Friday, April 05, 2013
There are Fake Shemps.
Okay, okay, I'll throw some more meat in the ring.
Remakes like this are always a tricky proposition. The shaggy charm of the original EVIL DEAD (and EVIL DEAD 2...and, to a much lesser extent ARMY OF DARKNESS) lied in the film's micro-budget tweaking of B-movie conventions, even as it also existed as one of those B-movies. Watching the original as the calling card it was for Raimi, Tapert and Campbell, you're left amused and often wowed at how they pulled this effect off, how they totally shattered that taboo. The infamous tree rape is a primitive piece of effects work, but its wildly nasty tone overwhelms any concern you'd have about its veracity (hmmm.....I wonder if that's the first time that "veracity" has been used in an EVIL DEAD discussion....). So how do you approach a remake of said micro-budget cult legend, especially when the original creative team is on board in a supervising role? Throw more money at the original story so that you have a refined version of a B-flick? Totally reinvent the whole shebang?
Turns out that Raimi, Tapert and Campbell do a little bit of the former, a little bit of the latter. As Joe Bob Briggs so memorably described it, the original EVIL DEAD was one of the great "spam in a cabin" flicks of its time, a formula that the remake is wise to retain. So we're once again presented with a semi-intrepid group of young folks bound for a ill-fated weekend at THAT cabin in the woods. But wait, did you say CABIN THE WOODS? 'Cause yeah, thirty odd years later we're living in the full post-modern flush of films like Drew Goddard's wicked deconstruction of the spam in a cabin genre. In response to what they seem to view as audience familiarity (over-familiarity?), the production team gives these victims to be a serious motive for their weekend: an intervention/cold turkey effort for their friend Mia (who's also the sister of the lead male.)
I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this plot point. On one hand, it does away with the staid genre conventions that CABIN IN THE WOODS so memorably deconstructed. On the other hand, giving the lead possessed character (the possessee?) a heroin habit almost smacks (no pun intended) of a far too heavy handed allegorical approach to the material. Wait, am I criticizing a film that features demonic succubi, severed limbs and projectile blood vomiting for being over the top? Okay, fair point. But the repeated visual and thematic references to addiction and withdrawal still took me just THAT much out of the story.
Because above all, EVIL DEAD (the original and the remake) is all about horror on a purely visceral level. And all these years later, most of us have been living with the children of EVIL DEAD and their progressive transcendence of visceral gore ever since. Twenty years after its initial bow, DEAD ALIVE (a.k.a BRAINDEAD) remains the high point of whimsically gleeful gore; it's hard to top having your protagonist plow through a horde of zombies with a pull-string lawnmower, or to have him run in place treadmill style because the floor is so wet with blood (and that's not even getting into the film's mother of all Oedipus complex finales.) Since those days, the once restrictive MPAA has actually allowed much more explicit gore in many mainstream horror films, an allowance that has subsequently posed the question of how to shock audiences when they've seen everything (hello internet, hello YouTube.)
Well, EVIL DEAD answers this question with gusto, 'cause sweet Jesus there are some nasty splatter scenes on display here. Much of the gore starts out small and very intimate (a shower scalding, flesh munching, nailgun fu), which makes it all the more painful. But damn, by the time this sick puppy reaches its climax, with a now-unpossessed Mia thrusting a chainsaw through the mouth of the demon spawn of Hell, several gallons of blood spurting forth, the grue becomes epic.
Oh yeah, the chainsaw. One of the biggest questions/complaints about this remake has been the removal of Bruce Campbell's iconic Ash from the proceedings. Yes, some of the story momentum suffers from the lack of the strong presence and sense of audience identification that he lent to the original film. Even newbies will probably get the feeling that there's a bit too much spam without anyone rising out of said metaphorical meat. But the last act redemption of Mia (the seed for which is planted by the aforementioned heroin withdrawal) turns this EVIL DEAD into a decidedly post-feminist film. And fans of the original will smile as they see the pieces that turn Mia into a simultaneously Ash-like and non-Ash-like character come together. Now would the film as a whole have benefitted from establishing her dominance a bit earlier? Maybe. But it's still an interesting turn of events.
So yeah, this is quite the interesting rehash we have here. I'd love to see it again with a packed audience to see how it plays in that arena. But in the meantime, I'd glad to say that the new EVIL DEAD was a pleasant and often delightfully disgusting surprise.