A book which absolutely should not be read, a man who refuses to die, and enough blood and gore to make even the infamous Blood Countess squeamish. There is all of that and more in the new remake of Evil Dead, which swaps out original director Sam Raimi for Fred Alvarez and original star Bruce Campbell for Jane Levy. However, is this just another bargain basement remake of a beloved classic horror film that trades the charm and ingenuity of the original for emptiness and technical proficiency? Or is this the best thing to happen to cabin in the woods movies since, well, Cabin in the Woods?
We saw Evil Dead together and recently found the time to sit down to debate all of the above questions and venture off into multiple other directions as part of We Minored in Film’s semi-regular feature We Debate:
*SPOILERS ABOUT EVIL DEAD BELOW*
Julianne: I saw Evil Dead with extreme eagerness and anticipation. It has pretty good reviews, it’s based on a movie I really enjoy, and it promised to be bloody and loaded with viscera. Jane Levy plays a girl who has nearly died from an drug overdose. Two of her friends (Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci) and her estranged brother (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend (Elizabeth Blackmore) take her to a creepy, old family cabin to force her to detox once and for all. Levy gets possessed by a demon and gore ensues. What’s not to love? I was prepped. You?
Kelly: I feel as if you have been preparing me for this film for as long as we’ve known each other, with you gradually over the years diverting me away from my beloved 80s slasher films and suspenseful thrillers to the splatter-tastic original Evil Dead films and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. So, even though I wasn’t particularly optimistic this new Evil Dead would actually be good (no Bruce Campbell? I’m out) I was relatively certain I’d have no problem handling the gore.
Julianne: And how did that work out for you?
Kelly: So much blood. Why so much blood, Juli?
Julianne: What I am hearing is that you could have used more blood? I’d like to tell you that it’s not that gory, but I can’t do that with a straight face.
Kelly: And it would cheapen both of us. I have actually been shamed by this movie. We were a guy and a girl at a movie, but I was the one who winced a bit at the gore while you were next to me in the theater having mini-joygasms in response to each new blood splatter.
Julianne: When it comes to horror movies I may in fact wear the pants in this relationship.
Kelly: For torture porn and splatterhouse films that is absolutely true. Our respective reactions to the gore in this film are certainly the opposite of what you’d stereotypically expected given our genders. In fact, the first guy I told about our differing reactions to Evil Dead gave me such a disgusted look that if there was such a thing as a man card he would have taken it from me, ripped it up in front of my face, and then possibly taunted, “Are you going to cry, little girl?”
Julianne: What is it specifically about the gore that you find so horrifying? For me, the gore on display is so over-the-top it does not resemble reality enough to be unsettling. So, what gives?
Kelly: It’s not so much horrifying as it is simply tough for me to watch. It is definitely over-the-top, but it is clearly more realistic looking than the dirt cheap prosthetics of the original. Plus, apart from some nice one-liners from the school teacher (Pucci) the only humor on hand is whatever humor you can derive from the extreme lengths they have gone to with the gore, otherwise known as the “Holy shit! I can’t believe they just did that” effect. I think that completely works in the finale during which it literally rains blood. However, I massively prefer the approach Sam Raimi took with Evil Dead 2/Army of Darkness where the gore is coupled with hilarious slapstick comedy and a smirking leading man.
Julianne: Here’s a question for you: do you find a movie like this with its extremely gory content more disturbing than a film like Sinister which has a far creepier tone but less gore?
Kelly: Definitely Evil Dead. Even with its’ found footage elements, Sinister is a more of a traditional horror movie. I tend to enjoy that type of viewing experience more, but rarely do I ever wince at such films. It’s really just extreme violence which I sometimes find unpleasant. That’s not really Evil Dead’s fault, though.
Julianne: I thought the fault lay in the evil book wrapped in barbed wire, saying, “Don’t Open Me!” Would you argue the original Evil Dead is less gory or gorier than the remake?
Kelly: It’s not for nothing that the remake managed an R whereas the original was slapped with an X or what we would now call NC-17. The difference is not in the level of gore but in the presentation of it, which speaks to the massively different budgets of the two projects [note: the original was made for $350,000 whereas the remake cost $15 million].
Julianne: So, how does this one compare overall, for you, to the original Evil Dead?
Kelly: It’s almost an unfair comparison in that the original is a glorified student film and as such brings with it inherent budgetary limitations. The film begs to be graded on a curve.
Julianne: The first film looked like a movie made outside the studio system, which gives it an edge in my opinion. I find myself more willing to forgive a minimal plot and amateur screenplay, whereas the remake, as well made a remake as it is, is a product of the studio system [note: Evil Dead is distributed by TriStar Pictures, which is part of the Sony Pictures family of studios]. It’s a movie made to capitalize on a brand name and bring in money. As a result, there’s nothing that would be too upsetting for a mainstream audience. After all, the “tree attack” scene here is far less brutal than it is in the original.
