IN DEPTH WITH EVIL DEAD 2013
by Dan Dillard
When I was thirteen, my friend Brad and I rented a VHS tape entitled “The Evil Dead”. In the video store, I saw the cool cover art, a girl reaching to the sky as some demonic hand was pulling her down to hell. Even at that young age, I’d been screwed by cover art before…but this one was different, because even Stephen King, who had already written a few books you might have heard of at the time, said it was “ferocious” right there on the cover.
We popped the tape in that night and immediately started rocking and swaying on the floor like we were riding on a roller coaster as the camera panned through those woods leading to the now infamous cabin. Then the goofy “teens” showed up and they found the book and a reel-to-reel recorder with tapes about the Naturom Demonto, and a sacrificial dagger and an incantation that, well…Then a girl got raped by roots and vines in the forest and I couldn’t move. My budding inner gore hound was hooked, and horror was to be my thing.
Brad and I were subjected to demons—scary ones like I hadn’t experienced. They were Evil Dead. They weren’t people in bad rubber masks, they were real faces with grotesque makeup, like clowns in a way. They were chunky and the thick paint cracked, making them look even evil-er. Their voices were awful, a thing of nightmare. Then more things happened…
A pencil in the ankle, in your face as it twisted around, and then thick syrupy blood oozed out. A demon girl was locked in the cellar, but kept peeking out and taunting them. The second demon girl was giggly in the creepiest way, even as a young Bruce Campbell repeatedly beat her with his fists. There was blood, so much. There were other fluids too, milk maybe? And is that blue? And is that Claymation? And giant hands ripping through the bodies of the Kandarian monsters… and Ashley Williams was born.
Watching it now…well the effects don’t hold up, but they’re still fun, and you can see that the cast was just drenched in them, and had a lot of fun being brutal…
Back then, what did I do after I watched The Evil Dead for the first time? I watched it again. Then, as soon as it was available I rushed right out and rented the sequel. And when Army of Darkness came out, I was at the theater cheering along. I’ve watched them all countless times. Then I watched all of the other cabin-in-the-woods movies that tried to recapture that…including Cabin Fever and…well, Cabin in the Woods.
Now, I told you all of that so I could tell you this. In all honesty, when I heard there was a sequel in the works, I was pissed. It was a cult film—you can’t recapture that, it just isn’t possible. No Ash? You’re smokin’ bad weed.
Even when The Chin himself and Sam Raimi said, “We’ll produce. It’s gonna be awesome.” I wasn’t convinced…and as more and more news came out, I went deeper and deeper to the darkside. In the time since I first heard of the ED remake, I was subjected to dozens of other remakes and new horror films that all seemed to spawn from the same cookie cutter crap factory. Then they did the unthinkable and called us all out on the poster. “The Most Frightening Film You Will Ever Experience.”
I was glad to see they had balls, but bullshit, says I. They weren’t saying the scariest thing I’d seen… but the scariest thing I would ever see. Okay, buddy, whatever.
But the film was remade and went to festivals and positive things started to happen. People liked it. Horror fans that had called it blasphemy just like I had—liked it. Was it possible? Did they not screw it up? Could lightning strike a fourth time for the series? And they used practical effects?
So as the day drew near, I decided I wanted to see it…and I wanted to see it in the theater with a crowd on opening night. Some of my friends and I walked into the theater and sat down, expecting nothing. Here’s what we got:
HERE COME THE SPOILERS. So don’t bitch if you read beyond this point.
It isn’t really a remake. It is more like another chapter, the story of another group of five friends who show up for an altogether different reason at a cabin where bad things have happened before. There's no Ash character, which is good because it would've been distracting (and likely disappointing). The first half of the movie is taken from Mia's perspective up to and even after her possession. Then it switches to survival mode, but in the end, it's still Mia who is the hero. A completely different take.
From here on, I’m going to break this down by element because it’s easier for me to think about it that way.
Okay, bad news first… and it’s not that bad because this isn’t that type of film. If you go to the Evil Dead for the story, you’re a bonehead. Mythology? Yes. Shakespearean structure and character development? You’re a bonehead.
There was a little glimpse of background at the beginning. We meet a father who, with the help of a crazy-looking-hills-have-eyes kind of family, captures his own daughter and burns her possessed ass in the cellar of the cabin. I was confused by the scene, but it was cool and a very strong opening. Then, we’re taken to the present where the five slabs of meat… I mean friends show up for a sort-of self-induced drug intervention.
