Friday, June 7, 2013

Film Review: Evil Dead [2013]

I was skeptical about the Evil Dead [2013] remake when word of it started making the rounds.
The same questions came to mind that always come to mind when the announcement is made that a horror film or franchise is going to get the remake/reboot treatment.
“Why?” being one of the first and most omnipresent.
Usually followed by a simple but understandable musing that maybe “Hollywood has run out of ideas”.
I know it’s not that simple, but it’s an easy idea to fall back on.
The truth of the matter is that making films in the studio system is expensive.
Although there should be a certain amount of love for the art, there is always a consideration for the bottom line.
For any film there are investors and money to be repaid and hopefully profits to be made.
Although I’m sure it’s nice to be able to actualize yourself creatively, it’s also nice to make a ton of money for yourself and your investors and to be able to afford to make more movies.
The motivation behind making a remake/reboot is simple.
There’s a pre-existing fan base for the pre-existing films that are going to see your remake/reboot one way or another.   Either to celebrate or condemn it.   They will all see the film and all go off to their preferred form of social media and offer their amateur critical opinions and this is free promotion.   Regardless of if they love it or hate it or if they feel rewarded or betrayed as fans, they will see it.   And this guarantees a return on your film.
The problem that I have with these remake/reboots is that they are usually a double betrayal.
Allow me to give you some backstory.
I am a fan of the Evil Dead franchise.
I’ve seen the first three films dozens of times.
I owned all three films on VHS and when they came out on DVD.   I even laid out for a fancy UK import boxed set because it was supposed to be the best possible versions of the films.
I don’t have any prop replicas and I’ve never made a cosplay costume to dress up and walk around like I’m Ash.   I don’t have any tattoos or autographed movie memorabilia but I am a fan of the original series and a fan of horror movies in general for the most part so I think it’s fair to consider myself the target demographic for this film.
I held off on going to see the film in theatres because that’s a somewhat expensive gamble these days.   I also held off because of the reviews.   The reviews were all brief and exclamatory.   “Simply astonishing.”, “Utterly and astoundingly awesome.”, “A near perfect experience.”.   Right.   Thank you for your exclamatory superlatives.   But what about the film?   Is it any good?   Should I bother putting pants and shoes on and spending money to experience it?
My concern is that I’ve been fooled before.
I went to see The Omen [2006] remake on 6/6/06 and found it to be a superficial and disappointing waste of my time and an exploitational use of a decent intellectual property to take advantage of fans of horror films and to try to turn a quick profit at their expense.
I viewed the remakes/reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [2003], The Toolbox Murders [2004], The Hills Have Eyes [2006], Friday the 13th [2009], and A Nightmare on Elm Street [2010] and found them all to be well-made disappointments.   Although it’s true that the remakes/reboots took advantage of the bigger budgets and advances in film technology in comparison to the original films, the stories always seemed to be derivative of but less rewarding than the original films.   They always had the formula right.   A collection of youngish relatively attractive actors tossed into terrible and hopefully horrifying situations for the audience to experience vicariously and rehearse their deaths through the magic of cinema.   Body integrity is compromised.   Wounds are inflicted.   Screams are screamed and gallons of special effects blood are shed.   But the actors almost always seem to be cast based on appearance and not acting ability and almost always are unable to make me care about them as characters so when something horrible happens to them it has no emotional impact.   It’s the filmic equivalent of going online and looking at pictures of dead bodies.   Yes, it’s morbid and allows you to rehearse and confront the idea of your own mortality and it’s perfectly understandable to have a visceral, guttural reaction to seeing what can happen when the human body is compromised or disassembled through accident or misadventure, but I can’t say that doing so has ever frightened me.
Nor has any of the preceding remakes/reboots and neither did Evil Dead [2013].
I know that for a case-hardened horror fan such as myself it’s unfair to expect that any film is going to frighten me.   Startle, perhaps.   Yes, I am sometimes startled by contemporary “horror” films.   If I’m in a darkened theater and my attention is focused on the screen and the film-maker chooses to build tension using film techniques such as a long shot with low, slow, dissonant music and then quickly pans or zooms or smash cuts to a convincing make-up effect with a crashing dissonant percussive sound I will be startled.   But I won’t be scared.   This isn’t the kind of thing that will have a lasting effect on me.   Not in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho [1960] had people locking the doors to their bathrooms whenever they took a shower for decades.   Or the way that Steven Speilberg’s Jaws [1975] traumatized people into thinking that they were vulnerable to being bitten in half any time they gathered the courage to go into the ocean.   Both are irrational fears.   The chances of being stabbed to death in the shower or being bitten in half by a great white shark the size of a small submarine are infinitesimal.   You’re more likely to win the lottery, twice, than for either of the preceding to be your fate, but you still locked the bathroom door and kept an eye on the horizon for a triangular fin even if only ankle-deep in the ocean and maybe you still do.
