Don't Read From The Book! Talking about the new Evil Dead

The Evil Dead remake is already a polarizing topic in critic and horror fanatic circles. There've been remakes before, but Evil Dead is the holy grail of low budget horror cinema. Friday the 13th and Halloween are movies of debatable quality, even if a tremendous affection or importance keeps them afloat, but the legacy of Evil Dead is one entirely of affection. Fans love The Evil Dead more than perhaps any other genre staple. People who love Friday the 13th do not love it the way we Evil Dead fans love the 1981 cult staple. The difference is that Sam Raimi's film is lovable by design, a winning, handmade tribute to horror tropes that were still developing and to the possibilities of low budget cinema. So a remake, even one produced and blessed by original director Raimi, star Bruce Campbell and producer Rob Tapert, is a dubious prospect to say the least. And now that it's here the debate rages. Here's a look into two fans (myself and horror maven Lucas Mangum) talking out the finer points of the situation.  

As usual, we spoil a little bit and as we both recommend it, it'd be good to see the new and the original Evil Dead first. Because also, seriously, the original's a goddamn masterpiece so get on that.

Lucas Mangum So, what did we think of Evil Dead? 

Scout Tafoya Well first things first: it was never going to be Sam's film. The Evil Dead and its sequel are the kind of phenomenon that don't seem to happen anymore (though perhaps John Hyams is the closest thing we have today). That is low-budge auteurs deciding to throw every goddamn trick they know at the screen to give audiences the ride of a lifetime while shackled to budgetary constraints and audience expectation. Evil Dead may have been made for 9 cents, but every one of them is up there on the screen scaring the hell out of you and making you laugh. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is that rare film where the budget increased but the entertainment value didn't drop an ounce. I grew up with these films, having seen Dead By Dawn in the third or fourth grade (I can't rightly remember which) and the original not long after. The first scared me so bad I had to turn it off toward the end and watch the rest when it was light out. So, the new Evil Dead is never gonna have anything like Raimi's ingenuity or wit (a mix of George A. Romero and the Three Stooges). But what it does have is a great modern visual sense, heavy on detail and texture. It has the same elastic approach to gore and torment. It has the same proportion of game cast members to not. It has a fab sense of pacing once the going gets, and is terrifying and almost unwatchably grotesque at times, but in a good way. In other words for a movie that has no good reason to exist, it's a pretty good time at the movies. I plan on seeing it again, and soon. 

Lucas Well-said, man. I don't know if I've ever had such mixed feelings about a single film. I felt as if it relied too heavily on melodrama and in-jokes (which, while appreciated, are starting to lose their flavor for me). My other issue was that the whole thing felt like a big metaphor for Mia's (Jane Levy) drug addiction. I'm not sure I dislike that aspect of it, but part of me feels that it makes the story more complicated than it needs to be. Maybe. That said, I read a review that described it's style as "a few shades lighter than the gloomy grunge of recent genre films," [Mark Olsen, LA Times - Ed.] and I couldn't agree more. It had a sense of fun that has been sorely missing from the genre as of late. There were some truly killer moments, the effects were top-notch and Levy did a great job as the lead. She managed to be both terrifying and sympathetic. I also liked how she ended up being the protagonist in the end when all along we were led to believe that her brother would be the hero. This was in line with the first film, where the blond dude (I forget his name [Scotty, played Richard DeManincor under the pseudonym Hal Delrich -Ed.]) has more heroic qualities even though Ash ends up being the sole survivor. I also keep remembering things throughout today that I liked, most of them having to do with nail guns, and can see many of these sequences being classic images for the genre a few years from now. Despite my mixed feelings about Mia's drug addiction, I will say that I appreciated the kids going to the cabin for a reason other than to party, because holy shit that angle's tired! I did all I could to not compare it to the original for the same reasons you didn't. Those films are so special to me and, you know, horror fans everywhere. So to compare Alvarez's film to Raimi's would've been unfair. Overall, it was a quality horror film and I think Alvarez has a bright future in the genre. We're lucky to have him. 

Scout I agree. As for the shades lighter angle, I completely agree and noticed something fascinating when I was walking out. The original Evil Dead has a balance of character versus terror that most films never achieve and it's a credit to Raimi that he manages a very specific feat. What I mean is, and I think it has everything to do with Bruce Campbell winking at the camera in the first seconds of the film, is that even when people are being chopped to pieces with an axe or stabbed with andirons or having their faces melted via stop-motion, there's never a sense of despair about it. In Saw, Hostel and other films, they want you to suffer for their characters' sins. So if someone gets shot in the face or cut to ribbons, it'll be like Brad Pitt call it in Killing Them Softly: they're going to beg and plead and call for their mothers. They're going to not have deserved it and the director would love it if you suffered right along with them. Kevin Bacon being killed in Friday the 13th's a good example - it feels rude and unfair that arbitrarily there's some fucking person under the bed who's going to stab him in the throat with an arrow. As in "how could they be ignorant of the person under the fucking bed?" As in "we don't even know this dude and now he's choking on his own blood and a fucking arrowhead!" As in "This isn't particularly entertaining." Raimi was after something else - these people are being killed in the showiest fashion imaginable and it's all part of a sort of carnival atmosphere. We laugh when Scotty walks into a bathroom, pull back the shower curtain, finds nothing there and then is beset upon by a demon hiding who knows where in the bathroom. That's obviously a joke, and it's a pretty fucking great one that for me hasn't lost any of its power over the year. Campbell winking means "don't worry, fellas, it's just a movie" and then tests the prehensile strength of the fourth wall with his incredibly goofy, yet often truly horrifying murder setpieces and shocks. You want to laugh but it's also both incredibly frightening and very, very unnerving. It's the most beautiful showmanship. 

Now, Alvarez doesn't have Sam's showmanship, but he does pull off the very endearing and impressive feat (at least he did for me) of killing people and not making it feel like Sophocles, to coin a phrase. And this is pretty impressive given that no one does anything like wink in the early going - as you say, Lucas, heroin addiction is as funny as...well, Heroin addiction. And yet Fede manages it by making his characterization loose enough that you don't wish anyone harm, but you're ok when they start removing pieces of each other. The last bit of business involving the shotgun made me appreciate that these characters had done something other than stood around waiting to get killed. They fulfill a kind of narrative/fright satisfaction. It's about making an impression in the scheme of progression, rather than as characters in a story. In other words Alvarez got the most out of them as pieces in a macabre puzzle, without making us feel cheated that we didn't get to know them better. But as far as characters go, I liked Levy and believed her waffling demeanor in the first act. I also loved her crazytown monologue to Shiloh Fernandez; she sort of reminded me of a young Brad Dourif and I think you and I know that that's a compliment. I dug that Lou Taylor Pucci kept getting almost murdered and then standing up and walking around. Also dug his hair and glasses. It's a bit more 70s than 80s, but I like that he and Levy (not to mention Alvarez and his gore effects team) were clearly going for something. 

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