Apr 6, 2013

Evil Dead - 2013: A Horror Fan's Take on a Remade Classic

Anyone who knows me and Monica knows that we are huge horror movie fans.  When I was a kid there were two movies that made me squirm.  In "The Wizard of Oz" when the Wicked Witch of the West told Dorothy "I'll get you... and your little dog too!"  I knew she meant me.  I know, I know, hardly a scary movie, right?  But for a six year old the thought of someone threatening a little dog was unimaginable.  What kind of monster would want to hurt a puppy?  Now, after having several dogs throughout my life I understand how much fun it can be to push them around, but when I was a kid I didn't get it.  The other movie that freaked me out was "Nosferatu".  You have to realize that when I was growing up television was very different.  You got three channels and a fourth one that had a lot of static.  You had to get up to change the channel by twisting the vice grips that were permanently attached to the broken channel knob, and sometimes you had to move the giant rabbit ear antennae to clear up the image.  You were held captive by whatever was on because there weren't two hundred channels to flip through.  "Nosferatu" came on pretty frequently, and when that damned vampire lifted straight out of his casket stiff as a board, I had no way to process it other than wetting the front of my pants.  As an adult I find that to be an effective way to get out of uncomfortable situations.  No one can focus anymore when the person they are confronting has a basketball sized wet spot growing down their jeans!  Try it, you'll be amazed.  It's a real game changer!  You can feel the power shift over to your side while the other guy sees that he may have overcommitted, and is trying to figure out exactly "how real" he wants things to get.

Fast forward to my teenage years.  Two movies cinched my love for horror.  Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "The Shining" and Sam Raimi's quirky, low budget gem "The Evil Dead".  I've been a devotee ever since.  I have plenty of friends who love horror movies in the same way I love metal.  Most metal sucks.  In fact, most metal is embarrassing.  When it's good though, it's the best of everything I love about music and creative expression.  The same holds true for horror movies, and the two art forms are actually very closely related. Both delve into the taboos of society and the dark recesses of the human experience. Americans are particularly fascinated by real life horror, and especially the phenomenon of serial killers.  Being scared or made very uncomfortable is a rush.  I suppose that when we were hunter/gatherers there were more chances to feel that life or death rush that is absent when walking through the mall these days.  Well, that might depend upon which mall you frequent, but you know what I mean.  A good horror movie makes you feel alive.  And damned happy to be alive!

Monica and I went to see "The Evil Dead" during its opening here in Raleigh last night.  We had been excited about the event ever since watching the trailer online a few months ago.  I was particularly glad to see that Sam Raimi was an executive producer, but not the director. I took that to mean he wouldn't let anyone screw it up too much, and the guy who directed it is Uruguayan, which got me jazzed.  For anyone who digs horror without paying attention to such things, the Spanish-speaking directors have a different take on horror that I usually really enjoy.  There is a sense of fatalism that American directors don't tap into.  In American horror, once the good guy wins, that's it.  Good has triumphed over evil and everyone can go back to work.  The Spaniards like to point out that while the battle may have been won, the war will never be over and in fact, there is a good chance good will never triumph.  Last night we got our chance to see the re-imagining of one of our all time favorite movies, and after all of the blood settled, copious amounts of blood at that, I have to applaud everyone involved in the making of the film.

The original Evil Dead is a low budget masterpiece that somehow managed to create some of the most creative horror moments with a $5 budget and claymation.  On paper, it should never have worked.  It did work though, and was my favorite movie for a long time.  The subsequent sequels however are absolute trash.  I know that there are a lot of people who love the campiness of the third installment, "Army of Darkness" but I think it's one of the very worst movies I have ever seen.  Even the first movie has its share of cheese ( not the cool cheese that came out of the mega demon at the end, but the kind of cheese that can ruin horror movies ) but the movie was so relentless that it didn't matter.  Fede Alvarez took that over the top approach to demonic possession and bloodletting and made a great, dark roller coaster ride of a film.  There were things that I liked more about the new version and some things that I missed about the original.  All in all, I really enjoyed the movie.

One thing that films don't spend as much time on anymore is character development. Culturally speaking, we demand instant action.  Though the acting in the 1981's "The Evil Dead" was pretty bad, you did feel like you had a handle on the characters before they were chopped into pieces.  The new version uses a very different premise to assemble the characters in that run down cabin in the woods.  It's a premise that automatically builds in an excuse for the supporting characters to doubt the heroine's suspicions at the beginning of the film.  Very clever.  They could have gotten some more mileage out of that kind of wrinkle, but the promise of blood outweighed the need for plot development.  "The Evil Dead" is a franchise, and there were several characters that needed to be dismembered within the traditional hour and a half horror movie time frame.  Time to get hacking!  Nothing else would suffice.

Sam Raimi's version of this tale of demonic possession used a book bound in human skin as the original source of dread.  There was a crucial scene in the original film in which all of the characters were seated around the book listening to an audio version of translations from the text.  That scene planted the seeds of fear and dread in the characters and in the audience. This new version did not set things up in quite the same way.  There was less emphasis on the book, though it was referenced several times.  Only one character knew what the book contained, and I do think that was a mistake that cost the film to the extent that there was less of a connection to ancient occultism, and less of a sense of dread.  There were plenty of areas where the movie shined, though.  Shiny spots that dripped red all over the theater.

There is a prologue in Alvarez' version that was a new addition to the film.  While the scene starts off a little hokey, it ends with quite a bang.  I mentioned in a previous post that I am the guy who applauds the unexpected disemboweling scenes in movies.  I had to applaud the opening scene last night as chunks of skull and brain rained down upon the rest of the body they had been liberated from only seconds earlier.  Yes, the stage is set very early on in 2013's "The Evil Dead", and gore aficionados will delight in its crimson glory.  The special effects crew must have had a field day with this film!  I think that the fake blood industry is still seeing stock prices go up as a result of the production of this movie.  Amputations abound in The Evil Dead, and they are accompanied by the appropriate number of stabbings, head smashings, nail gunnings ( as one who has nailed his own hand with a nail gun I can tell you, it sucks! ) razor blade tongue slicings and of course, chainsaw scenes.  I may never be able to chainsaw a legless torso in two again without thinking of this movie and being creeped out.  I burst out in laughter at the extreme nature of the gore more than once last night.

This movie is dark, bloody and more than a little nuts.  In that regard, the spirit of the original lives on despite its horrendous sequels from the late 1980's.  All of the temporary possession transformation scenes were done really well.  That was one area in which the original film did fall short.  The single frame transformations were clumsy, even by 1981 standards.  Alvarez did them justice in this remake, and he made the woods around the cabin creepy and dreadful in a way that surely made Raimi happy to have handed over the reigns thirty years after the movie that put him on the map was originally released.  If you love the original Evil Dead you owe it to yourself to see this interpretation.  There will be things that you will wish had been done different, but keep in mind that we have had thirty years' worth of horror evolution to influence the way movies are made since Ash first chopped his way out of that infernal cabin. The over the top spirit of The Evil Dead lives on, and this blood and guts fan is delighted to see another version of Raimi's vision.  Monica and I will definitely see this again when it hits the $2 theater in about three months.

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