When I was a youngish child around ten years old or so I was allowed to watch horror movies as long as I could handle them.   As long as I could watch a film and not wake up screaming in the middle of the night or incur any kind of enduring psychological damage I was pretty much allowed to watch whatever I wanted to watch.
There were a few exceptions to the rule.
I wasn’t allowed to watch The Exorcist [1973] because it was considered “too scary”.
I also wasn’t allowed to watch Poltergeist [1982] for the same reason.
Looking back I think that those were both good calls on the part of my parents and guardians. When I finally got around to watching those films when I was around 13 and had access to a video rental card, some spare cash, and a VCR the combination of the building expectation which grew with each year that the film remained unseen and the film itself was well worth the wait.   Both films were unsettling and wonderfully frightening and it took me a few years before I could sleep comfortably in a room with a Ouija board or a clown puppet.
I’ve seen The Exorcist and Poltergeist dozens of times since those initial viewings.   Not only because they are well made frightening films, but because I was trying to recapture that initial exhilaration.   That initial sense of fear.   Not stark raving terror but fear.   That exciting exhilarated feeling when the skin on your arms breaks out in “goose-pimples” and the small hairs stand at attention.   Unfortunately with each consecutive viewing the effect that these films had on me faded.   What was once frightening became familiar.   Like chewing gum losing its flavor.
Every time I watch a new or previously unseen horror film I’m looking for that feeling.
The older I get the harder it is to find.
But I’ll settle for the second kind of fear.
The films I was allowed to watch because I could handle them, films like the Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween film series, I was able to rationalize the fear out of.
There was the same sense of excitement and an eager willingness to be frightened while watching the film, but when the film was over I was able to say to myself, “I don’t live on Elm Street.   I don’t live in Haddonfield.   And I’m not a camper at Camp Crystal Lake.   So I don’t have anything to worry about.   Freddy Kreuger, Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers don’t exist so there’s no way I’m going to see them when I look under my bed or open up the closet door.”
The films were sexy, fun, funny, violent, bloody, gory, and contained “adult” language and attractive actors simulating sex, and awesome special effects and I always felt that watching them was somewhat taboo.   The fact that you had to be a certain age to see them in the theater unless accompanied by a parent or guardian made them all the more appealing.
Evil Dead [2013] has some of that appeal.
The film is definitely an “adult” film.
In the first scene, there’s enough “adult” language to set the tone for the film.
Although the scene was pointless I’m glad that it helped to set the tone for the rest of the film.
A sort of “Oh, you brought your ten year old in to see this?   Well, here’s the kind of film that this is going to be.   So why don’t you fuck right off with your mewling baby in a stroller?   Yes, I know it’s a matinee and you’ve got a right to bring your baby into a movie with you.   But it’s also my right to suggest that you shut that fucking baby up or leave.   This movie is going to be loud and have a lot of screaming in it and it’s not for babies, so why don’t you take your baby next door to a romantic comedy or take it outside and throw it in a dumpster for all I care.”
Why was the opening scene pointless?
Because you’re watching an Evil Dead film, and unless you’ve been in a coma since 1981 you know that there’s a book called the Necronomicon and when you read from it bad things happen, including demonic possession and your friends are going to act weird and threaten to “swallow your soul” whatever that means.   But it sure sounds cool, doesn’t it?
The same way that if you live on Elm Street or go to Camp Crystal Lake or hang out in Haddonfield on Halloween night, chances are it’s not going to work out well for you.
You don’t need a scene to set the scene.   We all know what we’re here for so give it to us.
So, as I wish the director had chosen to do, let’s cut to the introduction of the demon fodder, I mean, characters.
Four people I don’t give a single solitary fuck about and a pale-skinned brunette drug addict girl that I know we’re going to be with for the rest of the film.
