Boozie Movies: EVIL DEAD and Falling Out of Love With Sam Raimi
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
I feel so cheap and used. I feel like I've just been suckered out of my hard earned money once again by a second rate prostitute who doesn't even provide full service with any type of happy ending. I feel like I just got swindled into a $200 private dance in the VIP area of an overpriced strip club only to discover that there really is no sex in the champagne room.
As the credits rolled on the Evil Dead remake, my initial reaction was to turn to my friend, an acclaimed horror filmmaker and festival programmer and ask, "What the hell was that? Why do I feel so angry right now? I feel personally insulted. I should have known better. I know that this is a business. I understand that Sam and Bruce and Rob are all out to make money. I knew this wouldn't be the same as the thing I grew up loving but I didn't expect a Platinum Dunes remake. I feel like I was just shit on for the last ninety minutes. The whole entire film, I kept thinking of that South Park episode where George Lucas and Steven Spielberg keep gang raping Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones 4.
To this my friend said "Dude, this is our Phantom Menace, we just got our Jar Jar Binks."
And then the credits come to an end, and like so many other films now, there was a post credit surprise sequence that we were all urged to stay for. We were promised a grand surprise.
What is it?
The screen fades in on a moon lit profile shot of Bruce Campbell with an obvious emphasis on the outline of his chin.
He turns to the camera and says "Groovy."
Then.... cut to black.
Every one still left in the theater cheers.
"Fuck you, fuck you all. "
Thanks Comic Con.
At one point in the Evil Dead remake, there's a J-Horror type jump scare where the camera then pivots onto one of the impossibly hot yet utterly generic super model actresses as she screams. The camera pans down and zooms into an XCU on her super tight and super short Khakis and lingers there for a few beats as we're treated to a perfect view of her camel toe.
That's the type of film that the Evil Dead remake is.
At this point, I only whispered to myself, "Are you fucking kidding me?"
And at this point, some fraternity brother in a tilted baseball cap and sports jersey with a gaudy gold chain around his neck whipped his head to me and told me he was going to punch me in the fucking mouth.
It took a lot of restraint to not heckle the film, to keep my boiling rage filled emotions to myself. I may have been downing the cheap beer that I smuggled into the screening throughout the film's short running time to dull the sting of being slapped in the face, but I did behave myself. I wasn't sighing out loud or making any type of show of displeasure at the travesty I was sitting through.
I just shook my head with silent disappointment, completely befuddled as to why the whole of the film blogosphere has been raving about this.
And this shit heel date rapist looking bro had spent the first half hour of the film chatting away with his girlfriend but now felt the urge to threaten me with physical violence the moment I whispered one comment to myself.
Why? I assume it's because I had made a condescending remark towards a lame jump scare that somehow made his Jersey Shore partner shriek in fear.
I guess that he felt as though I insulted his girlfriend by making a quip about a moment that worked for her. And maybe I am an asshole for that. Good for her. I'm glad it works for her. It was an insultingly stupid and offensive moment in the film. Maybe she felt threatened by my comment as though I somehow ousted her as being stupid and stupid people like to defend their stupidity with violence. Just look at Fox News and most republicans.
Forget all of the SXSW hype and online buzz being heaped onto this soulless cash-in. There is very little to separate this Evil Dead reboot/sequel/ remake thing from Rob Zombie's Halloween. Sure, it's bloody but the violence has no impact. There is nothing more in the film than what you've already seen in the trailers. It's all music video flare with flash cuts, a superficially visceral but ultimately watered down and gutless re-imagining that only pretends to have the balls to really get under your skin the same way the original did.
The set up is familiar, a group of young college aged kids go to a cabin the woods, they find an evil book (Never referred to as the Necronomicon), they open the book, and then really bad things happen.
The big gimmick here is that one of the kids is a heroin addict trying to quit cold turkey.
