The Evil Dead

There is a scene in “The Evil Dead” where its protagonist Ashley (Bruce Campbell) wanders down into a basement to look for shotgun shells. The spiderweb criss-cross of pipes that before dripped water, now drip blood. Electronics begin turning on, with an old record player providing a jovial, old-timey soundtrack for the bizarre tableau. Electrical sockets gush blood, a single bare light bulb fills with blood before shattering, and all the while Ashley’s dead friends whisper in his ear, mocking him. After emerging, he finds himself staring into a mirror, which then turns to water.

I love this scene. It should be obvious to any horror fan why. Bizarre and surreal scenes like it helped elevate “The Evil Dead” above merely being a gore-filled splatter movie. Combined with director Sam Raimi’s exuberant camera work, they gave the film an imposing atmosphere of true terror.

Unfortunately for “The Evil Dead’s” recent remake, “Evil Dead” lacks any such scenes of subtlety. It’s pretty much just a straight-faced splatter fest, with a climax where literally everything on screen is covered in blood.

That’s not to say of course that it is a bad straight-faced splatter fest. On the contrary, it’s almost refreshing in some ways to see a movie go so entirely balls-to-the-wall with gore and practical effects.

Unfortunately, it fails to live up to its heritage, and it tries way too hard to do so.

It is really quite hard to produce a good remake. Far too many films (I’m thinking specifically of 1999’s “Psycho”) attempt to recreate the magic of the original, and of course fail completely. The actors are different, the director is different, and so is much, if not all, of the production staff. There’s no point in trying to recreate a film, because the original still exists.

Far better are remakes that borrow lightly from the source material and put their own unique spin on the story. John Carpenter’s “The Thing” or David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” are two examples of directors who appreciated the source material, but made a movie that took advantage of their own strengths, rather than relying on the strengths of the films they were remaking.

“Evil Dead” comes quite close to standing on its own, but it fails just a few too many times. The classic Raimi hand-held shots are out in full force, and they come off feeling out of place.

Unlike the original, this version has a plot. Well, kind of. The idea is that five friends visit a cabin in the woods in order to help cure a friend of her heroin addiction. This is an interesting premise, and I was really looking forward to seeing how it tied into people getting possessed by demons and going insane.

Trying to cope with heroin withdrawals while killing your possessed friends has a lot of potential to be rather unique if used properly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The plot is discarded almost entirely to focus on people being shot with nail guns.

“Evil Dead” has such mediocre actors and dull characters that they’re not even worth mentioning. It does manage to avoid horror archetypes (the blonde bimbo, the jock, etc.) which is a refreshing change of pace for modern horror. Unfortunately, the characters feel so watered down that they fail to be particularly memorable.
It’s hard to talk about “Evil Dead” without comparing it to its predecessor.

Despite all of these complaints, on its own, “Evil Dead” is still one of the best straight-up horror films to come out in quite a while. It goes straight for the jugular, literally at times.

Its use of practical effects and completely over-the-top gore harken back to a time when horror movies weren’t afraid to be delightfully weird. It also manages to avoid the most common cliches that plague the horror genre.

If it weren’t tied so closely to “The Evil Dead” I could overlook most of its flaws. Unfortunately, “Evil Dead” remains constantly in the shadow of its wonderfully quirky predecessor. It’s still worth watching, and delightful in its own way. But, as you exit the theater you may find yourself saying, “If only…”