Saturday, April 6, 2013

EVIL DEAD 1981 and 2013

As I've said before, when the news came that THE EVIL DEAD was going to be remade, I was wholeheartedly against it. I shook my angry fist and said my "How Dare They" statements right along with all the others.

However, when I saw the dark and nasty trailer, I was cheering and could not wait to see it. The original movie came out in 1981 and we watched it over...and over...and over again. We knew what was coming from the steering wheel being jerked out of the drivers hands in the beginning to the final frame and credit roll. But, it's been 32 years. That's a good amount of time to occupy the limelight by yourself. It was time to take another pass at this epic. And, the pass was well worth seeing.

As usual, there will be no plot spoilers here, though if you've seen the original you pretty much know the drill.

I recently re-watched EVIL DEAD and what a great film it was. Raimi and his team did a fantastic job with what they had to work with. There's a flow to things that are fun and by the book. In this case, that's a good thing. The actors (Insert "BRRRRRRUUUUUUUUCE!" chant here) hold up their end of things really well. This is a classic "old dark house" story  that really helped to lock the cabin in the woods storyline into genre history.

There were some very cool things being done in the original EVIL DEAD. Crazy edit cuts, wild angles and kinetic camera work helps fuel this film's creep factor and high energy. You can tell it's a budget challenged film, but that just adds to it's charms. Raimi has a lot of fun with the camera in this film. You can see that he's trying to bring his A Game to the table and it works. The camera really becomes another character in the film.

Another refreshing aspect is that you actually care about the five cabin occupants. They are not just pawns to be used up during the course of the film. Theresa Tilly, Betsy Baker, Richard DeManincor, and Ellen Sandweiss do a fine job, but this film's true star is the horror icon Bruce Campbell. He takes so much abuse in this film that it really does become comical. He's the main recipient of most of the fake blood and gore.

I had to look up what the term FAKE SHEMP meant - they have eighteen listed in the films credits. It was an interesting little factoid that carried over into the new film as well, though possibly only in homage.

"Fake Shemp" is a term that refers to the final four "Moe-Larry-Shemp" Columbia short subjects made by the Three Stooges, completed after Shemp Howard's death. Fake Shemps are usually actors filling in for missing or absent actors who have left the shoot, been injured, died or whose roles were never cast in the first place. The phrase was popularized by the "Evil Dead" filmmakers who were only able to finish filming with the prodigious use of Fake Shemps.

Now, part of the low budget nature of the original is that there are some rather funny cuts and scenes as well. I'm not 100% sure they were MEANT to be funny, but they play as funny and so very entertaining. People pressed up against windows during near miss car accidents, "Ash" getting helplessly stuck in not one but TWO bookcases when creatures attack him and some lines of dialog that had us rolling every time we heard them.

"Maybe it was an animal."

"An animal? And ANIMAL?! HA! HA! HA! HA! That's the STUPIDEST thing I've HEARD! An ANIMAL. Jesus Christ..."

The film is genuinely creepy and scary. And the gore had us howling for more when we saw it. Blood flows in buckets and body parts fly...and wiggle...all over the place. Everything - even the crazy, stop action clay effects work - still holds up pretty well today.

As I re-watched, I was somewhat surprised at how much good stuff was in this film. It had been a while since I saw it, but as it played through I kept saying, "Oh yeah...I forgot about that part." The 85 or so minutes fly along and the movie ramps up to insane levels. There are great moments of tension and some really nasty moments that helped raise the horror genre bar to a very high level. The level has been held up to this very day as something to strive for.

I'm not sure the remake made it to the original's level, but it gave it a great go.


The original EVIL DEAD had a campy quality that came from the low budget and small group effort. That particular aspect is missing entirely from the remake, of course, but it still has an edge that separates it from the flock. Director Fede Alvarez does a fantastic job remaking the film - paying homage to the original, but not copying it scene by scene. Alvarez, Diablo Cody and Rodo Sayagues  reworked Raimi's script expertly. They added a level of detail that really helped the story along. It was still the cabin in the woods classic, but the reason for them being there made sense and there were reasons why the horrors that unfolded happened the way they did. I want to examine these aspects of the film at greater length. It seemed to strike a few cords and were a metaphor for something a little bigger than the sum of it's parts.

As things devolve, the characters act like like you'd expect them to act and don't resort to silly moves and actions. The acting was above average for sure, not your run of the mill genre schlock. While the cast was solid, Jane Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci were the centerpieces and they helped to push this film beyond being just another "scary movie".

The camera work wasn't as over the top as Raimi's, but it had me thinking about it for sure. Aaron Morton's cinematography was intriguing.  The shadows, light and focus pushed the film into a creepy place. Things were out of focus at times and I found myself straining against the darkness to see what was there under the surface. The tension was fantastic.

There were great callbacks to the original film. They had to be in there - everyone wants them there either to hate on them or to praise their difference. While these callbacks made it difficult to separate this from the original, the 2013 DEAD had a darker and more mean spirited edge that gave it a very different feel.

And the gore. Jebus. The gore and violence in this film had me shaking my head from time to time. It all made sense in the course of the film, was so over the top it had me giggling. If you blended Italian and Japanese gore and mixed in a little Rob Zombie grit for texture, you might come close to this film if you added a little steroids into the mix as well. The dead are truly evil in this film.  Several people bolted as the events washed over the screen - done with the madness it presented and longing for fresh air! hehehe

Both films need to be seen if you love horror. If you've already seen the original, you might want to re-watch it if you have not seen it for a while.

I, for one, want to take films out of their sacred boxes. I'm done thinking that there are films that shouldn't be touched. It takes too much effort and they keep doing it anyway, so why fight it. Especially if it's done right. EVIL DEAD 2013 stands by itself and is a film I'll be returning to from time to time.

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