The Evil Dead (1981, 2013) review

Rated: 3.5 / 5

Book of the Dead

There aren’t many horror films like this I actually enjoy. By all accounts, I shouldn’t be enjoying this one. It has a lot of the tropes I really hate. Some dumb broad thinking it’s a good idea to wander off into the woods by herself, in the middle of the night, because she heard a strange noise. That being the prime example of characters acting like dumb fucking idiots. Then there’s the jump scares (and fake jump scares). Typical horror tropes horror connoisseurs enjoy ironically, but the average film-goer would roll their eyes at (or so I hope).

But this is a film I’m willing to make exception to for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a raw film. Sound stages aren’t used, they go to an actual cabin in the woods (this might be the film that popularized this trend). And there’s such a sincerity to this, without much self-awareness at how goofy it may appear at times (unlike all the sequels). And this sincerity brings about an interesting use of creativity (mainly with regard to the camerawork), and an unrestricted utilization of violence, and gore, and tree rape. It gives the film an energy that’s appealing.

Evil Dead GIF

If you want a good example of the uniqueness with how scenes are shot (specifically with regard to camera positioning and movement), you only need to see the finale, from the point after Ash decapitates his girlfriend, up to when the other possessed girl starts tearing through the door. When this one possessed chick (we’ll just call them deadites at this point, as that’s the official term for them) keeps trying to get in through different doors, Ash frantically runs from door to door closing them. The camera opts to showcase this from a low floor angle, with Bruce Campbell leaping over the camera to get to the door. Much more interesting than the typical style of a level horizontal view, or even a more top-down view. Because it requires more energy and timing on the part of both the actor and the director. And that’s the key. The director is injecting as much energy as he possibly can into this low-budget horror film, even to the extent of utilizing long-shots in some cases. Passion focused in the right way. Let alone some of the sounds that accompany these moments.

Technical aspects aside, this horror film gets something right for me that most others don’t. It lives up to the title of the threat actually being evil, and truly demented. It’s not just that this “evil” (which is intentionally left vague and unknown, which only adds to the terror) possesses people and manifests the evil through them. It’s not just that it wants to make them “join us.” It’s not just that it wants them to feel pain and suffering. It’s also that it wants to torment them and drive them insane. Not to mention how it changes their appearance into something unattractive (to say the least), and is inconsistent about it (as it depends on whether it believes tormenting them works better on how deformed it makes the possessed). Plus the sounds they make, from the growls to the howls to the laughter. Plus it utilizes gore in a great way.

Evil Dead GIF

I must confess that when I first saw this film, I was too young for it (pre-teen). The film disturbed me, and convinced me that it was evil. Nowadays, that I’m more mature and understanding of things, I’m convinced the film is fun and a tad bit goofy (I mean, just that sequence where they dodge the truck). Definitely not a film for the kiddies unless they’re special (or something).

So to my surprise, this is a horror film I actually enjoy. It’s partly for the reasons mentioned above, but I also have a thing for practical gore effects. Gore effects alone aren’t usually enough to get me to enjoy a horror film (I’ve seen my share where that was all the film had going for it, and it takes more than gore alone to make the film fun enough for me), but they do certainly help for this genre. I’m also not really a fan of slasher films, in that some lone human killer is killing off people one by one. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the victims don’t die per-se so much as become deadites that then have to be killed. Perhaps it’s because there’s this vague concept of an evil force at work here, with an implied but largely unexplored lore that the characters are incapable of comprehending, adding a mystery element that brings just a little more interest. Perhaps its that these friends are being forced to kill each other, which is itself disturbing and enough to drive some insane (though we only really get this from Ash’s torment). Or, perhaps, it’s because this is one of the very few horror films out there where the last survivor is a man instead of a woman.

Cover I was originally familiar with from the old VHS copy.

Rated: 1.5 / 5

Book of faceless bullshit.

Which brings me to this film, which I would have a little more respect for if it went by any other title. It misses the point of the original film more than many would care to admit. Sure it has college kids going to a cabin in the woods and get possessed one by one. Sure it has the infamous tree-rape scene. Sure it delivers a bunch of gore. Sure it has a book of evil. But I’ll be damned if any of that is enough to make this a worthy remake to the classic.

Just starting with that opening sequence. This film dares to have a prequel sequence delivered more for shock value than anything else. The movie would’ve been better off without it. Why? Well for starters, this sequence alone pretty much ruins the entire fucking film. How? By dispelling more of the mystery than anyone would care to admit. First of all, it indicates that the book has not only been translated by hicks and a glorified witch doctor (how the hell they got a hold of this thing, I’ll never know), but that it lays out a method for getting rid of the evil that’s too procedural. Not only that, but it’s too easy to get rid of the evil by killing it off at its source. It has never been that easy to get rid of the evil in any Evil Dead film that preceded this, not even in the more lighthearted Army of Darkness. In this opening sequence, with consequences that reverberate throughout the rest of the movie, it dispelled certain aspects of the potential mystery of the evil to the point where the evil isn’t all that mysterious anymore. It also dispelled the notion that this evil can’t be fully understood; because now it’s enforced that certain rules are to be adhered to, that the evil can’t just make things up as it goes, or change things at a whim (as it did in the original film).