I think it’s heroin she’s addicted to because there’s talk about an overdose, but if it’s heroin then it’s an awful lot of heroin she dumps out of her stash into the well when she promises to never use it again.   I don’t know a lot about heroin.   I used to be a methadone counselor so I am fairly familiar with heroin addicts, but you don’t get to really see a lot of heroin as a methadone counselor.   That’s kind of the point.   But it still looked like a lot of heroin.
Also you never hear any talk about the well for the rest of the film which is a lost opportunity.
You also never hear about the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 that just happens to be rusting out in the backyard which is another missed opportunity in my opinion.
The brother of the drug addict gives her a necklace, echoing a scene from the first Evil Dead [1981] where Ash gives his girlfriend a necklace.   Kind of.   Except in the first film, the necklace is a trademark for the character of Ash’s girlfriend, and is pivotal in Ash being able to destroy, well, try to destroy, the Necronomicon Ex Mortis.   In Evil Dead [2013] he gives her the necklace, she pulls a hissy and breaks it and throws it back at her brother, and somehow ends up with it just before the final resolution of the scene.   So the inclusion of it as a theme is pointless.
In your typical Evil Dead formula, someone decides to read from the book of the dead, empowering demonic forces to occupy cast members with no real rhyme or reason.
Unfortunately the design of the book has taken a step backwards since the expository animation scene in Army of Darkness [1992] and the pages look like the kind of images a fan of Slipknot or Disturbed would scotch-tape to their bedroom walls.   The words of conjuration still sound like a silly five-year olds idea of what Latin should sound like.   It was like the director decided that we’re going to forego spectacle for realism… except for the words.   The words still have to sound ridiculous.   I know that the makers of the new film wanted to put their own spin on it, but that’s part of the problem with all of these remakes/reboots.   They want to appeal to the existing fan base, but they want to make it their own.   What they fail to realize is that it’s not theirs to make their own.   I don’t want to watch Fede Alvarez’s idea of what an Evil Dead movie should be.   I want an Evil Dead film in the tradition of the Evil Dead films I know and love.   If you want to make a film that’s your interpretation of what an Evil Dead film should be, then call it something else.
Call it Cabin in the Woods or Book of the Dead or Unhappy Campers or whatever.   Trust me, if it’s similar to an Evil Dead film then horror fandom will let you know they recognize your intention and the film will stand or fall based on its own merit.   But don’t call it Evil Dead hoping that as a fan of Evil Dead films I’m going to pay to see this movie and then support your decision to keep some things and change other things because you want to put your own spin or style on the existing intellectual property.
Either give me an Evil Dead film or go make your own godforsaken evil book that when you read it aloud it conjures up demons to possessive a bunch of interchangeable actors movie.
I’m not much of a feminist film critic, but the film is just as misogynist as the first three Evil Dead films.   I still find the tree rape just as offensive as in the first film even if they traded it out for a vomited up black slug thing, the “evil” still shoots directly up whichever lower female orifice your imagination prefers.   Not that there’s anything Freudian about that.   Nope.   This is just a horror movie for selling popcorn and candy so go about your business.
The film also provides a few split-second upskirt shots revealing shapely asses in sheer panties and tight shirts straining to contain generous breasts to keep the intended target audience of horny teenaged boys and undersexed young men interested between mutilation scenes.
As I type this, watching the film for the tenth or twelfth time, the two male characters are wearing long-sleeves shirts over a short-sleeved t-shirt.   No eye candy for the ladies, sorry.
Oh, and while I’m on the topic of the male characters, Shiloh Fernandez, you’re no Bruce Campbell.   I know you’re kind of not supposed to be since I know how the film ends.   But, that being said, you’re not.   You’re the kind of guy that you forget five minutes after meeting them.   You remember that guy?   What guy?   That white guy.   You know, the one with the goatee.   Which white guy?   What the hell are you talking about?   Forget about it.   I already have.
And, Lou Taylor Pucci, while I appreciate the fact that your role is pretty much one-dimensional running hot and cold between expositional narrative and body trauma victim, you still had the chance to show off some acting chops but kind of sort of didn’t.   Delivering your lines and stage-wincing isn’t acting, it’s playing “Let’s pretend.”.   Might be interesting to see you in an acting role as an actor instead of a character actor as a caricature.
As for the females, they were serviceable but not exceptional.
