First things first: you might have heard about a remake that came out this weekend called Evil Dead. It’s a reimagining/reboot/remake of The Evil Dead, the first film of one of the greatest cult trilogies of all time. Despite the enormous amount of pressure and skepticism surrounding the new film, director Fede Alvarez has succeeded wildly, no doubt in part due to the mentoring he received from original director and star Sam Rami and Bruce Campbell.
The Evil Dead remake succeeds because rather than trying to retell the story beat-by-beat, it aims to recapture the spirit of the original film.
The original Evil Dead succeeded because of its unique vision. Despite a budget of only $375,000 (about $900,000 today), The Evil Dead featured gruesome, relentless practical effects that were a shot in the arm to a genre that preferred to show rather than tell.
The new horror classics of the 70s were films like The Exorcist, Jaws, The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby and The Hills Have Eyes (which gets a shout-out in The Evil Dead). These films relied much more on atmosphere. Monsters were implied, rarely shown, and even then, only at the culmination of the third act.
Not so with The Evil Dead. Riding a new wave of horror, The Evil Dead unleashed some of its most horrific now-classic scenes in the first act (like the tree scene). All the ambiance and stage-setting was crammed into the first 15 minutes. Once the first kid goes Deadite, the gore flows in buckets and you see everything. Forget the pea-soup of The Exorcist.
The Evil Dead changed the horror genre. Can the remake possibly live up to the original?
Let’s be real: a lot could’ve gone wrong with this new film. They had a budget nearly 15x larger than the original, and CGI is the way to go in horror films these days. A sampling of three recent popular horror films: V/H/S, Mama and The Last Exorcism Part II all relied heavily on CGI effects. Even some of the recent new-horror classics like The Ring and The Grudge (and all the Japanese-horror imports, for that matter) rely on CGI effects in large part for their monsters.
Further, horror films of recent vintage have also rediscovered the tell-don’t-show principle. Maybe they recovered it from Shyamalan (who got it from Hitchcock). Films like the Paranormal Activity franchise and Mama demonstrate a clear desire to scare by implication. You don’t see the monster, at least not until the end. Even the so-called torture-porn films like Hostel and Saw (the first two-ish) saved a lot of the actual gore for the third act.
The principle’s a good idea, as far as it goes: usually our imaginations scare us much more than an image on a screen can (though The Ring and Mama are two notable exceptions).
If the new Evil Dead wanted to make a mark on the current horror genre, it had to take on these resurgent conventions. And it does.
The new Evil Dead is relentless. Though it actually manages to establish a bit better backstory and characters than the original did, it doesn’t waste any more time in exposition than its predecessor. And once the gore starts flying, the film is relentless.
No cheap startle-scares here. It’s just pure unbridled horror. Every scene is drawn out. You see everything. If the camera does cut away, it’s only to show you something worse, and it’s going to come back.
Every effect is practical. I might have caught one CGI effect, and I wouldn’t swear to it. Evil Dead shows filmmakers just how much is possible with good old fashioned blood, sweat and tears.
Gallons of blood. A very nervous sweat. And tears of horror.
And if you’re a fan of the original like I am, Alvarez packs in scads of homages to the original series. But none of them intrude into the film (like, oh All Saints Day or the latest A Good Day to Die Hard). They’re woven expertly into the fabric of the world. (Except for Bruce Campbell’s stamp of approval after the credits. But trust me, you won’t mind it.)
The Evil Dead remake/reboot/I-don’t-care-I-just-love-it succeeds because rather than trying to reshoot the original film on a bigger budget, it recaptures the no-holds-barred innovation of the original franchise. I have no idea where the sequels are going to go – if they’re going to go camp like the originals or dial up the horror, but I trust Alvarez. He’s more than earned it.