Sunday, February 21, 2016

Franchises: The Evil Dead. Evil Dead (2013)

You haven't experience many films, have you?
This is a prime example of a movie that, had it not been for this blog, I would have never seen. Not being a fan of this franchise, its development had no impact on me whatsoever and the TV ads that I saw in the time leading up to its release didn't pique my interest either. It didn't look any different from the numerous other remakes of 70's and 80's horror films and what little I heard about it after its release confirmed that feeling. While there were some people who truly enjoyed it, the general consensus seemed to be that it had some really impressive gore but the rest of the movie was completely forgettable. If you've seen my review on the slasher movie The Prowler (aka Rosemary's Killer), you'd know that good gore effects alone aren't enough to save a movie for me and so, after that summation, I definitely was not at all interested in seeing this. But, when I decided to review this franchise, I figured, "Might as well talk about all the movies while I'm at it," and so, I found it online to watch the night I finished my review of Evil Dead II. I watched it a second time before doing this review simply because I don't like reviewing something when I've only seen it once but, regardless, this could possibly be the freshest perspective I've ever brought to one... and that perspective is that the general consensus was right. This film does have great gore effects, especially during the climax, and it's nice that they decide to stick with practical effects rather than over-use CGI, but that's all it has going for it. I may not really like the original film but, in addition to the gore, it also had Sam Raimi's innovative directing style and some nice bits of atmosphere to compensate for the meager budget, whereas this $17 million film (the biggest budget the series has ever gotten) is just another dime-a-dozen, visually murky remake with some Abercrombie and Fitch-like teenagers as the cast. Even worse, at least Raimi tried to use cliches and familiar tropes of the genre to come up with something unique; this is just another generic demon-possession film that steals from The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Asian horror flicks like The Grudge and comes across as nothing less than tired as a result. I was originally going to make this an entry of Movies That Suck but I couldn't really do that since it didn't actually make me mad or bore me tears (although I was disinterested throughout) but, at the same time, it's still not a good movie. It's a pointless, unoriginal waste of 91 minutes, time that could be much better spent doing just about anything else.

As usual with these remakes, they picked an young, unknown director with no experience in features to make the film (why not, for a change, get someone experienced who also loves the original movie?) In this case, it's Fede Alvarez, a director from Uruguay who'd only done some shorts up to that point, particularly Ataque de Panico (Panic Attack), a little science fiction short that was reportedly made for only $300 and had Alvarez doing everything, including the visual effects. This short was what impressed Sam Raimi and his production company, Ghost House Pictures, enough to where they wanted to work with him. Initially, they were going to have him make a big budget sci-fi picture but when that didn't happen, they offered him Evil Dead instead, which he also co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues. In the years since this film, Alvarez has, at this point, only directed an episode of the From Dusk Till Dawn TV show, although according to IMDB, a horror film he directed called A Man in the Dark is due out in August of 2016 and he also plans to do a film adaptation of the video game Dante's Inferno, as well as a possible sequel to this film since it did pretty well (because, yeah, let's continue to drag this out; it can only get better).

One thing they can't seem to avoid with these remakes is take the fairly simple plot of the original and make it more complicated. In the original Halloween, Michael Myers was simply someone who was born evil and had a need to kill even when he was a six-year old kid, whereas in Rob Zombie's remake, it's because he comes from a bad, white-trash family; in the Friday the 13th films, you either had a group of counselors going to Camp Crystal Lake to reopen or a group of kids going somewhere in the vicinity just to have some, whereas in the 2009 movie, you have that as well as Jason Voorhees kidnapping a woman and her brother coming to look for her; and in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, you had Freddy Krueger basically being a demon who stalks kids in their sleep as revenge for being burned alive, while in the horrendous 2010 movie, you have a complicated backstory between him and the kids, that he molested them, which they don't remember, and he got lynched for it. It's the same thing here. The set-up for the original Evil Dead was about as simple as you could get: five college kids go up to a cabin in the woods to have some fun. Here, you have a bunch of kids there as an intervention for a heroin addict, as well as the cabin belonging to the family of the brother and sister there and it being the sight of a grisly ritual to expell a demon. You get this same scenario with just about every one of these remakes and, while no one wants another shot-for-shot remake like Gus Van Sant did with Psycho and sometimes, it does work, it gets tiresome after a while and you wish they would just try another simple plot, like what Zack Snyder did with Dawn of the Dead or even what Marcus Nispel did with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by having it be some kids on their way to a concert (in fact, that's an example of an inverse since the original had the more complicated plot of the kids driving out to make sure a loved one's grave wasn't disturbed and with one of them being disabled).