I mean, as three relatively hot chicks caterwauling around like screaming is a survival program they do fine but none of them should be waiting for their invitation to the academy awards.
I know it’s “just a horror movie” but so was The Exorcist [1973] and Silence of the Lambs [1991].   Horror genre films and solid casting and memorable performances are not mutually exclusive.
If you want my money, I expect you to try harder.  Or at least to fucking give a shit about the film you’re making and care about the subject matter enough to cast some actors that can act.
I don’t want this to come off like I’ve got an ax to grind or perhaps more apropos, a chainsaw’s teeth to sharpen against the film just because it’s a remake/reboot.
There were some noteworthy elements of the film.
The film was photographed well.
The set designer and the lighting crew did adequate jobs.
The film overall had a nice dark tone and this was the kind of horror film that I like to experience in a dark environment since the darkness itself becomes a theme.
Evil Dead [2013] felt less staged and artificial looking than the first two films from the franchise, Evil Dead [1981] and Evil Dead II [1987].   In those first two films the inside of the cabin was way too overlit to be believable as a rural hideaway, especially after dark, unless for some reason there were 500 watt bulbs in all of the fixtures, which there probably were.
But I don’t think that the first three Evil Dead films were supposed to be realistic.
They were spectacle for the sake of spectacle and a lot of fun to watch, especially with an audience in a theater and the kind of film you can watch over and over again.   The kind of film that you can eagerly recommend to someone that hasn’t seen it before or just throw on in the background when you can’t decide what you want to watch.
Evil Dead [2013] kind of misses the point.
It trades spectacle for realism, but can’t decide which side of the road it wants to drive on.
The film as a whole looks more realistic/naturalistic than its predecessors and the physical trauma inflicted upon the cast is rendered realistically.
My compliments to the practical and digital special make-up effects teams.   Except for the people in charge of the vomited up evil leech that shoots up into the lead actress and initiates the events for the rest of the film.   That effect was a pivotal moment in the film and you didn’t work hard enough on it for me to buy it.   You can do better.
Most of the practical and digital special effects are convincing enough that the miscellany of physical trauma the characters are subjected to are suitably wince-inducing and I admit that I cringed at the somewhat infamous box-cutter tongue-splitting scene.
But this wasn’t because I was afraid.
I just don’t like watching people being hurt or hurting themselves.
It’s a weird paradox, but I am one of those horror fans that loves to watch people get killed on film, but can’t handle watching their own blood get drawn.   I’ve got a dozen tattoos but I still hate needles.   The pleasure for watching someone get killed in a horror film for me is the spectacle of the thing.   It’s like watching a bloody magic trick.   The whole eros/thanatos grand guignol of it all.   Before digital effects became a commonly used shortcut half of the fun was trying to figure out how an effect was accomplished.   Not that I’m a practical effects purist.
Credit where credit’s due, the practical make-up effects were well executed and for the most part there was a relatively smooth combination of or transition between practical and digital effects.
The problem with this approach is when a film becomes so realistically gruesome that it has more in common with an autopsy than it does with entertainment.
The box-cutter tongue-splitting, the mirror shard chelsea-grin, the hypodermic needle in the eyeball, the electric carving knife arm amputation, the nail-gun human target practice routine, the inside perspective of the girl in the box of swords routine.   All understandably cringe-inducing moments but none of them were any fun.   The director uses the cinema verite approach of the purveyors of torture-porn vehicles like the “Hostel” films to make what should be a fun romp for horror film fans into a film that isn’t frightening as much as it is graphic.
Evil Dead [2013] may look better than the first two installments in the series, but it seems that everything they learned about cinematic technique they forgot about character development.

Is it, as advertised, “The most terrifying film you will ever experience.”?
Nope.   Not by a long shot.   Not unless you haven’t seen that many horror films.
Will this film stand the test of time?
I guess it will, in that it can’t be unmade.   It will still exist.
People can still look it up on IMDB and people will still insist on having conversations or well-intentioned debates, regardless of whether or not you want to have those conversations or debates as to whether or not the film was worth watching in their opinion.
I never want to have those conversations or conversations or well-intentioned debates.   Just because you read or asked me about and listened to my opinion about the film doesn’t mean that it’s your turn to tell me what you thought about it because I don’t care what you thought about it.   You may have very well thought it was an excellent film and an excellent example of contemporary film both horror film and film in general and you very well may have thought that it is, as advertised, “The most terrifying film you will ever experience.”.
