(The) Evil Dead
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.