It could have been a decent gimmick if handled correctly, hell, it could have been a brilliant gimmick if the filmmakers actually tried to capitalize on it. This could have been an insane mind fuck where the director could have played with the audience's expectations, never letting them know what's real or just a hallucinatory delusion brought on by withdrawal.
If you've ever know a junkie personally, you know there's not much separating them from being a deadite.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't even begin to explore that idea. Yes, lead actress, Jane Levy is raped by a tree pretty early on and none of her friends believe her at first, but rather than building on that scenario, it's only a few minutes until everyone is cutting each other up and fighting for survival, it's a totally wasted plot device.
The cast is made up of the type of hollow American Apparel models who seem more fitting as fodder for a Platinum Dunes slasher reboot. None of the players here have any discernible personality or character.
So no, despite all of your secret hopes that an Ash type character will emerge by the end of the film, none does. Of course there's a final survivor and you can probably already guess who since she's just signed on for two more films.
But it isn't strong character work that's the draw for a film like this. We're here for the most terrifying film will we ever experience after all right?
Well, there is nothing that comes even remotely close to the shock or discomfort of the pencil to the ankle sequence or Cheryl's complete dismemberment by axe in the first film.
Worst of all, the remake completely white washes and glosses over the infamous aforementioned tree rape sequence. Once again, what you see in the trailer is exactly what you see in the film. Sure, it's still a rape sequence and that in and of itself is icky stuff but it feels almost more distasteful to have it muted and played as a J-Horror jump scare. A sequence like that should be awful. It should be painful to watch. You should come away wishing you hadn't seen it. It shouldn't feel like Ringu. Here, the director is nudging you on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, remember that fucked up scene in the original?"
Any long time devotee of Sam Raimi already knows of his perplexing fixation on the J-horror craze of the early 2000's. As marvelous as a director as he may be, he's been a shit producer for most his career. Nearly every film he's overseen under his Ghost House Pictures label has either been a remake of a bad Japanese horror film, or a lazy knockoff of one. Even Bruce Campbell has been dismissive of Raimi's productions and is known for making quips at his friend's expense at conventions.
"There's nothing scary about little girls with black hair that pop up for no reason, who give the camera a weird face before disappearing again. That's not horror."
Yeah, well, neither is the Evil Dead remake.
This trend for Raimi as a producer hasn't ended yet. For the first half of the film, the deadites appear as apparitions, as little girls in white dresses with long black hair covering their faces, and they have a tendency to sporadically pop up in mirror reflections and in the corner of the frame in the background while the characters on screen are unaware of their presence.
That seems to be the only basis for the whole re-imagining part of this film.
The promotional materials may have you believe that Evil Dead is an entirely new vision that frees itself of any holdings to the original source material. If you've seen the trailer, you already know that the film has a few obligatory references and homages to Raimi's beloved classics. You already know that Ash's 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass makes a big appearance.
A little fan service is to be expected, but the entire film is built on references and homages and it uses them as a crutch to hold itself up over a shoddy script, nonexistent characters, and general lack of suspense.
Some elitist fan boys may appreciate how obscure the references can get. A friend once described the genesis of nerdom to me as nothing more than a love for inside jokes. Nerds like knowing the inconsequential and obscure references and nods to popular culture that will go over the heads of most others. I wonder if the love for Evil Dead within the blogosphere is based only the writers getting all of those references.
So let's get those out of the way here and now.
