Friday, August 28, 2015

Reviews Evil Dead (2013)

I stopped the new Evil Dead film at 40:03 because I had to feed my dog, and it stayed there for at least an hour while I contemplated (aloud, and to no one; my dog was as conflicted about the film as I) the faults of the remake. I just wasn't that into it for three, distinct reasons:

1. The book

2. The girl in the woods

3. The bridge


Evil Dead Remake (2013)
Evil Dead
1. The Necronomicon, a fictitious book created by HP Lovecraft as a recurring focal point of his Cthulhu Mythos, was also a linchpin of the original Evil Dead trilogy. 

In the original movie series, the book was "bound in human flesh and inked in human blood."  For cinematic effect, writer/director, Sam Raimi, made the cover a distorted human face.

It remains one of the most grotesque, ridiculously over-the-top, cinematic properties in all of American film.  Simultaneously reminiscent of Leatherface's human skin mask and all those Nazi stories about human lampshades and shit we've all heard, it inspired both awe and fear.

The remake chose, instead, to simply have some leathery material stitched together, never mentioning that it was supposed to be human flesh.

Further, the original book was written in an ancient language, unknown to mankind -- that was what the scholar had been working on deciphering, and what he was reading on the reels Ash and his friends found in the basement.  It was also filled with beautiful, but deeply disturbing, images that -- like the rest of The Necronomicon -- had been rendered by an unknown hand(s). 

The remake has graffiti, written in English, scrawled in red ink -- yet, again, no mention as to whether or not it is supposed to be human blood, as in the original.  The tome isn't even referred to as The Necronomicon, nor the daemons as the Deadites.

The original Evil Dead set-up an entire mythos; in under two hours, flat, it created an entire world with a rich and detailed history.  Yet, the story it told was very self-contained and came to a (somewhat) satisfying ending of its own.  The 2013 remake eschewed all of that to pack meat in the seats and was forgotten almost as quickly as it was released.

2. I knew they would dodge the infamous rape scene. 

It's one of the most iconic and revered scenes in all of horror movie history but, sadly, it's simply too much for the overly-sensitive audiences of today.  It would have ignited a literal shitstorm across social media which would have overshadowed the film itself.  While literally everything in this nation has become overly-politicized to the point of complete absurdity, that's still some weak-assed shit.  While there is no way to top the original, they just balked.

Instead, some random chick (well, the possessed girl from the opening scene) appears from out of nowhere and spits a dark vine which winds its way up the heroine's leg and presumably into her no-no zone.  This girl appears at least once more, then disappears entirely from the movie without explanation.  Not only is she never seen or heard from again, no reason whatsoever is given for her appearance in the first place!

Her only significance is in the opening scene, and though the book references a male figure as the primary daemon being invoked, no male antagonist ever appears.  In short, she's nothing more than a cheap plot device.  And, speaking of appearances, she looks pretty good for a beheaded burn victim!

No doubt the original rape scene was somewhat distasteful (it's a Goddamned horror movie, for fuck's sake), but it served its purpose far better than anything in the remake.  It was shocking, disturbing, and completely unexpected -- immediately informing the audience not only of the perverse intentions of the daemonic forces in the wood, but also as to their Supernatural nature.  As Cheryl tells the vacationing crew, her attacker was not only not human, "It was the woods itself!" 

Scotty later says, "The trees, Ash... they know!"  He was holding in his guts when he said it.

That's some creepy shiznit!  And that rape scene warned you not to trust that fucking movie, setting the tone for all that followed.

In the remake, the female protagonist simply falls into some vines and becomes entangled, then this remarkably recovered, beheaded bitch appears without explanation, spits out a vine, and disappears.  Weak, amateurish, and entirely uninformative.

3. In the original two installments, Ash tries to flee the cabin in the woods only to find that the bridge leading to the highway has been impossibly demolished.  The girders have been bent so forcefully that they have been curled backward, possibly suggesting that some massively-sized force shot forth from the river below.

This was yet another grandiose concept the remake artlessly dodged by having the bridge simply swept away by flooding.