Kelly: Yeah, this one is a lot less rape-y.
Julianne: That’s true. Instead of becoming a member of the Church of Dendrophiliacs she instead tastes the forbidden fruit that only a drug-addled young girl and a slimy, gelatinous demon can know.
Kelly: They don’t make Hallmark cards for that type of non-traditional union.
Julianne: I think Massachusetts does.
Kelly: And God bless them for it.
Julianne: I think what the movie is really missing is a Bruce Campbell type, that weird, quirky leading man that brings a sense of excitement and fun to the proceedings. The remake has the good-but-not-great Shiloh Fernandez as its leading man. However, the main character of the film is arguably Jane Levy, mostly known for ABC’s Suburgatory, which I do not watch, but I don’t find as instantly watchable. How do you feel Jane Levy is in this movie?
Kelly: I’d like to say fantastic, so I will. However, that might be blind loyalty, as her performance on Suburgatory has made me a fan. Her presence even tricked me into watching Fun Size. She is very game for the lengthy portions of the Evil Dead in which she is possessed and thus under make-up and prosthetics, but during the film’s first half and conclusion when she is just herself I found her to be an incredibly likeable lead. Her’s is the only performance in the film which stands out to me, though.
Julianne: It’s not a bad performance. However, based on that performance I wouldn’t watch a TV show or movie just because she is in it. On other hand, I have watched lots of stuff with Bruce Campbell just because he was in it (looking at you, Jack of All Trades) and wishing I hadn’t.
Kelly: Another problem from which the film suffers is an overabundance of exposition and rules. Bizarrely, they’re attempt to make more of a proper film than the original Evil Dead by adding a more thorough backstory and internal logic to the evil and an emotional through-line, i.e., the central sister-brother pair with the tragic past, ultimately gets in the way of achieving the charm of the original. Plus, their explanation of everything being tied to an ancient ritual sacrifice feels far too Cabin In the Woods-y, and offers up a set of rules they don’t completely follow.
Julianne: In horror films, when you start creating a lot of rules you create internal plot holes, and this movie has a few which you could drive Sam Raimi’s Delta ’88 Classic through.
Kelly: Is it time to play one of our classic How Did This Get Made?-esque logic games?
Julianne: Get your cheat sheets out and grab some pencil, readers. We’ve got some math for you.
Kelly: Okay. Here goes: there’s a book. It’s evil.
Julianne: I’m with you so far.
Kelly: I’d hope so because I’ve barely started. The evil book contains within it words from an ancient language which once spoken unleash a demonic force which attaches itself to the soul of a young woman (poor Jane Levy). It can and does possess others as well, but Levy is the demon’s anchor to the world thus meaning it all revolves around her. The end-game is for the demon to escape from hell by completing a ritual in which 5 human souls are sacrificed.
But, wait, there’s a loophole in that you mostly have to put holes through Levy’s character (dismemberment), burn her or bury her alive. All three solutions will result in her death but preserve her soul and disrupt the demon’s ritual until the next fool comes along and reads the invocation spell from the book.
Julianne: The problem really comes down to the end of the movie, which seems to imply the 5 soul quota has been met, but we can’t quite seem to figure out how.
Kelly: The first soldier down is the nurse (Lucas, a truly stunning woman made believably hideous once her character is possessed). The second to go is the brother’s girlfriend (Blackmore), who makes it longer than expected although the writing was really on the wall (written in her own blood, no doubt) once she sliced off her own arm to prevent the possession in her forearm from spreading to the rest of her body.
Julianne: She gave it quite the college try. However, let’s not breeze past this – this is a girl who hacked off her own arm, and that’s before she became evil! This left her, once possessed, with one arm to operate the nail gun she uses against the remaining humans in the cabin.
Kelly: I think we were both positive her hand was going to come back and cousin It-style attack everyone, ala Evil Dead II. We were wrong.
Julianne: That’s two down with three to go.
Kelly: The next is the school teacher (Pucci). So much crap happens to him that the black knight from Monty Python would be impresed. However, he does eventually and mercifully drop for the count as he can no longer argue that his many injuries are nothing more than fanciful flesh wounds.
Julianne: But it seems only fair. After all, he’s the reason we have walking, talking, taunting demons, because he’s the one who read from the book which contained the phrase “DON’T READ ME” on every other page.
Kelly: For him, instructions are mere suggestions, guidelines that may or may not need to be followed.
Julianne: He’s such a hipster that everything he sees he sees as irony. By that logic, he HAD to read that book, for what else could he do?