The lead character begins the film wearing a Michigan State T-Shirt which Ash's girlfriend wore in Evil Dead 2. More importantly, Michigan State is the college where Sam, Rob, and Bruce all first met each other and developed the short that would later become Evil Dead, Into the Woods. Mia, the heroin addict's brother gives her the same tacky mirror necklace Ash gives his GF in both of the first films. The piano score that opens the remake is a retuning of the melody played by the evil spirits on the piano in the cabin in Evil Dead 2. Of course, director Fede Alvarez re-imagines the infamous work shed montage sequences of the original films and there's the whole demon spirit POV roaming through the woods although it never forces its way through any doors or windows . That would have actually been exciting. There are numerous dutch angle close ups on clocks (hey, you know the drinking game for the original right?), and there's a sink POV shot while a character tries to rinse the evil out of her hand. Both of the male characters are wearing blue button up shirts reminiscent of Ash making you wonder if there might be a surprise twist where one of them might come around to a hero's arc despite the filmmakers saying otherwise in the press. Numerous bouts of dialogue are revisions of popular one liners. You'll hear, "My god, what's wrong with her eyes?", "Swallow this", and "Does that sound fine?" Although, I'm surprised we never hear "join us" or "dead by dawn".
Oh, and the deadites all talk like Linda Blair's Reagan from The Exorcist with dialogue like, "I'll fuck your wife's cunt in hell." For whatever reason, I feel as though we can all thank Diablo Cody for that little treasure chest.
I'm sure if I looked carefully enough during the credits, Shemp is probably listed somewhere a few times as well.
Essentially, watching Evil Dead is like having sex with a hooker. It tells you what you want to hear. It tells you how big your five inch cock is, how strong you are. But you know it's not true, you know it's only doing these things solely because you paid it for that. It's just going through the motions. It's just lying there with its eyes closed waiting for you to finish up and roll over so it can leave and make stupid compulsive purchases at Wal-Mart with the money it just made off of you. Maybe you'll cum, but you'll feel guilty about it in the morning only to forget about it completely by the next day. There won't be any lasting impression taken away from Evil Dead.
I already forgot most of it and I just saw it last night. I couldn't even tell you how it ended exactly. There's a lot of blood, there's a chainsaw, and I don't know, it was all very blasé and that's what's so awful about it.
But I'm starting to feel like the comic shop owner in The Simpsons. I feel like the angry reclusive kid with Aspergers who throws embarrassing temper tantrums in the high school cafeteria, I feel like the kid everyone wants to avoid due to his socially awkward nerd rage.
How can I be so angry over a film? Am I not just another internet troll who's spewing nasty criticism as a result of his own de-habilitating insecurities?
I probably need a time out, a cold shower possibly. I probably just need to relax. It's only a movie right? It's nothing to get so worked up over right?
Horror films are made with the sole purpose to make money. I shouldn't feel personally offended by this. Hollywood has been churning out crappy horror remakes for years. Platinum Dunes has already taken dumps on Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and so so many more.
But Evil Dead wasn't Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. Those have always been big annual franchises made to capitalize on the stupidity of teenagers with disposable income who were just looking for a way to get their girlfriends to give them a hand job after or during the movie.
For any true Evil Dead fan, it was about far more than just the campy kitsch factor. It's about a lot more than Bruce Campbell and his silly one liners.
Evil Dead is the embodiment of the American dream for every aspiring horror filmmaker who spent his childhood making gory short films.
I don't want to write a Harry Knowles' review. I don't want to write five pages waxing philosophical on my childhood and vomit out some nostalgic diatribe where I spend fifteen passages talking about which action figures I played with and what drive in theater my father took me to or how much my girlfriend enjoyed the opening credits.
But this is the internet and you're now reading this on your lunch break in your shitty little cubicle at the shitty little day job you hate. Maybe seeing Evil Dead after finishing up at your shitty day job on Friday is the only thing you've had to look forward to all week. Hey, I'm here to help you and you've already made it this far, so I can only assume you find the humor in my silly rants.
Too young to have seen the original Evil Dead films in the theaters, I am old enough to have seen Army of Darkness during its theatrical run in 1993. I was 10 years old. It was one of the first R- rated films I had seen in the theaters, although even at the time, it felt more like a PG-13. I knew nothing of the Evil Dead films, few people seeing AOD did then. My mother had taken me because she liked the trailers. She's always had an affinity for fantasy films and thought it looked like a funny spoof on her favorite, Excalibur.