Mia, the lead, is a junkie, and two of her friends, Eric (a teacher) and Olivia (a registered nurse), have agreed to help her kick the habit no matter what. That’s key, and it was played up without being overboard---No matter what, she is not to leave the cabin. Her brother, David, shows up as well and brings the family dog, Grandpa. He’s been absent in her life, and we find out later he was also absent when her mother went crazy and died in a hospital.
David’s absence is a point of stress between all involved. So there’s a core group of four friends, and then a blond chick, Natalie, who I think was David’s girlfriend, but the movie didn’t really develop her character, so I won’t either. The friends explain to David that they’ve tried to help Mia before, that she had flushed her drugs and asked them to help her quit a year ago, but eight hours in, she gave up. So David is asked to understand that she will say or do anything to get out of the cabin and go back to using.
I’ll get to each player more when I talk about the gore.
When Mia freaks out over a nasty smell in the cabin, and with the help of Grandpa the dog, they find the hatch that leads to the cellar. In the cellar there’s a room with dead cats strung up to the ceiling and the book of the dead, wrapped in black plastic and barbed wire. What do they do? Eric, the high school teacher, opens it and starts to read. Even though there are warnings scribbled all over it, and the incantation has been blotted out, he goes out of his way to figure out the words, and says them aloud. Mayhem ensues. Lots of glorious mayhem. When it starts, one car is wrecked, and they can’t get out in the other because the river floods.
The movie rolls along quickly on leaps of logic and bad decisions. In other words, the story is stupid, and the characters are stupid. But as I said, it isn’t that kind of movie.
I was under the impression from all of my research that this movie only used practical effects. That isn’t true. There are some digital effects, and they are well done—but obvious. The majority of effects are practical, and they were awesome. Maybe the most believable scenes of dismemberment and such that I have seen as a whole. Some films pull of one or two excellent gags, this one has a truckload. And the MPAA let it all be in your face. Thank you MPAA for recognizing Alvarez’s ballsy approach and allowing most of it to happen on screen in the theater! Can’t wait for the unrated version.
Since the characters don’t really matter that much, we’ll talk about their run-ins with the Evil.
MIA—As soon as Eric reads the words, Mia pukes. Could be withdrawal, but she wants to go home. When no one helps her, she leaves on her own. Driving through the woods, she sees a ghostly, demonic version of what looks like her and wrecks the car. As she runs from the spook, she is attacked by the trees and held in place while the demon pukes out a slug made of vines and slime that crawls up into Mia’s hoohah and infects her with the badness. (the only attack which is truly reminiscent of the original)
Her friends find her and take her home, but she is not a well person. She burns herself in the shower, kills the dog with a hammer (the only thing that isn’t actually shown) and then, after shooting her brother in the arm with a shotgun, tells them they are all going to die, and pukes chunky blood all over Olivia, passing on the love. There are a few other Exorcist type moments for example when Demon-Mia tells her brother, "Come down here so I can suck that cock, pretty boy!" Slimy, yet satisfying.
OLIVIA—as a nurse, O is used to gook. She washes the gallon of funk off of her face and sees a flash of herself in the mirror, missing the skin on her face. She demon-wigs out and when Eric finds her, she is busy carving her face off. They fight, and she stabs Eric with a piece of broken mirror, then stabs him in the face with a hypodermic needle which breaks off under his eye and he must pull out in a wonderfully gruesome scene. He crushes her head with a chunk of porcelain sink.
NATALIE—wow. Nat got my first favorite scene. She gets bitten by Mia in the slice-my-tongue-in-two scene you all saw in the trailer… and as the infection spreads from her hand up her arm, she grabs an electric carving knife (that was luckily plugged in) and begins to saw her arm off in one of the most believable in-your-face scenes I’ve seen. Beautiful work f/x folks. They guys rush in because of her screams and find her standing there, arm hanging by a few threads of skin which are stretching and tearing as the limb falls off under its own weight and Natalie says, “I feel much better now.”
BACK TO STORY FOR A MINUTE
More stuff happens, Eric gets duct-taped back together and explains to David that he saw all of this in the book… the only way to fix it is to kill Mia and the only way to do that are dismemberment, purification by fire, or being buried alive.
