Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Cinema File #155: "Evil Dead" Review

Along with Re-Animator and the straight to video work of Charles Band, the Evil Dead franchise was one of my first introductions to horror movies. I remember going to my local library with my older brother and exploring their vast collection of VHS tapes (this was before DVD and Blu Ray of course), and happening upon the first two Evil Dead movies at an age where I really probably shouldn't have been watching those kinds of movies. Luckily, because no one in a position to supervise me ever bothered to look at what I was checking out, I was able to take it home with me and a lifelong fascination with all things bloody and disgusting was born. I've now seen the remake of this classic film, produced by its original creators, and while I can say it is definitely a cut above the typical horror remake in that it is technically watchable, it is only just competent enough not to be an insult to my fond memories of this series.

The story follows the original mostly, with a few tweaks here and there, turning what was a poorly defined spring break getaway into an intervention/detox weekend, and changing the fate of some of the characters. Actually, that's not exactly right. See, these aren't really the original characters, but they are similar enough that you expect them to share the same fates as the ones they are vaguely similar to from the original. It's kind of hard to explain, and also one of the first problems I have with the movie. The characters are changed through subtraction, leaving certain traits while removing everything that was interesting about them. We have an Ash kind of guy, but with all the cool stuff drained out of him until he's just Guy With Blue Shirt, we have a Hal Delrich type, but he's just Long Haired 70's Douche. Once you take away all of their distinction, we don't care that what happens to them is slightly different than the original movie, because we had no reason to invest in the characters at all in the first place.

This same thing applies to the supernatural threat facing our main group. The Deadites in the original series were a unique blend of traditional zombies and Exorcist style demonically possessed monsters, while here, there seems to be a larger force independent of the one taking over the humans one by one, some kind of ghost thing that I think might be a dead clone of the main girl... or something. I don't know, and once again, I'm given no incentive to care. I won't say the original was simpler, as even back then I often found it difficult to peg down the rules of when and how someone would become possessed, if any rules existed, but here its like there was a deliberate effort to make it even more confusing, but not in any way that adds to the horror or suspense. We get a Big Bad, though nothing close to the giant tree face thing from the end of Evil Dead 2, and had I been at all engaged by that point I might have questioned what the big deal was with the arrival of this thing that we'd seen walking around all through the movie, but all I cared about was that it was almost over.

You might think me somewhat unfair for even mentioning Evil Dead 2 as a comparison to this, because if we are to hold it to any standard, it should be the original and the original only. I get that, but at the same time, you have to admit that when you think back on your fond memories of Evil Dead, what you're really thinking about is Evil Dead 2, and this production team clearly knows this. Though the set up of the plot is closer to the first one, all of the references and in jokes point to the superior sequel. We get chainsaws and people losing hands and torrents of blood reminiscent of the famous wall scene, but precious few nods specifically unique to the first one, save the tree attack scene, which is changed somewhat unnecessarily into something resembling Hentai tentacle rape porn. Fan service is fine so far as it goes, but as is too often the case, that's pretty much the only thing worthwhile about the movie.

I should mention the level of gore, which to me seems to have been vastly overestimated now that I've actually seen it. It's been a few years since I've gone back and watched the original series, but from what I remember, at least taking the first two films as a whole, there's not a lot more here than there was then. Yes its a bit more sophisticated and sometimes we can see closer into the carnage, but for something like this, style goes a long way, and just seeing the hand severed instead of just the blood splattering isn't necessarily an improvement. With the exception of the final few minutes that reminded me a bit of the climax from Dead Alive more so than Evil Dead, it was actually pretty tame compared to what I was expecting, and never even rose to the level of the bad claymation melty faces from the original. This isn't some classic purist talking, I fully expected this movie to outpace the original in this area at least, but despite years of technological advancement, it doesn't even look better than a movie made in the early 80's!

Awesome chainsaw, Guy With Blue Shirt

I'm a hard sell when it comes to any remake, mostly because I think the movies that tend to be remade are usually so good, that there's no reason to remake them. When Robert Englund is still alive and willing to do another sequel, there's no reason to remake A Nightmare on Elm Street with someone else. The original still holds up, and the same is true for most of them, including the Evil Dead series. You want to remake something? How about Manos The Hands Of Fate or Robot Monster, something bad that can be made good, as opposed to something good that can be made mediocre or worse. This remake doesn't distinguish itself enough to be relevant, and while it is entertaining in spots, for the most part its just boring and rote until the end. I'm happy that the success of this film has reignited talk of continuing the original franchise, and perhaps that is enough to justify its production, but beyond that, whether you're a die hard fan or not, I wouldn't bother with actually seeing it.
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