I work with a twenty year old country girl who has a Disney Princesses license plate frame screwed into the back of her car. She sings Taylor Swift songs and talks about boys with bubbly enthusiasm. She doesn’t laugh, she giggles. Yesterday she said to me, “So this boy I know took me to the movies last night … We saw Evil Dead. It was … I dunno … Apparently it was, like, a remake or something. I liked it. I like zombie movies.”
My reaction was snarky. Well, no, I thought, I don’t really see the Evil Dead as zombies. Zombies, to me, are hapless, mindless creatures that follow the rest of the pack and post e-cards about The Walking Dead on Facebook. The Evil Dead are more intelligent, more vicious.
But Yes, the Evil Dead movie that my co-worker saw was, like, a remake or something. After reading from an ancient text (Sam Raimi’s script for the original film), director Fede Alvarez resurrected the movie for old and new audiences. But when it came back, it wasn’t the same. It was a distorted, soulless, version of the movie it was based on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because while I thought Alvarez’s movie was flawed, I appreciated a lot of the decisions that he made, and thought that it was a good film overall.
It’s tricky to remake a movie. First of all, comparisons to the original are inevitable. The first film in this franchise has become iconic. That movie spent thirty-one years building a fan-base. Now someone is coming along and resetting it. It’s particularly difficult to remake a horror movie. I think a big part of what is scary in a movie is what is unknown. With a remade movie, a portion of the audience already has an expectation. They know what’s coming.
The most recent wave of 70‘s and 80’s horror remakes showed how a movie could be defeated by these challenges. The 2006 version of The Omen, the 2007 version of Halloween, the 2009 version of Friday The 13th, and the 2010 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street all tried and failed to do anything other than annoy fans and launch internet-bitch-forums.
Evil Dead, however, had an advantage over those other films in that the Evil Dead mythology already had a history of resetting itself. When Raimi released Evil Dead 2 in 1987, that film felt more like a remake than a sequel. And then, in 1992, he went in a dramatically different direction by importing Ash, the Evil Dead protagonist, into an entirely different world and genre w/ Army of Darkness. Because Raimi himself had so habitually hit the reset button, when Alvarez was put at the helm of this new Evil Dead reboot, the director was essentially given carte blanche to do what he wanted to do. Changing the tradition of Evil Dead was the tradition of Evil Dead.
Alvarez took advantage of that by using Raimi’s film as an outline, but not as a map. Alvarez acknowledged Raimi fans throughout the movie, sometimes in small nods (the Olds Delta 88 made a cameo) and sometimes as a grand gesture (Raimi’s “shaky cam” was used to full effect). But, aside from a few small throwbacks to Raimi, it was Alvarez’s signature that was on this film.
The story, once again, had five friends in a cabin, secluded from the rest of civilization. They also, once again, stumble upon the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, an ancient book, bound in human flesh, that contains Sumerian passages which, when read aloud, releases an evil presence. Once the book is in their hands, it doesn’t take long for one of them to invite evil. From there, however, Alvarez took the original movie and darkened the pallet, stripped the humor, tweaked the mythology, and added his aesthetic.
Alvarez, and co-writer Rodo Sayagues, made an attempt to deepen the characters by adding themes of hope, betrayal, guilt, and forgiveness. There was a tension among the group due to their past experiences together. Parallels were drawn between drug-addiction and demonic possession, and while I found the metaphor to be Durex-thin, it did add another layer to the story.
Evil Dead’s character depth is a secondary focus anyway. This movie was about blood, blood, and more blood. Alvarez delivered on the gore-factor, setting up scene after scene of bloody, bashed, and broken bodies.
To me, the movie did have a few disappointing moments. Some of the foreshadowing was as loud as a chainsaw (or, in this case, a nail gun). And some of the character designs were a little too clean. (Evil Dead is not the only contemporary horror film that makes this mistake. I understand why directors would want to toss the old, rubbery monsters of yesteryear. They look too fake by today’s standards. But I feel like the replacement designs aren’t much better. Too many movies are going for “cool” instead of “scary.” As artificial as the milk-spewing creatures from the first film were, they were creepier than the Marilyn Manson lookalikes that Alvarez favored).
Even though I found some choices to be questionable, I really liked some of the other decisions by the director and his crew. He didn’t use a lot of CGI, which I thought was a wise move. There is nothing less-scary than being chased by a cartoon. I thought the visual direction, if a little too slick, was still strong. Great use of color, contrast, and framing. And I thought the score, a traditional soundtrack of shrieking strings, was phenomenal.
The Evil Dead tag both helped and hindered the film. It helps it because the movie already had name recognition. It hurt because it drew comparisons to a genre classic. This movie will most likely not achieve the same sort of cult-following that the original did, but based on my co-worker’s response, based on box-office predictions, and based on my own view of the film, Evil Dead will succeed in doing something different. It will succeed in doing what it set out to do: It will introduce new people to the franchise while rekindling the love of the series for the old fans.