Natalie demons out and there is a battle between her and Eric and David that involves a nail gun and a crowbar. Eric is one tough-ass high-school teacher. There is some more fighting and demonic goodness and David decides he has to kill his sister to end the madness and tries to burn her, but he can’t do it… instead he comes up with a hair-brained scheme to bury her alive, then when she dies, he’ll dig her back up and shock her heart back with a pair of HUGE hypodermic needles wired to a car battery and a light switch.
As an electronics guy, I’m not sure how he even completed that circuit, what he was using to hold the charge… or if he had the smarts to rig that, why he wasn’t much smarter about the rest of the evening…but in Evil Dead land, the ploy worked, and Mia came back out of the ground all pretty and unscathed. Even the blood that was smeared all over her had magically washed off.
BACK TO GORE
DAVID—He’s been nail-gunned, shot, and hit with a crowbar, but he still hasn’t taken the beating Eric did, so when he decides to go back in the cabin (really?) for car keys (he just rigged a defibrillator out of old shed parts! Couldn’t he hotwire a damn Jeep Wrangler?) Eric shows up as a demon and we think we’re going to see the final battle. David locks Mia out, grabs a shotgun and fires off a round at a gas can which apparently has the explosive power of a pound of C-4, and sends the whole cabin up in flames, but doesn’t have enough energy to move Mia away from the front door. Again, it might be over, but then—as prophesized in the book—it begins raining blood (cue the Slayer!).
MIA part 2—is covered in blood from the rain and running from the ‘abomination’ come to full, glorious life as a creepy, demonic, mirror image of her. It’s all naked and stalky and screamy and has those orange-yellow eyes. There’s a very cool chase scene that treats Mia like a pincushion, and where she has to choose between a machete and a chainsaw. She chooses wisely. The chainsaw takes the monster’s feet out from under it, but it tips the Jeep over onto Mia’s hand.
In a last ditch effort, Mia tears her own hand off so she can reach the still-running (no safety) saw and in the best chainsaw scene I have ever seen on film (yep, I said it) says “Feast on this, motherfucker!” and shoves the blade into the demons mouth and carves it almost in half, while screaming like a warrior—it was badass. And all in glorious high definition.
Does Mia bleed out from her missing hand, huge gash in her knee, huge gash in her arm, overstimulated heart? No. But the blood rain stops and the credit roll.
And if you stay through the credits, you get to hear some audio from the original film, and then, a giant Bruce Campbell face turns to the camera and says, you guessed it, “Groovy.”
The movie is beautiful. The blood is red and plentiful, the Raimi-esque shots are there and some new and odd camera views are added. The editing was excellent, and put the camera on a tripod for a change—so glad they didn’t make this a found footage pile of dung. Better yet: It isn’t the slick looking blather that has been passing for horror films of late, this one is gritty, grimy and it all looks real—even when your mind is saying, “What? That’s bullshit”, it still looks real. The cast is pretty, which is fine. I guess nothing terrible ever happens to the average looking.
Nicely done. The score was cool, and had this wailing almost-fire engine sound that was used when things were going oh-so wrong. The audio dropped out at opportune times and jumped in when a scare was necessary.
Solid. None of it was especially good, but it was passable, and never yanked me out of the story.
Again, this is a non-category. I only put it here because I wanted to mention this: Diablo Cody was not credited… and I didn’t hear any of her snarky dialogue, which was a good thing. If she did show up for work here, it wasn’t noticed, but compared to Jennifer’s Body, this was Poe.
No camp, not even any jokes, but on the whole, Evil Dead 2013 is a load of gore-soaked fun. I said it. Again, not a remake, per say, which is what makes it work. The appropriate nods were given, a cabin in the woods, a book of the dead, a pendant on a necklace given as a gift, an old clock on the wall, a tree rape, even a very familiar old car rusting out behind the cabin, and Bruce’s wink at the audience at the end. It isn’t smart, but it isn’t supposed to be. I would watch it again. I will own it when it comes out on DVD and Bluray. I would watch a sequel, and actually hope for one. It does not in any way replace The Evil Dead from 1981 and I don’t think it was meant to. It is, however, a great tribute, a companion piece to add to your ED collection, and hopefully a lesson to Hollywood and other film makers that this is how it should be done. With balls.
Was it the most frightening film I ever experienced or will ever experience? Sadly, no, not even close… but what a ride. Thanks Sam, Bruce, Fede and crew for making this movie. I’m sorry I doubted you.
and on a side note: almost the entire cast of the original make cameos in Oz, the Great and Powerful... just thought you should know.