How far can one take a trope? Seriously, consider what I’m asking here. Tropes are called tropes for a reason, usually because (like their literary cousins, the cliches) tropes are so often utilized and over-utilized that they eventually lose all the impact and meaning their initial use conveyed. And when something transforms from plot device into trope, that usually also takes with it any sense of innovation the trope might once have had. Cynical, I know, but not far off the mark- tropes need to find new ways to make themselves relevant.
I mention this because I spent some time this past weekend getting reacquainted with an old friend. And this old friend apparently had a makeover. Was it a good idea for said friend to have a makeover? Maybe. It all depends on how much you like this friend to begin with. But you can’t deny that this friend is a little sharper, a little cleaner (relatively speaking) and a little less campy than he was before.
This friend I spent the weekend with was Evil Dead, and he has aged rather well (makeover notwithstanding). The granddaddy of campy horror, the progenitor of the oft-utilized “cabin in the woods” trope, and inspiration for any film that likes to throw young people to the proverbial wolves (or demons, elder gods, nazi zombies, Eli Roth, half-redneck sociopaths and Tyler Labine, etc etc), Evil Dead made a splash when it was first released for being rather funny…unintentionally or not. So when I first saw trailers for the “re-make,” completely devoid of campy overtones and taking itself rather seriously, I was a bit concerned.
Was this an attempt for the production team to distance itself from its predecessor (especially in the wake of last Spring’s utterly hilarious send-up “Cabin in the Woods”) with a darker, more forbidding film, or were they attempting to make the film Sam Raimi had “intended to” way back when he was still slumming around with Bruce Campbell and looking to make his mark in the worlds of B-horror and blood. After all, serious horror films often fail miserably, especially when they take themselves too seriously.
Thankfully, Evil Dead does not.
See this man: he is NOT in this movie. Sorry. No Bruce for you.
I’m going to start this by saying that if you’ve NEVER seen Evil Dead before, then you will probably love this film. You have nothing to compare it to. You have no emotional connections to certain characters or scenes, you probably didn’t laugh yourself silly at the “serious” horror of the original, and you likely have never heard the term “boomstick” in its “native tongue” (and yes, I know that’s from Army of Darkness, I’m trying to make a point here). For all intents and purposes, this is a new film, no matter how “old” it might feel.
For those who HAVE seen Evil Dead, approach with caution. There have been changes, lots and lots of changes. No more promiscuity. No more fountains of blood. No more stupid-looking rubber demons terrorizing those poor college students…hell, no more college students either, as everyone is now a blissful twenty-something. Do not go into this movie expecting Evil Dead, because unless you are a very forgiving person who understands that sometimes remakes aren’t a bad thing, you will nitpick this into oblivion before going home to cry into your copy of “Drag Me to Hell” while cursing Raimi and company to a painful afterlife alongside “Mac guy.”
(Don’t believe me? Check out some critics reviews lamenting the lack of camp and humor the original had…most of which was unintentional. Thanks for missing the point, Richard Roeper, as much as I might agree with your assessment of the players in this game.)
This time around, Evil Dead deals less with teenage matters and more with addiction, fear, loyalty and why its not a good idea to read from the Necronomicon. Five young adults meet in a cabin in the woods (the same cabin used in pretty much everything these days) to help a friend cope with a heroin habit. While there, they discover a secret room in the cellar full of dead cats, and a book wrapped in barbed wire. Predictably, one of them opens and reads the book, and bad things start to happen. One friend slices her face off. Another pours boiling water on herself. There’s some conflict involving a nail gun, and unconventional use of a turkey knife.
This is NOT what one means when they refer to getting a “facial.”
Evil Dead is a very “gross” movie, much like the original was. Drawing on elements of 80s splatterpunk and body horror, this film highlights how humans are simply sacks of meat and blood, and gloriously delights in showing the many ways we can be corrupted, putrefied and ripped apart. There’s plenty of filth present in both the cabin and the woods itself from the get go, leading one to wonder why the people present would even think to stay in such dirty surroundings. It practically screams “bad stuff is going to happen!” I once had issues with my uncle’s “summer home” because some squirrels got in and left nuts in my bed. These people trudge through mud and muck, and never seem to mind…or take showers.
The characters are also hopelessly dumb. Not in a “poorly written” sort of way (well, one of them is), but in the fact that they seem to completely lack common sense. It’s bad enough reading from an odd book you found in a “devil worship” room…actually no, that IS pretty bad. It’s wrapped in barbed wire, for god’s sake. You need bolt cutters to get it open. There are plenty of warnings written in ink and blood telling you not to read from it. And if you’re smart enough to read Sumerian, you should be smart enough to know NOT to read Sumerian. Seriously, lack of common sense here…oh who am I kidding, I would have done it too, if only for kicks.
My only real complaint is how the writers handled the entire affair: unlike the original, this time around the entire “reading from the book” angle seems more like an afterthought tacked on in as quick a way as possible. I never quite believed why said character did it, nor what he hoped to gain by doing it. Rather slapdash, which is disappointing considering how much careful thought was put into the rest of this movie.
This complete ignorance of basic survival instinct and sense is what ultimately makes the film enjoyable. Let’s face it, we as a people like seeing bad stuff happen to stupid people, and the people here definitely qualify. While possibly not the intent of the director, it can be deliciously entertaining to watch demons possess folks and turn them into sacks of flesh to be toyed with. You will likely find yourself egging on the monsters, anticipating the next gruesome death scene with more enthusiasm than you would like. That chill you’re feeling…that’s revulsion at yourself, not the film.
And despite what some critics might say, this film is not without its own brand of twisted humor. You will laugh, but you will also squirm. Some of those chuckles might not be for outrageous plotting, but at that awkward feeling creeping slowly into your gut as the film progresses. It takes a truly well-paced and -plotted film to make an audience feel that, something which Tarantino, Roth and even Miike (these days) have been trying to cultivate, often to their own dismay. Even me, as desensitized as I am to “horror” films, found myself shifting uncomfortably at certain times, and muttering “worst nightmare” under my breath while my friend next to me closed his eyes and shivered.
So by all means, go and see this movie. It’s a raucous good time. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.