Horror, 91 Minutes, 2013
It’s not controversial to say that the original, 1981, “Evil Dead” [IMDB] is one of the hands-down best horror movies of all time. Forced by it’s budget to take ridiculously successful risks it became a breakout hit and spawned a beloved cult franchise. It launched the careers of Sam Raimi [IMDB] and turned Bruce Campbell [IMDB] into a geek god.
This remake? Not so much. It’s good. I liked it. It had some issues.
Firstly the movie is strict horror. There’s no self-deprecation, no humor and no clever comments on the genre at large. It’s a decent horror movie, at that, but a dry and serious one. The scares come from gore and (very effective) disturbing imagery rather than sustained tension. I have to admit it was more fun watching this with my squeamish wife than it would have been alone.
The original “Evil Dead” is also (something that many people forget) a straight horror film as well. The issue is that, as good as it was, it’s been swallowed by Raimi’s own work on the sequels. They were campy, funny and played with the genre like few movies have. I think many fans, including myself, were hoping for that Evil Dead.
[Some spoilers, and not just for “Evil Dead”, follow!]
Secondly the movie suffers from remake identity crisis. This is when a remake or adaptation lacks such confidence in itself that it refuses to leverage iconic moments from the original. The filmmakers decide to invoke an iconic piece of the story but then abandon it for some original, but ultimately insanely stupid, replacement.
The agonized scream and pan out from the Statue of Liberty that ended 1968’s “Planet of the Apes” [IMDB] is one of the greatest moments in film. The 1981 remake [IMDB] (among it’s many, many mistakes) tried to top this with a monkey-headed Lincoln memorial. 2007’s “I am Legend” [IMDB], 2009’s “Star Trek” [IMDB] and 2012’s “Prometheus” [IMDB] were so horrified of their beloved source material that they all but eliminated it. “Mutant Ninja Turtles” are spawned from toxic waste in sewers. Nope! They’re aliens and so is the “Highlander”! Darth Vader built C-3PO!
One of the defining moments of the franchise was the chainsaw scene. It’s nicely invoked with one of the side-characters and a weirdly available electric carving knife. It was a nice callout and we move on. Later, with the main character, we go to same well a second time. Her hand is trapped! The monster is coming! She must get free at any cost! The chainsaw is just inches out of reach! Can she get it?! Will she do it?!
Um, no. Jane Levy [IMDB], the heroine of our movie, had been doing seriously impressive work up until that very moment. She had been covered in makeup, silicon and slime and said things that would make Satan blush. This little girl, one who might tip the scale at a 100 pounds, is forced by the demon of remake identity crisis to pull her own hand off. No tools, no explanation; she just grunts and yanks and her God-damn hand pops right off like it was fucking Velcroed on to begin with.
This entire review would have been a hell of lot shorter if she were just able to reach that damn chainsaw.
Until that moment I was truly enjoying this movie. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was pretty good. It was all the more enjoyable since I had convinced my wife that it was going to be significantly more light and wacky. It’s fun to watch her hide under the blanket. You can justifiably criticize me for focusing too heavily on a single scene but at that moment the movie reached out, slapped me in the face and called me an asshole. It just wasn’t so much fun after that.