THE EVIL DEAD franchise is one of the most popular, influential and beloved series of horror films in existence. During the early transition into what can be considered the modern horror film, there were three films that altered film language when approaching American horror that all came in relative short succession to each other. The first and decidedly the most influential was The Exorcist in 1973, where the approach to supernatural elements was taken from the baroque and overly fantastical worlds to that of a stark and utterly unforgiving perspective on the definition of evil, also beginning to test on-screen violence to that of mainstream audiences not usually journeying to the drive-ins for Roger Corman films or to grindhouses for the latest Roger Earl flick. This was during a time in which films bent on a more realistic perspective and tone were continuously flooding the market and influencing audiences while grandiose old displays of gothic horror were pushed to the wayside. However, this altered again in 1980 with the release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
THE SHINING took an approach primarily being used by European filmmakers to focus on the vastly appealing humanistic aspect to a horror film, but drive it more with the power of inference and mood. However, due to the timing of its release, the more popular film coming of age in the United States was the slasher film, brought on by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN 1978. It was not an overly violent film, but the times in which it was, it was explosive and provocative.
Now, the third film is Sam Raimi’s 1981 debut THE EVIL DEAD. This is a film that took elements of mood, supernaturalism and violence and injected it with an overdose of adrenaline. Though its sequels could be called far more bombastic in tone and presentation, at its release THE EVIL DEAD was a turning point in not only the way horror can be made, but also how horror is received. As opposed to THE SHINING and THE EXORCIST, which draw in its audiences with a mix of jump scares and fake-outs that when the horrific elements do actually start occurring, then they are that much more intensified, Raimi’s style was that of extremes.
The film was an excess experiment in low-budget filmmaking, as well as taking horror into a stlyalized direction not attempted before with dead-set purpose: camp. The film meshed cheesy and sardonic humor with some of the creepiest and most unsettling makeup effects ever put to screen in those days. From the way the Deadites are presented, to their voices, their eyes (especially), and their dialogue, the audience may be highly amused, others mortified. This is the strength of THE EVIL DEAD franchise, the ability to effortlessly work in dark comedic elements and campiness with extreme horror and gore. If a scene required a gallon of blood, Raimi used ten gallons instead. This is what culminated in giving birth to the modern American horror film.
Now, whereas Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is a great example of tongue-in-cheek genre satire (along with Wes Craven’s SCREAM series and Steve Miner’s LAKE PLACID), it succeeds where many parodys do not, it still is genuinely scary. Having all of this impact on the industry and audiences of horror films in the United States, does the prospect of a remake of such a pinnacle film sound like a good idea? Personally, no it is not. However, does that mean that Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake is a bad film? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, it is very effective and has some real stomach-churning elements that really give it a life of its own.
Where the original’s main character is the iconic Ash (played by Bruce Campbell), the primary focus in the remake is that of a brother and sister David and Mia (played by Shiloh Fernandez and Jane Levy respectively) and their friends in a cabin in the woods. From the very first frames of the movie, the entire world changed for something far darker and more grimy than the original. Where the comedy tussles with the horror in the original in an unbelievably effective way, this film focuses less on the fast paced editing and extreme camera movements that the original is noted possessing. This film is much more highly influenced by modern mood shock films such as Takashi Miike’s IMPRINT or Pascal Laugier’s MARTYRS.
There isn’t still the same charm in the characters in the newer adaptation, not being a getaway to the woods, and them retreating from civilization to help Mia kick her current heroin addiction. From the start of the film it is obvious that this film was going to be a horror film without much self-parody. Tough the film is littered with in-jokes of the original series, as well as some great one-liners, it still doesn’t have the same connection with the characters in the story. Having said that however, the acting by the cast is absolutely phenomenal, with great emphasis placed on Jane Levy’s performance as Mia.
As all fans of the original know, each member of the group gets possessed in turn until there is a solitary survivor that kicks major ass and survives the night. This film follows the same formula, however, drastically changes the way in which it is reached, taking the audience on more story arcs than originally anticipating, all the while never loosing its pacing and style. When Mia’s character is initially possessed, it is told in such a way, that it is downright unnerving. Though the Deadites still say the same profane and wonderfully colorful dialogue as in the original, they do not talk nearly as much, or have much collected screen time. But just as with the original, the film has some of the best practical gore effects that can be seen in any horror film released recently. It is not to the extreme as Raimi’s vision, but Alvarez’ EVIL DEAD uses the same approach to excess, but reduces the range of the violence, but amplifies the effect. In the original, when Deadites are dismembered and killed, there is a lot of blood and a lot of comedy (mainly due to Campbell), this film has much less visible blood and much more active violence, thus compounding the effect of less is more, which is a perspective that personally is something that should be evident in most horror films to achieve an appropriate level of connectively to its audience.
All in all, each film is a very good piece of work. But will Alvarez’ EVIL DEAD be able to have an impact in the ways its predecessor did? No. This film does not take the violence that so many movies exploit and take it to another level, nor does it water itself down either. In highest probability, EVIL DEAD will be remembered as a decent remake and original adaptation of the material, but films such as Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police and Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film have taken on-screen and off-screen violence to a higher level than originally believed possible. This is ushered on by the success of the torture porn horror market (the Saw and Hostel franchises notably) that still currently holds the mainstream horror industry in a stranglehold.