Kelly: Die, that’s what, and he was the third one to do so.
Julianne: The fourth to go is Levy’s character, who is buried alive and resuscitated by the most practical homemade defribulator machine I have ever seen. I’ll leave the medical lapses in logic the movie makes for another day.
Kelly: That should have been it, though. You kill the primary possessed girl and the demon is banished back to hell. This happens and we have a fake happy ending with brother and sister surviving together. Then the zombified school teacher attacks the brother, who becomes trapped inside the cabin with a possibly fatal wound. He heroically blows up himself, the zombie, and the cabin to save his sister. I still don’t understand why the school teacher would be possessed like that after Levy’s character has died, albeit temporarily, thus severing the demon’s connection to the world. But back to the math…
Julianne: So, the fifth is Levy’s brotha from the same motha, who gets all blowed up real good.
Kelly: Yahtzee! That’s five. Let the blood-soaked rain commence! And bring forth crazy the demon person who crawls out of the ground!
Julianne: But does the brother count because he is not possessed at the time he dies nor is he ever possessed at any point in the film? I wouldn’t think he would.
Kelly: Is it ever actually outright stated that the sacrificed souls have to have been possessed by the demon? Because I honestly can’t remember.
Julianne: It doesn’t outright state it, but it is sort of implied. If you can’t trust an evil demon to read you the fine print of a contract, who can you trust? What is this world coming to?
Kelly: Demons used to have real class, y’know.
Julianne: With the need for explanation and logic in the remake, some of the original’s unabashed get-them-to-a-cabin-and-watch-shit-happen charm is lost. When it comes to horror movies and explanation, less is definitely more. Can we move on to the ending because it’s…amazing! Jane Levy has to remove part of her arm from her own body not with a knife nor with a chainsaw but with mere leverage and pure human force. But does that mean she doesn’t use a chainsaw? No, it does not.
Kelly: I will grant you – that chainsaw bit was pretty damn good.
Julianne: It brought a smile to my face that only demons split in half by chainsaw can.
Kelly: An insanely specific smile, to be sure, but as someone who was there I can attest that the image of black blood and a newly bifurcated demon gleaned in your pearly white teeth. Everything about that ending is almost unassailable. However, while watching it I was still hung up on the logic of how on Earth our heroes had both won and lost at the exact same time.
Julianne: The subtext of the film seems to really be: don’t make noble sacrifices, they’re for chumps. It only does more harm than good.
Kelly: It is unquestionably hilarious that her brother goes out a hero yet his death dooms her completely and most definitely costs her an arm and possibly the onset of shock. So, what is the over/under on how long her character would be limping through the woods, dripping blood from where once was an arm, before good death takes her.
Julianne: I like to think that the weird maniac who scribbled “DON’T READ ME” across the book stumbles across her in the woods and rescues her.
Kelly: That weird maniac? Ash!
Julianne: That maybe true, and if it is, my mind is blown. After all, he does show up in the end-credits teaser scene, which is actually the one aspect of this movie we have no first-hand knowledge about. You hear us, readers, make not our mistake. Heed our warning and heed it well, don’t read the book, and don’t leave before the credits are over.
Kelly: What did we think of this movie?
Julianne: It is definitely worth seeing. It lacks the original’s homemade charm and go-for-broke craziness, but for a polished studio-produced remake it is pretty effective and certainly does not skip on the gore and violence.
Kelly: I prefer my Evil Dead with slapstick and a sense of humor, ala Evil Dead II. This remake is closer in tone to that which it is remaking, the first Evil Dead, which is unfortunate for my own personal preference. However, that’s more about what the film is not, which isn’t a fair criticism. For what the film is, though, it’s undeniably well-made, certainly better than the standard 80s horror movie remake. I think where you and I really disagree is how much of the movie we could stomach.
Julianne: I think you’re correct, Kelly, but I’m glad you weren’t in the fetal position at the end of the film.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s a real upgrade from Hunchback of Notre Dame. That’s emotional gore right there. I think I need a palette cleanser. Something brighter and cheerful. You seem to love that new show, Hannibal? Would now be a good time to start?
Julianne: [Hesitates] Yeah, sure. That show is all about palette cleansers.
Kelly: You’re tone of voice says, “No,” but your words say, “Yes.” I’m going to go with your words.
Julianne: Shine on you crazy, squeamish diamond.
Below is an All-Audiences trailer for the Evil Dead re-make. There are several redband trailers available which do not hold back on the gore.
- New Evil Dead Infographic Breaks Down the Carnage Between the Original and the Remake (dreadcentral.com)
- I LOVE That Scene: A Living Room Goes Insane in Evil Dead II (weminoredinfilm.com)
- Evil Dead: Now vs. Then (scaredshirtless.wordpress.com)