I instantly fell in love with the film, what ten year old boy wouldn't? It seemed designed specifically to play towards the sensibilities of pre-pubescent males who just started getting their first erections and are waking up to sticky bed sheets.
By 13, I had subscriptions to Fangoria and more importantly, Video Watchdog which ran a 15 year anniversary article on the original Evil Dead. My little mind was blown away that Army of Darkness was not a standalone picture but actually the third film in a trilogy. Until then, I thought the beginning prologue that set the film up was intended to be a wacky joke cramming two films worth of insane storyline into 5 minutes.
But those first 5 minutes actually were two different films. I immediately ran out to the video store to rent Evil Dead but couldn't find it anywhere. I eventually found a VHS copy in the budget bin of a K-Mart.
I came home and watched the film with my best friend and my mother expecting another Army of Darkness.
None of us had any idea what we were in for.
IT KICKED OUR ASSES.
Our jaws were on the floor the entire film. We'd never seen anything like it. By 13, I had already seen the Freddy and Jason movies, even Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But none of them were rough like this. Evil Dead was downright nasty. On the first viewing, it wasn't fun. It was shocking; psyche scaring, and nightmare inducing. Evil Dead felt...evil. It felt dangerous, like the film had a life of its own. It really was the ultimate experience in grueling terror. I didn't understand camp yet. I didn't laugh at the bad acting or dopey dialogue. We were all too horrified by the nonstop onslaught of uncomfortably graphic carnage. The film doesn't play nice, it doesn't spare you, and it doesn't cut away.
My mother was horrified. She was outraged. But she couldn't turn it off either.
The next morning, she drove me back to the K-mart where I purchased the tape and made me return it. She didn't want it in her home.
But my friend and I couldn't stop talking about it. This was something completely new. We had to find Evil Dead 2.
We called around to all of the video rental shops. There was only one West Coast Video that carried it. We weren't surprised because this West Coast Video was also the only place near our area of town that had a porn section in the back. It was also the only place around that had a copy of Faces of Death on its shelf. It was still stacked up too high for us to reach yet, that would come later. It seemed fitting that this was the only place where we'd find the sequel to that horrible, disgusting film we couldn't get off of our minds.
Two hours and three bus transfers later, we had Evil Dead 2.
Again, our minds were blown away but in a completely different manner. Evil Dead 2 was almost a palate cleanser. It was gory but fun. It had the horror elements from the first but the humor and comic book action of the third. It instantly became our favorite film. For months, every single day after school, I'd rush home to watch it again and again and again.
I lent it out to friends, showed to all of my film buff family members. It became an obsession. I had to know everything about the film.
I hunted down old Fangoria magazines and other independent horror zines that talked about the film so that I could learn about the production. I special ordered a hundred dollar VHS of Army of Darkness from Japan so I could see the original director's cut ending that had only been released overseas.
I found myself wearing a different Evil Dead T-shirt to school every day. By 1999, I found myself in the counselor's office for mandated therapy for wearing those shirts in the age of post Columbine zero tolerance policies.
I then found myself at a summer film workshop at NYFA. Wearing the same Evil Dead shirts that got me into trouble at school now lead to me making instant lifelong friendships with fellow aspiring horror filmmakers enrolled in the program. We would watch the Evil Dead films in our dorm rooms at night, studying them, trying to figure out how all of the practical effects were achieved. We then tried to recreate those same effects in our own films for class.
There's just this energy and passion to the Evil Dead films that resonates with fellow filmmakers more so than any other cult genre film. Again, it's not just about the gore. It was about the heart and ingenuity that went into the making of it.