All three of these concepts were quintessential to the original trilogy; all three were excised from the remake, and their replacements were inarguably pedestrian by comparison.  One can only assume the filmmakers decided they challenged the story's verisimilitude, or the target audience's imagination, and lacked the confidence to take them on. 

Of course, daemonic possession is enough of a stretch to challenge most movie-goers' suspension of disbelief, but the decidedly more "acceptable," pseudo-psychological with a faint suggestion of witchcraft approach -- "Was it all in their minds or was it wertches?" -- crap still pales in comparison to the Eldritch and inexplicable horrors of the originals.  

Further, shit goes wild after the 40-minute mark anyway, as we'll discuss below, so there was little need to hedge their bets.  These omissions were cop-outs, all the way around.

These three concepts were no mere plot devices in the original series; they were subtle, yet fundamental, elements of the story that meant little on their own but piled, one on top of the next, into a hauntingly convincing portrayal of insurmountable demonic activity.  Evil Dead (1980) is, at once, both in-your-face and behind your back in its portrayal of supranatural malevolence.

And, while these details irked me, I was downright disgusted by the filmmakers' reliance on foul language as a replacement for the "distasteful," or over-the-top, cinematic elements of the originals -- which actually had little, if any, profanity.  I'm all about some strong language (obviously), but using the word "cunt" and offering to 'suck the pretty-boy's cock' certainly did not impress me more than seeing the woods rape the living shit out of Cheryl and Scotty!

Tree rapings are some adult fare that allow me to quip, "I guess the Deadites' bark is worse than their bite."

If the lead's "sister is being raped in Hell," then we're already well into the Fantastic -- don't tell me, show me!  This is a Goddamned movie -- and a horror movie, at that -- yet most of it is either told to the audience or read from the unnamed book.

The PC culture won yet another round here in their "War on Indecency."  Sadly, I'm certain the Trigger Warning generation was sufficiently rattled by these cheap and easy "outs."  Evil Dead may have earned its hard R, but the proliferation of gore can hardly be deemed frightening by social justice warriors who were raised on Torture Porn, such as the Saw and Hostel series.

When I finally continued the film, fit hit the shan fast and the movie finally launched into the brutally ludicrous, but I've still more to discuss regarding the first half of Evil Dead:

One of the primary strengths of the first two films (while the third completes the trilogy, it is almost entirely removed from the events of the first two) is the artistry of director, Sam Raimi.  And I'm not talking about the stop-motion animation. 

Raimi intuitively knows when, and how, to artistically frame shots so that the composition remains striking to the viewer while not only keeping the action in frame but drawing the viewer's eye to what he should be watching.  He also employs numerous, film school techniques expertly, such as changing the speed of the film, and uses outlandish and often baffling sound effects to enhance the scenes.

While Raimi is clearly an artist whose work can only be mimicked poorly by lesser filmmakers, the remake's director missed so many opportunities to elevate the Evil Dead remake from the easily forgettable, popcorn movie it is into something resembling a cult film that I hardly know where to begin. 

However, a perfect example is when the dog discovers a blood stain beneath the rug leading to the basement:

In the original, the cellar door flies open of its own accord, forcing the characters to trepidatiously investigate.  Raimi ramps-up the tension by having them peer into the abyss, arguing over whom should go down there, from the first-person POV.   Once in the cellar, the investigators' flashlight mysteriously fails and they have to find a lantern to light their way -- an obviously overwrought nod to the movie's Lovecraftian roots which also demonstrates the power of the forces they face.

In the remake, a character asks, "Is that blood?" then they're downstairs in a jump-cut.

No tension, no establishment of mood or atmosphere -- the characters do not seem to be fazed at all by the discovery of fresh blood on the floor and have no qualms about investigating a dank cellar in an old cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  Talk about upsetting the suspension of disbelief! 

Upon investigation, they discover numerous animal carcasses apparently drained of blood, as well as the aforementioned book wrapped in trashbags... then go back upstairs and carry on as if nothing's out of the ordinary!

