam Raimi (which did include the “The”), and directed by Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez.

Just who, I wondered, during one of several odd lulls in the first 20 or 30 minutes, is the new Evil Dead – whose budget is almost 43 times that of its namesake – aimed at? Is it aimed at folks like me, who loved the original movies, youngsters who haven’t seen them, or both?

Seriously, though, if you haven't seen them... What the fuck?

Seriously, though, if you haven’t seen them… What the fuck?

You see, that’s the trouble with remakes. Unless they’re based on a novel or comic book (in which case you can argue that it’s not a remake but a new adaptation of the novel or comic), there’s something quite brazenly cynical about the whole exercise. Sure, special effects have come along in leaps and bounds since 1981, but is there really any need to give us a more polished, bigger budget version of The Evil Dead, when Sam Raimi more or less did that in Evil Dead 2 (1987)? What does the 2013 version bring to the table that the previous movies didn’t?

The answer, apparently, is gore. Buckets and buckets of gore. Did I say buckets? I meant tankers. Follow the paper trail back, and I reckon it’ll transpire that the film’s producers (Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert) have shares in a company that produces fake blood. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. If anything, the film’s abundance of over-the-top gore is the main thing it’s got going for it. And I genuinely mean that as a compliment.

Pictured: Gore.

Pictured: Gore.

Now, at some point, if you or your friends are fans of the original movies, you’ll hear somebody say, “Yeah, but it’s not as good as the original.” To which you should reply, “Shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead is good, but it’s not great. Most of the time, when people are waxing lyrically nostalgic about an Evil Dead movie, they’re thinking of the sequel.

Yes. This one.

Yes. This one.

That’s the movie with surprisingly effective special effects, a comically hyperactive turn from Bruce Campbell, and its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The first film, viewed more than 30 years on, is more “creaky” than “creepy”, and can only have cost a six figure sum to make because it was shot on film, rather than video.

The new film is better made than Evil Dead ’81. The acting, on the whole, is better. The special effects are (as you’d hope from a film that cost $17million) significantly better. The script, while often very scrappy, is inarguably more polished than the one Raimi churned out when he was just 22 years old. So, on all those fronts, this new version is a better film.

Where it stumbles is in its almost admirable refusal to acknowledge anything that’s happened in horror movies in the 32 years since the original’s release. For one thing, it’s now impossible to watch this kind of movie without imagining Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford running around behind the scenes making it all happen.

"Hey... They went with the spooky book." "Didn't that happen in 1981?" "Yep. Same thing. Almost exactly the same." "Spooky." "You're telling me."

“Hey… They went with the spooky book.”
“Didn’t that happen in 1981?”
“Yep. Same thing. Almost exactly the same.”
“You’re telling me.”

You can’t blame Alvarez, Raimi and Co. for that, and I wouldn’t suggest giving every by-the-numbers horror movie a postmodern lick of paint to make it work, as that would become stale. I just wonder if there isn’t, perhaps, a new kind of horror story we can tell, to replace this rather ropey old format that’s been with us since at least the 1970s.

The other major problem with Evil Dead 2013, especially when we’re comparing it with the original trilogy, is the Bruce Campbell-shaped hole in its heart. A tiny, barely-worth-mentioning cameo aside, Campbell isn’t in it, and while it would probably have been a mistake to shoe-horn his character into this reboot-sequel-remake-whatever, they should at least have tried to fill that gap with the same blackly comic, manic energy. Without it, this doesn’t feel so much like All New Evil Dead as Cabin In The Woods (Sans Irony). In fact, The Cabin in the Woods felt more like an Evil Dead movie than this does.

Congratulations, Whedon. You out-Raimied Raimi.

Congratulations, Whedon. You out-Raimied Raimi.

The script, as I’ve said, is a little scrappy in places, and the plot goes through a series of patience-testing contortions in its penultimate act, but overall the film is entertaining. The gore is very gory, the chills occasionally creepy, and the last 20 minutes hilariously over-the-top, like a pantomime of blood and guts. Jane Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci both turn in performances of the “better-than-this-movie-deserves” variety, with Levy in particular excelling both as a recovering addict and a bile-spewing, demon-possessed harridan.

In conclusion: Evil Dead 2013 is entertaining enough, but no classic, and while arguably more polished than its forebears it can’t hope to make anything like the same kind of impact.


One Response to “Panto Gore – The 2013 remake of ‘Evil Dead’”

  1. psychedk April 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Another entertaining review! I haven’t seen it (I will), but I’m one of those who has a romanticized love affair with the old ones. Meaning, I’ve seen the first one once (because yeah, not that memorable), the second a few times, and Army of Darkness a gazillion times.

    I always think that remakes should bring something new to it, in order to be ‘good’. And I don’t mean better special effects, because that’s almost such a given that it would probably take more efford to make it look like a 8mm school project than a modern movie. And also because nice CGI bore me to death. So I guess I’d be looking for a new angle, a reinvention of the story (both Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intensions are brilliant adaptions of the same story), a sparkling script, loads of humor and homages so that all us old fans can sit and squeee, or an amazing lead. That’s probably where I’m the most skeptical because Bruce Campbell OWNED those movies and I just cannot imagine it working without.

    One can hope that it sparks an interest in the old movies, though I have a feeling that it’ll mostly be people who already knew them who will see this.

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