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John’s Horror Corner presents Strong Opinions: Critically analyzing 10 reasons I appreciated the Evil Dead (2013) remake.

May 15, 2017

I was a fan of the Evil Dead (2013; podcast discussion) remake since day one. Our crew recently discussed the film during our Fede Alvarez Podcast Episode (summary HERE; stream it HERE) and there wasn’t much agreement as to its merits or flaws.  And while I realize the highly divisive horror patronage is littered with those who would disagree with me, I wanted to share 10 things I really appreciated about the film in greater specificity than I had previously addressed in my rave review of the remake.

1. A dedicated cast and star. The hardest thing to reproduce is what isn’t in the script: dedication. Jane Levy was put through the ringer for this movie.  Consider the sum of her scenes imparting uncomfortable physicality.  All the vomiting, crawling through mud, tree assault, being covered in muck…she went through a lot and took it in amazing stride much like Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell (2009) or Jo Beth Williams in Poltergeist (1982)—other .  She even endured being raped and impregnated by an evil spirit’s regurgitated vomit vine!  Between this performance and her subsequent team-up with Fede Alvarez in Don’t Breathe (2016; podcast discussion), I think it’s fair to not only suggest that they make a great team, but that Levy is the on-screen soul of these films.

In the past I’ve praised some actresses for what they physically endure on film: Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist), Jenny Spain (Deadgirl), Isabelle Adjani (Possession), Elma Begovic (Bite), Linda Blair (The Exorcist), the entire cast of The Descent, Monica Belluci (Irreversible), the women of Martyrs, Charlotte Gainsbourg (AntichristNymphomaniac), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell), Danielle Harris (Halloween), Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Jane Levy and Elizabeth Blackmore (Evil Dead), the cast of The Human Centipede films, and all actresses from the I Spit on Your Grave films, that poor victim in Cannibal Holocaust, the women of all other TCM old and new, and Last House on the Left films/remakes/sequels.

By the way, I know those Evil Dead tree rape scenes are tough to watch.  If this is unnerving you about future afternoon strolls in the park or planting a shade tree on your lawn, maybe look into 11 Trees I wouldn’t want in my front yard (or our Podcast Discussion on those Nasty Trees).

2. A dog by any other name… I was particularly impressed by the use of the dog in Evil Dead (2013)—subtle yet powerful. Rather than simply barking in the presence of evil and being a canary in a mine shaft, this dog was introduced as a point of comfort while revealing a psychologically traumatic experience to come: the cold turkey cleanse.  That poor dog (named Grandpa; likely implying a tough family loss) becomes a victim—we don’t see it transpire much, although it’s powerfully and brutally insinuated.  Quite contrary to the standard employment of dogs in horror it never goes after anything, never barks to warn anyone, and never stays close as if watching over anyone.  No…this dog is symbol of Mia’s humanity…and how much of her soul remains intact over the course of the film.  When Grandpa is found moments shy of death in the shed, Mia’s possession-compelled actions boil and blister the last of her humanity.  And when Grandpa dies, so lost is what we once knew of Mia.  Grandpa’s journey parallels Mia’s, and serves as the inverse measure of the demon’s hold on her.

You’re all free to accuse me of reading too much into this or manifesting meaning where there’s none.  But the moment we were introduced to that dog on screen and Mia uttered his name I quivered when she called him Grandpa.

3. Why stay in the house? This intervention crew (i.e., Mia’s friends) is dedicated to task. Because really…shouldn’t they have relocated?  Yeah, I said it.  I know for horror movies to work we often rely on the stupid decisions of our protagonist victims.  But come on.  There was a weird smell and they discovered 89 brutally gutted animals hanging from the ceiling in a putrid state of decay in the basement.  It may not have been the smartest decision to stay, but we all aren’t the smartest, are we?  But perhaps they should have stayed.

