Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Evil Dead (2013)

The Evil Dead (2013)

As a huge fan of the original I was looking forward to this with both anticipation and trepidation. How do you remake such an iconic film? Having Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell on board as producers help alleviate my concerns somewhat, but I still worried - what if it was awful? Or even worse, what if it was just mediocre? What if it bombed at the box office, killing any chance of future Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies?

Man, I put a lot of baggage on this movie.

Regardless, I planned on seeing it in the theater, preferably on opening night, hopefully with a bunch of Evil Dead fans. And then I suddenly didn't care about horror movies any more. I mentioned this last year. I just hit a burnout point. For the first time in my life I didn't have any interest in horror. None. For me this was akin to suddenly getting bored with breathing, it was traumatic and disconcerting to have such an integral part of my self-identity just be GONE. This went on for months and months - most of 2013, actually. So the release date for Evil Dead came and went and I stayed home.

This guy wishes he'd stayed home as well.

The burnout passed, thank goodness, and I got back into the swing of things in time for October 2013, but I'd missed Evil Dead. And I kept missing it. There always seemed to be something else to watch, some other movie I'd missed or wanted to see. It started to become a thing - when was I going to watch the remake of Evil Dead? I mean, the reviews were mixed, but not bad. And it sound really gory, all done with practical effects - I mean, I love that stuff.

Well, finally this September I found a cheap copy of the DVD and decided I had see it, HAD to see it, at least for 31 Days. Good, bad or indifferent, pull the bandage off and get it over with.

The Medium
I picked up the DVD. Somehow couldn't bring myself to buy the Blu-ray, which was dumb. The cinematography is so good I think the Blu-ray would be worth it. Maybe eventually. The picture was fairly decent, although quick moving scenes had some substantial blur - not sure if that's source material, the DVD or my television. There are a handful of extras, which I still appreciate on a DVD that's not a special edition or anything. No commentary, though - that's a Blu-ray exclusive.

The Movie
Right off the bat, I'm torn. The opening sequence, in which a girl is chased through the woods, captured and taken to a horrific basement, is pretty riveting. It's atmospheric, tense and really well shot. The confrontation between her and her father, the appearance of the Naturon Demonto, the deformed people - it's all good horror stuff. It's also a gut puncher, with fire and shotgun breaking familial bonds.

To quote Ash from Army of Darkness, "Honey... you got real ugly."

And yet... It's exposition. It's explanation. It shows how the Book gets in the basement (as well as all those dead cats). It's well done - but I was a little annoyed. Yeah, there is an explanation in the earlier films - but I think the film might have been better without it. How much creepier would all that stuff be without explanation - burnt pillar, dead cats, book in plastic and barbed wire? Knowing something horrible happened, but not exactly what? Just letting us infer what happened from Eric's reading of the book?

I got the feeling sometimes like the director was uncertain of his audience's ability to pay attention. There's a moment when Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and David (Shiloh Fernandez) are exploring the basement and we first see the charred pillar and there's a sudden flashback to the burning girl from the opening and I was immediately annoyed again - WE KNOW what happened, you don't have to remind us, it's been like fifteen minutes. I got that same feeling several times, like the director was concerned that we'd forgotten things or gotten bored.

You know, I'm starting off with negative things, and I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like the film. I did, actually, I liked it a lot. For most of the movie I was enjoying things and impressed with the quality of the production and especially the effects - some of those gore set pieces are amazing. I still have no idea how they did that bit with the girl's face.

I think this is the least graphic part of this scene.

In fact, for most of the initial setup I was pretty happy. There are nods to the original without them being annoying. The 'Classic' is a wreck under a pile of leaves in the yard, for instance. There's a sequence as the car arrives that includes a quick shot of the bench swing and I expected the sound of it banging against the wall - and I was pleased when it didn't. I liked that the setup was different - it's a bunch of kids coming to the cabin to help their friend (and sister) go cold turkey from heroin. What a great way to ignore that character when she starts seeing/experiencing things! And all those lingering shots of things like knives, guns and chainsaws. The movie is winking at us a bit, because we know those things will be used against all too tender flesh later on.

Didn't we see that meat carver earlier? Foreshadowing!

And if the characters are a bit too flat, a bit too broad? It's okay - at least I can tell them apart, as opposed to some recent horror films. And Jane Levy as Mia is pretty good, if a little annoying - but I think that's intentional. The group as a whole makes really stupid decisions, but hey, it's a rare horror movie that has protagonists who don't. Yes, I wanted to slap Eric when he unwraps the book and then punch him when he reads aloud from the bits that someone has specifically scribbled over with the warning "DO NOT READ," but maybe the mere presence of the book drops your IQ sharply. It would explain a lot.

It'll suck your brain dry too, apparently.

And when things get cranking the movie ratchets up the terror and gore factor to eleven. This is probably the goriest feature film I've seen in a long time. These characters get put through the meatgrinder (not literally, but that's about the only thing that doesn't get used). I could have done without the tree rape scene, but it's so iconic in the original that I get that they pretty much HAD to include it, and it's slightly less exploitative than in the original.

About two thirds of the way through the film they start dropping lines and more direct references to the previous film and I'm suddenly annoyed again. I mean, they've been referring to the original the whole time, really, and it was fine. It just seemed like suddenly they were jamming references in, whether they fit or not. The line "her eyes, what happened to her eyes?" is just thrown away, for instance. I liked it better when the references were slightly more oblique - the appearance of the chainsaw was fun and I liked the flooded road, even if the rain seemed more plot driven than realistic.

I'm legally obligated to include a shot of The Classic in any Evil Dead review.

Things go completely off the rails towards the end, with the blood rain finale making no sense to me, at least not by the rules that are set out by the film itself. By my count the demon only gets three of the required five souls - you can stretch it to four if you count Mia, even though she gets freed. Given that a soul is freed - purified - by fire, then David's death can't count, right? Either way, the finale confrontation between Mia and the summoned Abomination is fun, but ultimately disappointing - the creature effect isn't particularly interesting (where are my Deadites?) and it is way too easily defeated for something that requires such a complicated series of events to be summoned.

The Bottom Line
I'm concentrating on the things that bug me, and that does the film a disservice. It's a good movie, really, a fairly well made horror flick with some great atmosphere, cinematography, pacing and - especially - practical special effects. If I'm disappointed it's because it's so close to being a fantastic film and instead falls a little short. It doesn't fail the first film, exactly, but it certainly isn't as interesting or iconic - of course that was an awful high bar to try and reach.

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