Later, the dog is found dead and the audience doesn't care - why should we? Had it heroically tried to save them from unseen forces or even featured in the story up to that point at all, we would have.  But the dog is so clearly a convenient plot device that its death just... happens.  The male protagonist doesn't even seem that upset: He cries for a moment, then moves on, and neither the dog nor its death is mentioned again. 

Just like the possessed chick from the opening scene, the dog simply appears, reveals a plot point, then is conveniently discarded.  It isn't even drained of blood like the animals found hanging in the basement: The director informs us that the female protagonist (now antagonist) beat it to death with a hammer.

None of this has any connection to the story, whatsoever -- none at all.

Having said all of that, the second half of the film goes absolutely berserk, with several homages to the first two flicks that should satisfy fans.  These include a hand possession and self-dismemberment; a chainsaw being latched onto a dismembered arm; the male protagonist being repeatedly thrown into shelving; and more.  They may be pandering, but they are a lot of fun.

But, the second half also has its gaffes. 

A good example is in the closing scene, when the Jeep is thrown onto the protagonist's arm, pinning her hand to the ground... the ground that has been firmly established as loose mud.

It rains throughout the entire movie.  When she tries to flee earlier in the film, the little car left deep ruts in this very mud -- and don't forget the washed-out bridge!  A Jeep on the arm would definitely hurt, but it should have pressed her hand into the mud, allowing her to more easily remove it; it wasn't firm enough to force her to dismember her trapped hand.  Instead, it serves as yet another convenient plot device for the chainsaw homage to the second film.  This one is far more forgivable but impossible to overlook.

Another is the shotgun blast which ignites the gas can because that doesn't happen; it would have simply blown a hole in the container or destroyed it altogether.  And, although the makeshift defibrillator may have been accurately MacGyvered, I understand that the use of it was not.  I'm no stickler for hyper-realism in movies -- especially not in movies where the characters recite passages from an ancient tome they found in an old cabin in the woods in the middle of Goddamn nowhere aloud -- but why excise tree-rapings and upturned bridges if you're going to have the lead construct a fucking defibrillator out of spare parts to resurrect his sister? 

If you're going to resort to the Fantastic, why not go full-tilt?

And, if you're going to "reboot" an iconic classic, why in the hell would you remove the underpinnings of the entire story for being too over-the-top, then venture into the nonsensical?  Movies such as The Evil Dead are classics for good reason and, while good movies tend to get remade (these days), if you aren't even going to try improving on the original, don't bother doing it at all.

Fans of the Evil Dead remake will say I'm more likely to have enjoyed the movie had I not stopped it halfway through, but I was honestly so unimpressed by the first 40 minutes that I wasn't too enthused about the second half -- which, again, was admittedly far more enjoyable -- and my dog had already gotten up and walked out.  Still, the latter part was only enjoyable because of the homages to the originals -- homages non-fans could not have appreciated.

The inclusion of a live burial as a method of exorcising the daemons seemed a bit wonky, but dressing the possessed in an actual funereal gown was one badass touch.  The editing in that scene was so reminiscent of Raimi that I wonder if he didn't cut it himself -- he must have been in the editing room that day, at the very least.  They even had the lead use a lantern in that scene!  Very cool, all that.

The acting was the remake's saving grace.  Every actor turned in amazing performances, even under heavy prosthetics.  They are all very good-looking, as well, so watching them is hardly difficult.  Despite my myriad complaints, I was interested in what they were doing and their general well-being.  That's an accomplishment for a movie in which no one is expected to survive but you're not supposed to root for their demise.

Evil Dead (2013) is worth watching and I plan on watching it again without interruption, but it is rather forgettable.  It simply doesn't go far enough in establishing itself as a film in its own right.  Its most fun moments are the callbacks to the earlier films, and it adds little to the series and relies on cheap tricks to tell its tale.  Without Raimi's artistry, it's just another cash-in on nostalgia.  But Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell deserve their riches, as the original movies went largely overlooked for many years.

Campbell has hinted at a second movie on social media, and I'd be interested in that.  But a better, more confident, director should helm it.

© The Weirding, 2015
UPDATED: Jan., 2020

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