Second Time Around: Evil Dead (2013)

Way back in our very first episode, we reviewed the original The Evil Dead from 1981, as well as Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake. Earlier this week I went back and looked at our ratings for those movies and was shocked to see that I only gave the remake a five. I remember liking it, so why the relatively low rating? I decided to give it another watch and try again.

I think the biggest reason for the rating was that we were comparing and contrasting it with the original. The Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell version is a classic, if only for nostalgia’s sake. If you’re watching the remake in hopes of it capturing the same feel of the original, or hoping for a true carbon copy with only technological upgrades (which I think I was upon first watch), you’re going to be disappointed. However, in and of itself, Evil Dead is a very good movie.

The opening scene gives us some backstory to the cabin, although not much. While often times giving away too much of a character or story’s past can muddle up the concept (see: Rob Zombie’s Halloween), this one doesn’t really offer much more than a previous family suffering the same ill-gotten fate that awaits our protagonists. It’s an unknown date and time, where an unknown father and daughter are surrounded by unknown “good people.” The daughter is clearly possessed and must be dealt with. That’s really all we get. This scene could have been omitted and no one would have noticed, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t serve its purpose, which is to immediately place into the watcher’s brain a sense of what can happen if a deadite (a word never used in this film, although not in the original either) seizes your soul.

The story line here is immediately different than its predecessor. Instead of four college kids on spring break, we see four twenty-somethings (David, Eric, Olivia, and Natalie) heading to a cabin in the woods to detox David’s sister, Mia (played by the increasingly amazing Jane Levy) from a heroin addiction. Already, sticklers for the source material are tuning out. However, Alvarez peppers the movie with homages to the original (undoubtedly with some inspiration from producer Sam Raimi). Ash’s Pontiac is there. The lullaby is there. The “demon cam” is there. Even the scene in the cellar is ripped from the same celluloid. Perhaps calling this movie an homage is a more accurate representation.

It’s been three years since this movie came out and many more remakes have come and gone. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had to get used to them, perhaps I’ve matured, but I’ve changed my outlook on them. I always thought that The Evil Dead was the kind of movie that warranted a remake; a great story hamstrung by budgetary constraints. Before – like when we reviewed this movie the first time – I wanted a, more or less, shot-for-shot remake with simply bigger gags and better effects. I didn’t get that with this.

I did get that with the 2016 remake of Cabin Fever and I didn’t care for it, although that could also have been for the lack of heart that one displayed in my opinion. It felt like a fan film, like a bunch of guys who really liked the original just wanted to act it out themselves. Evil Dead, on the other hand, feels like Alvarez’s love letter to the original. It has all of the highlights, wrapped in a totally new plot. Sure, if it didn’t have Raimi’s blessing or had a different title, it would be nothing more than a ripoff. But with those things, it’s the most literal definition of a “re-imagining,” as chagrin-inducing as that word may be.

As with most remakes, your enjoyment of this film depends heavily on your mindset. Don’t expect The Evil Dead. DEFINITELY don’t expect Evil Dead 2 (although there are some major references to it). There are no hammy Bruce Campbell quips. There’s not even an Ash. Mia is not a “female Ash.” She is her own character. This is its own movie. In fact, it may just exist in the same universe as the original. Similar to how Evil Dead 2 was both a remake and a sequel, this one is part remake, part reboot, part sequel. If you treat it as such, but with a fondness for the best parts of Raimi’s classic, you’ll really enjoy it. I know I did once I stopped trying to point out all the things they “missed” and appreciated the dread, the violence, and the gore.

I’m still not a fan of that ending, though.

Original rating: 5 | New Rating: 7.5

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