As a devout horror fan, the trend of updated remakes is often more disheartening than refreshing. I especially despair over the idea that for some people, the remake is their first, and only, exposure to the content. The bar I set for remakes is not very high; if you have something new to say or examine, while also taking the time to adapt the movie to contemporary time, go for it. Otherwise, you lose the charm, the heart, and the spirit of the original film. Instead, the idea is to add gore, add an expendable cast, and convert it to 3D. Few and far between, there are some remakes that pass the litmus test. Off hand, the best recent horror remake I can name (in my opinion) is Fright Night. Obviously, my next example is the new Evil Dead, that along with the rubber stamp of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, manages to build upon the narrative devices of the original.
So what does Evil Dead (2013) update to distinguish itself from its predecessor while also subtly remaining an homage?
Changes to how relationships are emphasized
In the original, Ash’s sister Cheryl, is arguably the most annoying person you are like to encounter anywhere. She whines, she serves as a Debbie Downer from scene one, and is a general buzzkill. She gets possessed first and it actually serves to improve her personality. Ash’s relationship with his girlfriend Linda is a far more integral to the plot. She’s the one that gets the necklace from Ash early on, she’s the one that gets put in the pretty burial dress and lovingly laid to rest. His sister becomes the primary antagonist but his girlfriend retains a victim-like quality throughout the film, ’til Ash decapitates her.
The remake doesn’t try to hide that fact that it is far more interested in the dynamic between the brother (David) and sister (Mia) of the group. So much so that they seem to integrate Ash’s character arc into both David and Mia’s storyline. Mia receives the necklace, gets changed into a burial dress and subsequently buried. And yet, it retains the Cheryl plot for the better part of the film. She’s the first to be possessed, she tries to flee and gets raped in the woods. What the remake does very effectively is base her craziness (and the desire to keep her there) in reality. She’s a heroin addict who is one OD away from death. The whole weekend actually serves as a last ditch effort to get her clean, as opposed to a generic spring break trip. Unlike the original, Mia’s attitude makes perfect sense. The best evidence of the change in dynamic? In the original, Linda wears the Michigan State sweater. In the remake, Mia is seen wearing it.
This also marginalizes the girlfriend character completely (Natalie). In fact, while not the first to become possessed, she is still the least developed character. Intentional or not, this is another example of the change in relationship focus. The movie almost goes out of its way to leave her a blank slate.
The Back Story
In the original, the group finds the Necronomicon, and a record, that explains what happened to the previous inhabitants of the cabin. The incantations on the record bring about the demons’ release. Meanwhile, in the remake, we get an intro that depicts what happened at the cabin prior to the main events. Then, we have Eric become obsessed with the Necronomicon, secretly. While it goes a little unexplained, how the remake depicts this obsession (which leads to all the hell that breaks loose) and the fact he never reveals it or gets called out on it, is kind of disturbing. I’m still thinking about it.
The Sequence of Events
Surprisingly, the movie maintains the shell of the original, only diverging at the climax (and adding a dog, because, why not?). In the original, Scotty’s girlfriend Shelly is the second to get possessed; she attacks him, and he eventually dismembers her. Linda is the next to be possessed and at first is just a passive, creepy singer of a scary sounding song. Eventually, unable to dismember her, Ash opts for the burial option. She rises from the grave and Ash is forced to decapitate her. Ash goes back inside to battle with Cheryl and Scotty, both possessed. The sequence of Ash in the cellar with blood seeping out into everything is one of my favorites and I’m torn between being sad it’s left out of the remake and happy they didn’t try to touch the scene. The remake sort of addresses this with a blood rain.
Shelly’s analog in the remake, Olivia, is also the second to get possessed and attacks the Scotty analog, Eric. Instead of dismembering her, he bashes her brains in. Natalie is the next possessed, but unlike the original, is not passive. She attacks Eric and David with a nail gun. Here, Mia’s character temporarily takes over the arc of Ash’s girlfriend and gets the burial treatment. Mia awakens exorcised. David only has to deal with Eric, and his solution is to set the cabin on fire with both of them inside.
The Manifestations of the Demons
In the original, the demons are only seen through the possessed bodies of the characters or when the camera seems to become the eyes of a demon as it rushes from the forest. Without seeing it, I’ve always identified it as an invisible force in our world. In the remake, we have a startling different take on how the characters see the demons, including an ending that conjures up an “Abomination” from hell. I’ve been going back and forth on whether this entirely works for me (in some cases, it feels like just another opportunity to add shock factor) but it definitely offers up a departure from the original.
In the lead-up to this movie, I could hardly avoid people referring to Jane Levy as the “female Ash.” Which I thought was cool. But it is hard to reconcile that with the first half of the film, where she appears to be playing the sister role from the original, albeit with more substance. However, the movie takes an abrupt turn in its climax. Eric successfully exorcises his sister, just in time for him to bite the dust and her to assume the role of heroine. Instead of continuing to fight her possessed friends like Ash, Mia must deal with the resurrection of the Abomination. She emerges triumphant and does not get possessed like Ash in the original. However, she does lose her hand in the battle, implying that like the Evil Dead musical, this was an attempt to consolidate the original Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2 (okay, they are the same movie, but not really…).
References to the Original
Fans of the original are not left to drift in the cold lonely waters of the remake, or subjected to obvious, groan-inducing callbacks. Here are some things I noticed, but this list is not exhaustive:
- what looks to be the now dilapidated car from the original
- the necklace looks similar but isn’t exactly the same as, the one Ash gives his girlfriend. And said necklace assumes the shape of a skull at one point when it is laying on the ground.
