Monday, July 22, 2013

The Evils Dead: A comparison

The 2013 Evil Dead reboot came out on DVD last week. Naturally, a comparison is due.

The Evil Dead franchise is one of the most treasured in my DVD library. The first one, admittedly, was “so bad it’s good,” but the second was something magical—a delectable blend of gross-out horror and slapstick comedy. Then, with Army of Darkness, the series became something else entirely. Yes, it still had its grisly moments, but these were overshadowed by some of the most quotable one-liners and hilarious visual gags . . . ever. 

Aaaand some stuff that was just weird.

Although most people love Army of Darkness, there are some who felt it drifted too far from the whole “evil dead” concept. Rumors of a reboot started to surface some years ago, with the goal of returning things to the gnarly old cabin in the woods. 

And chainsaws. Gotta have chainsaws.

Personally, the last thing I wanted to see was a reboot of Evil Dead. I wanted a real sequel, with a grizzled Ashley J. Williams continuing to shop smart and kick butt. But, alas, this became less and less of a possibility as Bruce Campbell got older and Sam Raimi got distracted by the likes of Spider-Man and the land of Oz. So, as it became clear that a sequel wasn’t happening and a reboot definitely was, I grudgingly had to admit that maybe a different Evil Dead was better than no Evil Dead at all. 

And, as news and early reviews flowed in, I grew cautiously optimistic. I fully intended to watch it opening night . . . but it didn’t work out. One of the many frustrations of being a college student is that one doesn’t always have money to go out and do fun things. This penniless dilemma extended through the run of the film, and, alas, I missed it.
As soon as it came to DVD, however, I hurried to the nearest Redbox. I was excited. I wanted to see how this one compared to or improved on the original. Well . . .

Jane Levy (TV's Suburgatory) is no Bruce Campbell. That said, in 1981, Bruce Campbell was no Bruce Campbell, either. He spends most of the first film cowering in a corner, helplessly clutching an axe but doing nothing with it. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn was his time to shine, and boy, did he ever. 


That said, though, it's still difficult to judge the two films on acting merits when the over-the-top spectre of BRUCE-FREAKING-CAMPBELL from later films is still lurking in the back of my mind. 

You don't forget a face like that.

The new film tries to create compelling characters, as well as a legitimate reason for why they're out in the middle of nowhere. Levy's character, Mia, is a recovering drug addict, and this is their intervention. No matter what happens, one character says, they are not going to leave. She's right about that. 

"Wanna know how I got these scars?"

Mia's brother, David, was absent for most of this, leaving her to take care of their dying mother. Thus we have a redemption story of sorts when he's unwilling to give up on or abandon Mia when she gets all drooly and bitey. 

Then we have generic blonde no. 1, who dies in gruesome fashion along with generic brunette no. 1, who is shown above applying a homemade Glasgow grin. Then there's this nincompoop, Eric, shown here doing nincompoopish things. 

Say "hi," Eric.

The book has "DON'T READ FROM THE BOOK" written all over it—literally on some pages. Whole passages are blacked out. Soooo what does he do? Yep. And then this happens:

If you guessed he's about to die horribly, you're right.
Although he comes back as a Deadite first.

The old film had some pretty terrible acting. Granted, it's 30-plus years old, but there are some scenes that are just plain painful. However, it establishes its group pretty well, and it keeps the audience guessing as to who's going to make it out alive, if any of them. 

I don't think anybody was placing bets on our fluffy-headed friend on the left.

Indeed, it isn't Ash but Scotty who emerges as the resident bad@$$, willing to do what's necessary to stay alive while Ash snivels and hides.


But Raimi throws the audience for a loop when this happens:

Scotty goes off his meds.

. . . and Ash is forced to kill him, thereby winning this season of Zombie Cannibal Survivor . . . or does he? *Cue the ambiguous ending*

Ultimately, the 1981 version wins in this category. I really didn't care about . . . well . . . anybody in the new film. Although I did have the expected knee-jerk "Oh, dear!" reactions when bad things happened to them, there seemed to be an ongoing sense of "Here we go again . . ." every time somebody turned evil. In the original, though, I found myself much more invested in what was happening. Perhaps because we really didn't hear any backstories in the original, it was easier to play along, whereas in the reboot, I thought I could hear the director whispering "See? You MUST care!" every time David or Mia told a sad story, or Eric whined about how David never hung out with him anymore. 

The effects in the reboot are really good. Like, gut-wrenchingly good. As bones snap and blood spills, it’s all extremely sickening and visceral. And, fittingly, director Fede Alvarez said no CGI was used save for minor touch-ups, so there's that going in the film's favor, too. I approve wholeheartedly.  

"All-natural, baby!"

Compare this to the $350,000 budget of 1981's The Evil Dead. I watched the trilogy last Halloween, and let me tell ya, the effects in the original have not aged well. 

"We're gonna get you . . . to change the channel."

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, that doesn't matter. As ridiculous as the effects are, the original version of The Evil Dead is still a labor of love, and although Raimi didn't quite hit his stride until the sequel, the first one's still well worth watching.

For Bruce's unibrow, if nothing else.

Here’s where the reboot fails. Is it scary? Terrifying. We have the expected array of possessed zombie violence, tree-rape and self-mutilation, and it’s all shown in graphic detail. One girl cuts off part of her own face. Another saws her arm off with an electric carving knife. And then another RIPS HER OWN HAND OFF when it’s trapped under an overturned vehicle. That’s intense stuff. But it all seems by-the-numbers. Things that should have made me jump out of my skin instead just made me cringe a bit. 

"It's just a flesh wound!"

What made the original work was the fact that nobody had seen anything like it before. I mean, tree-rape?!! Possessed, soul-hungry campers lurking in the basement? Gratuitous dismemberment? Yowza. And even though it looked ridiculous on screen (due to budget constraints and Sam Raimi’s childlike glee), it was nonetheless awesome to behold in its silly way. 

That’s the primary difference between Evil Dead and The Evil Dead:

Evil Dead isn’t fun. It’s gory, it’s gross, it’s everything the original was probably intended to be, but I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a darned sight better than a lot of other “cabin in the woods” films, but it’s no Cabin in the Woods, which was nothing but fun with the genre. Evil Dead is a fairly solid horror film, but it’s not an Evil Dead film by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, the best part of the movie—perhaps the only thing worth watching for a fan of the classic trilogy—is after the credits.

And yes, it involves this guy. 

Evil Dead is a humorless exercise in gratuitous mutilation and gut-churnery, and it's completely, utterly heartless. You don't get the feeling that Ted Raimi is barreling through the woods with a camera mounted to his bicycle, or that Fede Alvarez is laughing his butt off with cast and crew between takes as practical effects go awry. Like I said, for what it is, it's not terrible, but what it is . . . is by no means a fitting addition to the Evil Dead franchise. Just as "Don't Fear the Reaper" needed more cowbell, so also did Evil Dead need more Campbell.   

The verdict: Redbox it if you must, but don't expect great things. Don't expect to laugh. Don't expect clever one-liners or outstanding action sequences. Don't expect to have fun. Seriously, abandon all hope, ye who watch this movie. 

Two stars and two stars only. Let the Raimis handle the series from here. 

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