Fede Alvarez’s new Evil Dead film has been the talk of the horror community for some time now. When news emerged that a remake of the classic was in the works, horror fans were instantly apprehensive of the idea. After all, Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead (1981)is one of the most beloved horror films of the 80’s, hell, it’s one of the most revered horror films ever, period. Sam Raimi and crew unleashed their independent horror film onto the world way back in 1981, when they were all struggling filmmakers and actors. Back then Raimi wasn’t the Hollywood mogul he is now, back then he was just a guy who loved making movies with his friends, and that he did. With every film they made goofing around, they got better and better, until they finally decided to make their first real feature length film. The Evil Dead’s kinetic style and frenetic pace truly impressed horror fans, so much so that Stephen King himself called it “the most ferociously original horror film of the year” That famous quote was well earned, back then, nobody had seen anything like The Evil Dead.
I first came in contact with the Evil Dead films around 1993 because it kept getting mentioned in Fangoria Magazine. Back then, before the internet, all a horror fan could do to keep up to date with new stuff and learn about the classics was to devour every issue of Fangoria and its sister magazine Gorezone. I kept seeing articles that mentioned The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) over and over again as films that any true horror fan should experience. Back then, as a neophyte horror fan, I devoured every horror movie I could see. When I finally got around to seeing The Evil Dead, my teenage mind finally realized what all the hype was about. Evil Dead was “the ultimate experience in grueling terror”. It quite simply pushed the limits of what had been done with gore and horror up to that time. Because of its meager budget (350,000) the film was a success and while it was banned in many countries because of its graphic nature, it also served its purpose; it showed the world that Sam Raimi was good at making horror films and that he was a special filmmaker that was here to stay.
Raimi and Campbell on the set of The Evil Dead
Fast forward 30 odd years later into the future and The Evil Dead has spawned two sequels, helped boost the career of both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell and has now spawned the most recent addition in the Evil Dead family: a remake. When I first heard about the remake, I was also apprehensive of it. I guess, that’s a gut reaction from any true horror fan. I also feared that this was going to be a watered down version of the Sam Raimi classic. Various factors lead me to believe this. Why was I so hesitant to believe that a new Evil Dead film was destined to be a “sans cojones” version of the old one? Well, my main reason for all the trepidation was the sad state of the American Horror Film. For the past couple of years, the American Horror film has suffered from the same ailment that the American action film has suffered from. They just don’t have the guts they use to have; they just don’t make them like they used to. You know this and I know this. When you watch an action film from the 70’s or 80’s you can feel the difference, you can sense the augmented sense of horror and violence; you can see the characters were crazier, edgier somehow. When you watch old horror films from the 70’s and 80’s, you are reminded of what you no longer see in modern horror films. Where are today’s Icons of horror? Where are the Freddy’s and Jason’s of this generation? That shock to the system that you would get from these old horror films is all but gone from cinemas. All you’re left with is what American Horror films are today, a pale imitation of what they used to be. Old horror movies like The Evil Dead serve to remind us just how soft American horror films have become.
Then there’s the fact that the director behind the old Evil Dead films -Sam Raimi- has kind of drifted away from his horror roots, which is a natural progression for any filmmaker who wants to grow. Filmmakers need to stretch their muscles and try other things outside of the horror genre, which Raimi has proven he is adept at. Unfortunately, when Raimi attempted a return to horror he made Drag Me To Hell (2010) a film that I didn’t love because it simply felt like a watered down version of a Sam Raimi film. It was Sam Raimi light. Drag Me to Hell was the studio horror film that couldn’t go very far in terms of horror because it had to play it safe. It was a studio putting kajillions to make a horror film, Raimi couldn’t risk it being a failure. Drag Me to Hell was disappointing because it wasn’t the Raimi that I loved, it wasn’t the guy who pushed the horror genre as far as it could be pushed. Drag Me to Hell felt like Raimi was pushing back, pulling away. Another thing that worried me are the horror films that Raimi has been producing through his own production company, Ghost House Pictures, a production company that Raimi formed to make new horror films and allow younger directors to take a crack at making them. I’m talking about films like The Possesion (2012), Boogeyman (2005), Rise (2007), The Grudge (2004), not exactly a mind blowing group of films, not to mention the mind numbing direct to video sequels that followed some of these productions. My big worry was, would this new Evil Dead film also be unspectacular and watered down?