- Jane Levy gets way more Ash-like after being exorcised, dusting off some one-liners and like I said, losing her hand. (“Feast on this, motherfucker!”)
- They hail from Michigan, the same place as the original group. Also, Eric looks like he borrowed the shirt he is wearing from Scotty’s closet, amirite? (Compare to Eric above).
Now that the remake is making bank at the theaters, it is basically a done deal that we are getting an Evil Dead 2 from the same director. At the same time, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are attempting to make Army of Darkness 2. As suggested by some people, the remake doesn’t preclude the idea that the events from the original happened in the same timeline. Therefore, as Raimi et al. have suggested, a seventh film could combine the two narratives of Ash and Mia, resulting in, you guessed it, pure awesomeness. While the current box office stats definitely raise expectations that this could happen, I don’t want to get my hopes too high. Does anyone else remember when, after the relative success of Freddy vs. Jason, some people were talking about getting Ash involved? I’m sure that had to do with rights, but that was such an exciting prospect I still feel sad over it not happening.
This year has morphed into the return of the horror series. First, we got The Following. And then Bates Motel. Now, NBC is in the ring with Hannibal, and it is by far the best of the bunch. Whether the show will suffer from its third place appearance is yet to be seen, but it is something I fear nonetheless. It might be cliché to say the market is over-saturated, but it’s true.
And yet, Hannibal is markedly different from The Following and Bates Motel. Unlike The Following, Hannibal isn’t trying too hard. The Following‘s first mandate seems to be “pushing the limits of network television” by clearly staying in lines of recognizable boundaries. What looks to be pushing the boundary always appears to be written in as a requirement, not as a means of servicing story or character. (Like, “Gee, we have the episode structure ready to go. But where’s the violence? Oh, let’s have a woman graphically strangled to conclude this scene…She’ll be killed off soon, the implications will never need exploring”.)
Bates Motel is similar to Hannibal in that they are both working from source material, from pop culture sources so prevalent that its main villains are sown into the tapestry of our collective entertainment discourse. Both are prequels set in modern day, in part to be more accessible and in part to put distance between our preconceived notions of these characters. The difference arises in presentation. The writers for Bates Motel “get” its source material but they crave the audience’s recognition of the fact they understand the material. Cue anvil-clanging sentences and Easter eggs alluding to a past story (which technically doesn’t exist in the show’s setting). Does Hannibal also rely on cheesy phrases that the audience can only truly understand knowing their forward-looking implications? Yes. But…
Hannibal succeeds where others fail for a number of reasons. For one, the mood. A Bryan Fuller series is guaranteed to pop with color and imagery, and when applied to a graphic horror series, his vision astounds when it comes to displaying blood and gore. Hannibal challenges network television in a way that The Following has not; I have never questioned The Following airing on Fox, but I am still marveling over the fact Hannibal aired on NBC. The imagery is the primary driver of the mood: oppressive, suffocating and alien. It seems to exist in a parallel universe. It leaves an uneasy feeling that clings to your bones, makes you feel dirty, and yet the invitation into the world is too much to pass up; you have to journey back there and analyze its bizarre inner workings.
Where Hannibal really excels is in Bryan Fuller’s (and company’s) command of the source material that doesn’t implore the audience to recognize the hints and clues. You can if you so desire, they’re there. Full disclosure: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is one of my favorite books. The imagery in the book has left an indelible imprint on my memory, parts which make me shiver still when I contemplate them. Extra, balancing disclosure: I love Kevin Bacon (so I’m still watching The Following) and I will watch Vera Farmiga in anything (thus, still watching Bates Motel).
Back to my weird obsession with Red Dragon: Fuller, in my mind, really understands Will Graham as a character, and correctly explores ways he can be further developed. When I talk about the images that stay with me from the book, they are primarily from sections that involve Graham re-creating murders in his mind. Hannibal capitalizes on this in the pilot, and Bryan Fuller envisions a new way to experience this phenomena, not already tread on in the film versions. That Graham has “pure empathy” and can connect to anyone mentally, is discussed with more clinical terminology than the book iteration of Graham. Sure, it also makes Graham have a diagnosable mental disorder (closer to autistic than sociopath as the show puts it) where one was never really implied previously, but it’s not unfathomable. My narrative professor would argue that empathy doesn’t exist and therefore Graham’s imagination should raise red flags, and I’m not entirely sure that the show won’t explore a similar vein of thought down the road.
The other great thing about the show is the uncertainty, at least to my knowledge, of the end game (contingent on a renewal). Might the series end with Graham discovering Lecter’s murderous alter ego and Lecter’s subsequent attack on Graham? Or will the series move past that and into the early days of Lecter’s imprisonment? The pilot uses an actual case from Graham’s back story, so what will other episodes entail? And unlike, The Following (which can be taken at face value) and arguably Bates Motel (we’ll see), Hannibal offers a complex narrative. I benefited from watching the pilot twice; intentionally so, the story attempts to confuse you on whether Lecter is behind the abductions and murders. On a second viewing, timelines and motivations became clearer and I enjoyed the episode even more than the first time. It is easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and staging, which can make concrete information hard to keep track of, but that further contributes to the surreal oppressive mood.
Recommendations: Try it out. Watch it twice. Marvel in HD horror geek wonder at how Bryan Fuller recreated the bathroom from The Shining. And definitely explore the source material (the Red Dragon novel in particular). I have high hopes NBC will air all thirteen episodes at the least. Also, Gillian Anderson and Eddie Izzard show up eventually. It’s gonna be fun.