And knowing that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Rob Tapert were blue collar, middle class kids from the Detroit area was inspirational. These weren't Hollywood players. These weren't your typical Manhattenite NYU Tisch kids. These were just some dorky friends who wanted to break into the film business. They weren't even necessarily horror guys. They just wanted to make something wild enough to score them some attention. They ended up making the ultimate video nasty. They had captured lightning in a bottle and then Sam Raimi went on to direct the criminally underrated A Simple Plan and was soon after announced to take the reigns over from James Cameron on Spider Man. This guy went from a super 8 horror short to obscure cult icon to the mother fucking director of Spider Man.
This is who we all wanted to be.
Let's say it again. The real love for Evil Dead is about soooo much more than Bruce Campbell shouting about his boomstick and telling customers to shop S-Mart.
If you wore an Evil Dead shirt to a horror convention back in 1997 or 1998, you were going to make new friends. Going to the book signings for Bruce Campbell's autobiography back in 2001, it felt like being part of some community.
These fans, they weren't just nerds in love with some commercial property. Every passionate Evil Dead fan I met seemed to be an aspiring filmmaker, makeup artist, writer, or cinematographer. Oh, did you know that Peter Demming, the DP of Evil Dead 2 later moved on to Lost Highway and Muholland Drive, or that Bill Pope, DP of AOD would later revolutionize the entire industry with the technology he developed while lensing The Matrix.
But then the nerds took over the internet and now everyone suddenly loves Evil Dead. That community that once existed has been cannibalized by Harajuku styled fad culture.
This is the type of baggage that any true Evil Dead fan is going to be carrying to the remake.
In all of the wrong ways possible, Raimi tried to recapture that underdog spirit of his debut feature by hiring Fede Alvarez, a filmmaker with no prior Hollywood experience. On the positive side, he's not a former hack commercial director like so many others getting their big break. But his sensibilities are no different from the gluttony of music video directors now helming major features.
I imagine that he has other short films to his name that we haven't seen, but we've all been told that he got the job based on his viral video, Panic Attack. This was not a short film, it was a special effects demo reel, an impressive demo no doubt, but there's no demonstration for story or character or even any indication that he understood how a film should flow.
The Evil Dead remake is technically impressive, but it's completely inept as a horror film. Obviously, the original is as basic as it gets story wise. But it's still effective. The first Evil Dead is a slow burn that builds with mounting dread and tension before going off the walls. The remake hits the ground running and opens with a hastily edited bit of nastiness that may have read well on the page, but falls on its face in execution. I almost expected a Linkin Park song to play afterwards for the opening credits. Alvarez simply doesn't understand the concept of mise en scene. He doesn't understand how to stage a scare or create tension using a camera. He's an effects man, not a storyteller. Worst of all, he has no imagination. Every beat is teleprompted before it happens, there are no twists, and there are no surprises. There is no heart or soul to this slick looking turd.
I always thought of Sam Raimi as a William Castlesque show man. I understand that he's not an art film director. Hell, he's not even an artist. He just wants to be an entertainer. I don't fault him for that. I admire it in fact. He's like a circus ringleader. He's always worked hard to be as good as an entertainer as he can. I always admired the fact that Sam wears a suit and tie to set everyday when shooting to show his respect and appreciation for his cast and crew.
But it hurts me that he's willing to back this cynical attempt to cash in on fan boy fervor. I always felt as though Raimi legitimately loved his audiences. Michael Bay doesn't. Michael thinks you're an idiot, he's laughing all the way to the bank while snorting coke off of strippers' titties while you pay to watch his shit. He doesn't give a fuck if you actually liked Transformers, he already has your money.
Raimi wanted you to like his films......until now.
Part of me feels as though Sam's response to this would be "Fuck you, at least this remake doesn't have a dubstep soundtrack, I could have done that too. That's what the kids want these days. I fucking gave it to them, I gave the kids what they want."
The kids today suck but now I sound like a bitter old man and I'm not even that old yet.
Want to see Evil Dead 4? Go back and watch Drag Me to Hell, better yet, go out and buy John Dies at the End on blu ray so we might see This Film is Full of Spiders.
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