Boy was I wrong! This new Evil Dead film blew me away! It took my expectations and surpassed them in every way imaginable. In my book, Evil Dead is the horror film responsible for giving American horror its balls back. This is what I’m talking about! Evil Dead is a film unafraid to cut away, unafraid to show you the goods, unafraid to be graphic and brutal and unrelenting. In other words, I was a happy horror fan, I cheered, I clapped in approval, I jumped, I cringed, I gasped. It’s a funny thing that the director responsible for giving American Horror films it’s gravitas back is actually Uruguayan! Ha, but seriously folks, I applaud Sam Raimi for giving young filmmakers like Fede Alvarez a chance to just go out and make their own thing, test their mettle, see what they are made of. And let me tell ya, for a first time filmmaker who’d only made short films before this one, Alvarez shows great aplomb with Evil Dead. Editing, cinematography and performance wise the film is solid. It wowed me, it took me by surprise. Let’s explore what worked and didn’t with this remake shall we?
First off, they give the events that happen in the film more depth, more weight. For all its legendary status and legions of fans, the original Evil Dead film is a very simple, straight forward horror movie about a group of friends going to a cabin to have some fun. Their main preoccupation is partying. Demons resurrection passages, the book of the dead and everything else is just something they stumble upon while on their search for good times. There’s a hint of romance between Linda and Ash which gives Ash something to fight for, but for the most part, the main focus of the first Evil Dead film was to shock the hell out of you. Where the remake succeeds in my book is in giving the proceedings meaning, purpoise. The kids on the remake go to the cabin to help their friend break with her cocaine habit. This isn’t a film about people going to have fun as in most horror films, nope, these kids are here to help their friend break the habit, so immediately the film has a more somber/dark tone to it. This mission was a positive addition to the film. I also enjoyed how they used demons as a metaphor for the Mia's personal demons, nice touch.
Then there’s the gore which was plentiful. How plentiful you ask? Well, let me put it this way, in the pantheon of ultra gory horror films like Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992) or Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) which are two of the goriest films I’ve ever seen, Evil Dead can proudly stand next to them. You know how modern horror films don’t linger too long on anything graphic, as if afraid to offend sensors or the Motion Picture Association of America? Well, Evil Dead isn’t like that; if somebody chops off their arm, you see it, if blood splatters, it really splatters! If somebody needs to get chopped up in half with a chainsaw, then this is what you are going to see! I honestly don’t know how the MPAA let this one slip by. That is the question that kept popping into my mind, how the hell did this one slip by them intact? Sam Raimi must’ve pulled a few strings because this is one blood drenched film. Honestly I was getting tired of films being all shy about the gore, this one my friends brings those gory days of the 80’s right back! There’s only one scene that I regret they didn’t include from the original and it’s the scene where Ash chops off his zombie girlfriends head off with a shovel. They do something similar, but they didn’t really do it. It’s the only negative thing I can say about it. But they included so many other cool things that I let that one pass. And the demon possessed folk look really demonic, loved that about it.
When comparing the two Evil Deads, both come out on top. Both are good for different reasons. Evil Dead is the rare remake that is great, it pays its respects, but keeps things interesting as well. Trust me, if you love horror, gore and demons in your entertainment, then go see this one as soon as possible! We get the stuff we love about the original, like kids going to a lonely cabin in the woods, we get a book that brings demons from hell and all that, but the film also offers up new things that we never saw on any of the previous Evil Dead films, but with enough familiar elements to keep Evil Dead fans happy. Its little things here and there, little bits of dialog, or simply, visual gags that pay homage to the original. For example, for most of the film we don’t see a chainsaw anywhere, but there’s this one moment in which a character finally picks one up and turns it on and at that precise moment, the audience cheered as if saying “now it’s really an Evil Dead film!” You’ll see Raimi’s signature yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88; a car that has appeared on all of Raimi’s Evil Dead films, including this one. So from the standpoint of an Evil Dead fan, I can say you’ll be happy.
Audiences have liked this new remake, actually, audiences have devoured it! It is still number one in theaters and has more than doubled its budget with its box office intake! I personally would like to thank Raimi and Campbell and Alvarez for making this one special, it wasn't a half assed cheap-o sequel cash in. Nope, this one was made with love, and I know that sounds weird because its a movie about people getting chopped up with chainsaw's, but dammit, there's a love for the genre present here. A sequel is no doubt in the horizon as we speak and first time director Fede Alvarez must be feeling all kinds of giddy with his first success. Alvarez has already spoken about a sequel, which as he states it would be an all new story that takes things in a whole new direction, gotta admit, I’m looking forward to that! Evil Dead fans should be rejoicing because if internet buzz is true, then Sam Raimi and his brother are currently writing a new installment in the Evil Dead franchise! With Bruce Campbell playing Ash! Now how groovy is that? Extremely freaking groovy that’s how groovy! And speaking of groovy, take it for me and stay after the credits, there’s a special something for all you hardcore Evil Dead fans! It’s well worth the wait.
Rating for The Evil Dead (1981): 5 out of 5
Rating for Evil Dead (2013): 5 out of 5