If this is your opinion then I’m glad it was everything you hoped it would be.
But I don’t think it’s ever going to develop the cult following that the first three Evil Dead films developed.   I don’t think anyone’s going to take the time to put together a home-made costume for any of the characters from Evil Dead [2013].
So, sometimes some people ask me, “What would you have done, smart guy? You claim to be the A-1 Five-Star Gold-Medal Evil Dead fan.   What’s your big idea?”.
Sometimes I don’t have an answer.
This time I do.
Remember the end of Army of Darkness [1992]?
Yes, I know there are two different endings, the theatrical and the director’s cut.
I thought that was a given.   Don’t you try to test me!
Either way, Ash is back, either in modern times and the deadites show up at S-Mart and threaten the safety of Linda / Bridget Fonda, or a post-apocalyptic wasteland and Ash is dressed up in the “horse-blanket/cape” made for him be Sheila.
Either of these would be a great jumping off point for…
Dead World a real sequel to the Evil Dead films where we finally wrap up the storyline with Ash.
Bring back Bruce Campbell as Ash.   Even if only for the first five minutes it will be worth it.
You can have him wrapped and on a plane back home the first week of shooting.
Then have him hand over the torch, in this case the chainsaw and boom-stick, to an intrepid group of youngish actors that can actually act that must quest for the Necronomicon wherever it may be to save the world from the rampaging armies of the deadites.
You could have the Necronomicon reposing at any of several locations.
The National Gallery or The Smithsonian?   With the president inhabited by a demon?
And the deadites as an actual militarized army hunting down humans like cattle?
That could kind of spin a bit political.   Not that I’m against that spin, but some people prefer to keep their horror and their politics separate for whatever reason.
You could have the book stashed at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.
And here’s an idea, start off the movie with Ash from the Evil Dead films, and who is the protector of the Necronomicon?
None other than Jeffrey Combs reprising his role as Herbert West, from the Re-Animator films.
Want me to really cut loose?   You sure you can handle the whole package?
I’m not sure you can, but here goes.
In addition to being the protector of the Necronomicon, Herbert West has assembled quite the collection of ominous objects, a
Lemarchand's box also known as a lament configuration, and a Phantasm sphere, as well as any other interesting horror movie memorabilia you want to include a reference to.
In this universe, the universe of suspended disbelief and horror movie monsters, the most popular movie monsters and villains of all time unite to form a super team like The Avengers to dethrone Bad Ash and his army of deadites who, being too greedy have thrown off the balance of good and evil.
It’s okay to harvest a few souls here and there, since most of the souls would have ended up in “hell” anyway due to many venial sins or one or two mortal ones, if you adhere to that whole Judeo-Christian theophilosophical worldview.
The main problem is that if no new pure souls are born then the world as we know it will end.
If a major studio can rationalize spending an estimated
$220,000,000 on The Avengers [2012] I’m sure that someone somewhere has the authority to green-light pre-pro on my big idea for about half that budget.   Okay, maybe a quarter of that budget.

I guarantee it will be a hell of a lot more watchable than the half-hearted wrong-headed remake/reboot of Evil Dead.
You know where to find me when you need someone to write the screenplay.


  1. After so many re-everythings in the horror genre these days, I went in with a deflated sense of enthusiasm and left apathetically. Well-staged gore and good lighting aside, the actors were flat and the characters unmemorable.

    I've given up sulking when a reboot is announced (though god help me when they touch "Waxwork") because mediocrity is a given, and, well - who really cares? The original will still be available for me to watch - go nuts with your little production. I'm just bummed about our current twenty-something pool of stars. Where is Heather Langenkamp circa 1987 when you need her?

  2. I've also pre-relinquished any excitement when a reboot is announced for any seminal horror film or franchise.
    The whole hope that "Maybe they'll get it fight this time." has been long abandoned.
    I think the primary problem is that the studios/production companies with the money to acquire the rights to and remake these films are not fans of the genre so they fail to capture the essential essence of what made the films fun and watchable the first time around.
    I also bemoan the dearth of talent in the pool of young actors working in film these days.
    There are some talented actors, but they never get cast in horror films.
    Heather Langenkamp and Ashley Laurence might not have been great actresses, but at least they were serviceable.
    As much as Danielle Harris is an adorable little single-serving of fun she's not really an excellent actress.