The book itself, and I dare not call it a Necronomicon because it’s anything but that. There’s no fucking vague implications about what the evil is in this book. Hell, I don’t even think the “evil” should be described as such, as it’s not vague enough to be a generalized evil. This movie is about some demented Pagan being that possesses an individual and spreads some curse towards other people that drives them nuts and forces them to commit bodily mutilation to themselves and others. That’s why the dumbfuck people in this film who get possessed aren’t called deadites. They don’t give a shit whether you suffer or not when they get to you. They just want to kill you. They don’t revel in your suffering, they just cause it like a mindless zombie.

Got a little sidetracked. Back to the book. The book it a glorified instruction manual on how to make one become possessed, that a total of 5 (convenient) need to be killed, and then the “Abomination” will appear. There really isn’t room for anything else beyond that, eliminating much semblance of mystery there is. There’s no “evil” force, there’s just some ghost that wants to manifest itself physically. And when the Abomination does appear, this being that had at least some amount of buildup to it, what do we get? Just something that can be disposed of as easily as a typical deadite from the original films. All I could think was, “That’s it? This is as threatening as this thing gets? We just get some bloody rain to announce the arrival of a zombie that can be killed just like that?” Underwhelming. The only thing more bullshit than that is the drug-addict sister coming back to life completely normal with no scars even after slicing her tongue. That would’ve at least made the 3rd act more interesting, even if only because it would make me laugh my ass off, at seeing her trying to talk for the rest of the film with a fucked up tongue. But that doesn’t even take into account the fucking 2nd and 3rd degree burns she got. But nope, she’s just all fine and dandy after being buried six inches deep. Did I mention it was too fucking easy for these characters to deal with this shit?

This film doesn’t deserve the title Evil Dead, no more than the remake of The Blair Witch Project deserves that title. This should’ve been its own stand alone demonic possession film completely disassociated with Evil Dead, while just ripping off certain aspects of it. I’ll give it kudos for having a decent number of practical effects in it, plus how much “blood” utilized for the raining blood sequence. But like I said, it takes more than gore to make me enjoy a horror film. Especially when it has more cheap jump scares and last-second saves than the original movie. Less interesting camerawork; on that note, that first-person perspective of the evil force flying around only happened once in this movie, and it never made another appearance again; what a crock of shit. More annoying characters (especially that half-assed doctor), less mystery, less lore, less creative camerawork (assuming there even was any), and less rawness. What I mean by the latter is that there’s less of a feeling of being in a real grungy cabin in the woods. I mean, it’s fine as-is, don’t get me wrong; but the original was more real about it. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s the issue of the original almost being forced to be creative under the constraints of being at an actual location in an isolated place, while as this film is less restricted on how to do things and also less creative.

Anyway, that’s pretty much all. This film is disappointing, doesn’t hold a candle to the original in spite of which aspects it rips off (let alone what aspects it rips off from Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn). It changes the last survivor from being a guy into a girl in the most bullshit manner possible. The tree sequence was less disturbing and shocking to me compared to the original; and the way they altered it is admirable, but again, would be better served in a different film. The main way gore can work is if it is primarily aimed at affecting the characters, and shocks the characters, more than it is aimed at affecting/shocking the viewers. There was more of a shock value for the characters in the original about how their friends were becoming deformed, how shocked they were at dismembering them, and being forced to cause and endure horrifying acts and events. Because in the original, that was the point. The evil intended to be evil to them, to be malicious in what it did to them, because it revels in their suffering. In this film, that maliciousness is gone. The demonic presence is more matter-of-fact about what it wants to do. And as a result the gore/violence is more on the unnecessary side as a result. Sure, gore hounds can still enjoy that from this movie. But personally, I found the gore more effective in the original.

Give this film a pass, unless you’re THAT curious about it. But how much it associates itself with the original while still trying to be its own thing is done is such a way that left a very bad taste in my mouth.

PS: Oh, right, and that semi-last line, “Feast on this motherfucker!” in response to, “I will feast on your soul!” Rather insulting to the more awesome dialogue exchange in Evil Dead 2: “I’ll swallow your soul!” “Swallow this!” Guess they had to be more hip and cool by throwing in a “motherfucker” in there, but came off as more childish and stupid as a result.

PPS: If I’m being honest, the best Evil Dead film is probably Evil Dead 2, which struck a perfect balance of horror and tongue-in-cheek mentality, growing from the first film into still wanting to be horror, but acknowledging that it’s a bit goofy at times. So it matured from non-self-aware goofiness to self-aware and intentional (but not overdone like in Army of Darkness) goofiness. A part of me is sad that they didn’t stick with full-on horror like in the first film, as the 2nd film did a great job expanding on the lore in a good way, while still leaving some mystery to it all. It could’ve worked as horror without the comedy. On the other hand, maybe it would’ve been trying too hard to adhere to the feel of the 1st film. I have mixed feelings about the direction on the terms of “what if this happened instead,” but am pleased with the results regardless. Army of Darkness though, that one really did kill off much of the potential the 2nd film setup. Don’t get me wrong, the 3rd film in the trilogy (and the last good one, even including that shitty Ash vs. Evil Dead series) is still very entertaining, and I like it for what it is; but it’s not a film where you can really take anything seriously. Then again, what else is there to do when the protagonist is finishing up his character arc that progressed through all 3 films? Going from pansy, to badass, to “been there, done that” attitude. It’s an inconsistent yet fun trilogy to go through. And it should’ve ended with the 3rd movie.

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