They stayed out of dedication and love, however misled.  We are informed that Mia had endured (and failed) detox interventions and her brother warned that she’d probably not “survive” another.  They had to do this now—dead cats and creepy barbed wire books in the basement or not.  It may not be the best justification for staying in that “murder cabin” which was broken into for some clearly satanic ritual and basement pyre using the most frighteningly gift-wrapped book ever…but it’s still a justification.  Think about it.  At least they gave us one—and it’s one that some of us may have even endured ourselves.

4. Not everything need be explained. And what about those cats hanging in the cellar? The film doesn’t take the time to explain why they’re hanging there. They’re just there.  If you understand their connection to witchcraft and cleansing, then you do.  If you don’t, you can either inquisitively look it up or remain baffled as if it was just there for the sake of being effectively gross set design.  As someone who understood its significance, I appreciated it.  If you want to know more about the stimulating topic of historical felicide and its links to witchcraft, start digging into the internet.  A similar such reference surfaced completely unexplained in Warlock (1989): “You are to be hanged, and then burned over a basket of living cats.”  You can bet your ass I spent a few hours online reading historical accounts linking druidic practices to Medieval Spring Festivals with animal sacrifices and, ultimately, the burning of cats (an animal with purported connections to the Devil) beneath a hanged witch to cleanse all links of evil.

5. Less is more. Especially when talking about Evil Dead cabins, less is more—in that a tiny cabin can somehow house an epic chase scene (after Ash) featuring an unseen force tearing through the framework traversing an unreasonable distance. This was a replayed concept in this remake, but it wasn’t replayed at nearly the same volume.  In Alvarez’ hands, it was more tactfully and realistically handled.

I love the floorplan. I think the Zillow listing should read “a quiet, secluded getaway—your cabin in the woods can be both cozy yet surprisingly spacious.”  And by spacious I mean that basement was huuuuuuuge (kind of like Ryan Reynolds’ basement in The Amityville Horror remake).  It was like a room with a hallway that then led to the murder room—and apparently longer than the entire cabin’s floorplan.  And, oh nature.  Since 2013, only The Hollow (2015) could match the forestscapes that graced the genre.  I know what you’re thinking: “John, what about The Forest (2016)?” And to that I’d warn that however nice those woods looked (or however good Natalie Dormer looked), don’t watch that garbage movie (“Forest Horror” podcast discussion here).

6. Clichés do not equal flaws. A cabin in the woods done right is still a trope, but landing a well-executed trope is an art. Our victims find themselves stranded when recent rainfall causes flooding, marooning them on their secluded elevation with their ill-fated cabin.  Some viewers apparently thought this was ridiculous.  To that I must contest—is it sillier than what happened to the bridge in Evil Dead 2 (1987)?    And secondly, have you naysayers ever been camping in the mountainous woods?

As a biologist, I’ve done quite a bit.  And in 2011 a colleague and I couldn’t even reach certain campsites due to flooded roads and wet erosion-uprooted trees in the mountains (the Ozarks).  You see, in the mountains 2” of heavy rain means waaaaaay more than 2” of water, as all that rolls downhill.  The same thing happened to me in northern Queensland, Australia when I was “trapped” for a week after a tropical depression and after all the rain stopped.  The point I’m making for the skeptical flat-land-dwelling city slickers out there, is that heavy rain in or near the mountains results in flashflooding (all the time), much as you may have seen here in Evil Dead (2013) and in The Damned (2013; the highest grossing film of the year in Colombia, and bearing much Evil Dead influence). It doesn’t always take the forces of evil and warped bridges to strand someone.

7. The Locomotion of Evil. The original Evil Dead (1981) presented demon-possessed victims lop-sidedly dancing above the ground. Their bobbing levitation was erratic, disconcerting; clearly inhuman.  Rather than duplicate this, the present remake instead alters body control in lieu of demon-possessed minds.  As limbs swing to attack victims they do so with a lack of proper coordination…almost as if the arm was being swung by an external force.  This is especially evident when the one-armed Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) swings a crowbar at her boyfriend.  It feels darkly purposeful, as if the macabre puppeteering of the limb leaves no hope for remorse by the attacker.  That, and the twitching.  I liked the twitching.  Reminds me of trying to start a car with a weak or dead battery, or trying to pull on a glove that’s too small.

The loss of control is terrifying in horror movies as well as reality.  You don’t need to have seen A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) to have a fear of awakening paralyzed during surgery.  Even waking up after sleeping on your arm can be more than a bit unnerving.  Now imagine the apparent loss of control is in the body of a loved one, staggering towards you thrashing a sharp object with wildly erratic semi-limp arm.  Yeah, it’s weird!

8. Iconography need not equal repetition. Some criticize these new characters because none of them had the singular impact of Ash. But no character ever will hold a candle to Ash—too much of our horror history and education compares to him and he is a horror icon.  So why try?  Instead Ash’s quotables are rephrased and divided among the characters.  The same is done with the most famous scenes (e.g., the evil hand severing, who gets bitten, who takes charge for what reason and when, chainsaws and electric turkey carvers, locked in the basement), leaving no one completely helpless nor any one character the most probable or obvious hero (which I admit has some inherent fault to it, not having a clearly identified hero).

If you go to a remake because you love the original, you shouldn’t be disappointed when you witness something different.  Did you really want a carbon-copy of the same script simply executed with different actors and filmmakers?  Probably not.  Those of you who actually want modern play-by-play remakes should recall Cabin Fever (2016) or The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake).  If your love for the original was so easily befouled, you shouldn’t have gone to see this remake in the first place. There, I said it. Me? I go see them either way. God forbid someone try to give a product their own ideas or spin.  It may suck, sure.  It might.  But what percentage of horror movie releases are awesome to begin with?

9. It’s actually scary. Having now seen this movie three times (I know, not a lot, but enough), I can comfortably say this movie is a bit jarring. Basically nothing makes me jump anymore.  It’s all internalized and, even if scared/jumped/shocked, you would never know it even if you were watching me closely.  I won’t even flinch typically.  That said, in this remake there were moments I knew were coming yet still their execution and imagery managed made me jump (a bit).  Any such surprising scenes in the original would be accompanied laughter (by me, anyway—I’m pretty sick).  But some of the remake’s scenes still get me and put me on edge.  Not an easy task.  Bravo, Fede!

10. The filmmakers knew they’d get flack. Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) knew exactly what he was getting into when he signed on for this.  The moment new remakes are announced, the world population of horror fans divide into groups: those who are excited for anything honoring their past loves, those offended that anyone would consider remaking something that “doesn’t need to be remade,” and those in the indifferent crowd who will eventually see it either way when it hits Netflix or Redbox.  Just look at the internet reactions to the remake of Stephen King’s It (2017).  Many are excited, but the overall consensus isn’t exactly a confettied welcome party like the final scenes of The Phantom Menace or The Force Awakens. Fede took a risk and I think it paid off well.  Not just in terms of money, but respect.  Sure, you might not have loved this—you might have even hated it.  But I loved it.  And no one film is designed for everyone.

If you enjoyed my cinematographical deconstructive analysis, please check out my comparison of 2011 and 1982’s The Thing and John’s Horror Corner presents: Critically comparing the Poltergeist (2015) remake to the original Poltergeist (1982).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2017 12:17 pm

    I love the original but was glad they took this story in a new route. I still think there are some faluts in the pacing of the story but I liked the chraracters a lot and can go back to watch this again

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 15, 2017 2:17 pm

      Oh, for sure. And I’ll probably watch the original and/or Evil 2 more than the remake over the next 20-30 yrs–not limited to, but especially since grittier movies with fewer (or zero) laughs are a bit less rewatchable IMO. The film is not without its flaws but, as a fan of it, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the things that I felt were done well.

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