My biggest problem with the original Evil Dead was that the acting wasn't that great, a couple of the characters were rather bland, and the dialogue was sometimes downright idiotic. My biggest problem with the remake also has to do with the cast, who may not have as many dumb lines to say (although the f-bomb is dropped a lot throughout the film, another annoying aspect of the majority of these remakes) but are all still very bland and played in ways that range from passable to just forgettable. They also try to make you care by giving most of them something of a backstory but it's ultimately not enough to make them memorable or to make care about them when things really start going down. Case in point, our lead, Mia (Jane Levy). We're told that she's trying to kick a heroin addiction that she's had for a while, that her friends already tried this type of intervention once before and it failed, she overdosed, we see her going through the torture of withdrawals, and we also learn that her brother David virtually abandoned her to take a job in the city and left her to deal with their dying mother, who at some points thought she was David and she simply played along. We're told that she feels a lot of resentment towards David for that, which the demon brings up when it possesses her, and that, coupled with her drug addiction, is why we should care about her... but I, for one, don't. Some have praised Levy's performance but I don't think she was all that compelling. In fact, there are a number of moments where her facial expressions and her acting come across as laughable, particularly in the scene where she melodramatically tells David that they have to get away from the cabin and that she thinks something in the woods is now in the cabin with them. And when she gets possessed, she's not scary in the slightest and simply talks like Pazuzu while making jerky movements like Emily Rose. Particularly during the scene where she's telling Natalie not to cut her arm off, I just sat there and thought, "Really? You honestly think this type of performance is going to freak anybody out after it's been parodied to death?" Finally, they try to make a big deal about her being cleansed and freed of the demon to become the only one left standing to send it back to hell but, like everything else about her, it doesn't leave an impact at all.

Even less impactful is Mia's brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), the closest thing this movie gets to an Ash equivalent, which is pitiful. Like Mia, they try to make us care about this guy because of the guilt he feels over abandoning his sister for a job, leaving her alone to care for their dying mother and never coming to see them even at the end, and also because of the lengths that he goes to help her, attempting to drive her to a hospital when she gets ready bad, only to find that the road has been wiped out by a flood, and cleansing her of the demon per a ritual in the Book of the Dead, but it's ultimately meaningless because of the bland performance he gives. This guy has no personality to him at all. Even when he's trying to come across as scared or concerned, it doesn't feel genuine. Because of that, I couldn't have cared less about all of the crap he goes through to save his sister, including sacrificing himself along with one of the possessed by blowing up the cabin. I may not have cared much about Bruce Campbell's first performance as Ash in the original movie but at least he looked as if he was being physically and emotionally tortured by what was going on; this guy needs some kind of stimulant just so he can get some life into him. (He knows how to make good use of duct tape, though; he even uses it as a bandage when a real one isn't at hand.)

The rest of the characters I don't care about either but, if there's one person to honestly dislike, it's Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). Why? Because he's the guy who unleashes the evil and for no other reason other than he can't mind his own damn business. When they go down into the cabin's cellar for the first time, they not only find dozens of dead cats hanging from the ceiling but they can also smell something like burnt hair and something on a table that's not only wrapped up in a garbage but also bound in barb-wire. That should be a big clue that this thing is not to be trifled with but Eric takes the thing up to his room, snaps the barb-wire off, and rips open the bag to find this book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. This still doesn't sound off any alarms for him and neither do the blatant warnings inside the book, which are written in big bold, red letters, to not mess with it. He reads aloud some incantations that he finds inside and even uses tracing paper to bring up one that was rubbed out, the one that unleashes the evil. Dumbass does not even begin to describe what this guy does. However, he gets punished for it in that he's the one who takes the most abuse in the film: he slips and falls in the bathroom, gets stabbed around the eye with a hypodermic needle, gets shot repeatedly with a nailgun, gets his left hand split open with a crowbar, and ultimately gets a deep stab wound in the side that does him in. Other than that, there's nothing else to say about him besides the fact that he looks like a hippy and that his relationship with David is particularly strained in that he hasn't heard from him since he moved to the city. They do reconcile before he buys it, just in case you cared (and I doubt you did).

For anybody who was annoyed that none of the previous films had any African-Americans in the cast, the remake makes up for that with Olivia (Jessica Lucas)... and she's the first one to get killed. What's worse is that the most memorable thing about her is how she mutilates herself after she becomes possessed, attacks Eric with a hypodermic needle, and gets her head bashed in by a big chunk of the toilet. Before she gets possessed, though, she's as bland as everyone else. She's the one who's determined to make this intervention work after the last one failed. is convinced that they can help Mia without taking her to a hospital, and unlike Eric, doesn't hold a grudge against David for leaving to take a job in the city, which are all aspects of the character that don't mean anything to me since she never does anything that makes herself all that endearing. But, as shallow as the other characters are, at least they have some semblance of a backstory, which is more than I can say for David's girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). She has nothing to her and, for most of the movie, she just stands around and does nothing, which really sucks because I think she's the prettiest of the three women in the movie. In fact, as the film unfolded, I became more disappointed since I knew going into it that the last person standing would be a woman this time and I figured that it would be Natalie once Mia got possessed and Oliva was killed. I thought this would be their way of doing a twist on the original's technique of making the last survivor someone who was initially just another face in the group and, even though she's the character who has the least amount of substance to her, we would up rooting for her as she battles the evil by herself. But no, she mutilates herself even more horrifically than Olivia, gets possessed, and is killed, while Mia is eventually cleansed of her possession and becomes the lone survivor (and only for the film's climax as well, whereas in the original, Ash spent the entire third act fighting off the evil by himself).

Throughout the film, Fede Alvarez tries his best to emulate the unique camerawork and editing that Sam Raimi brought to the original film. After the film's title screen, he has an upside view of the road leading to the cabin, big wide-shots of the David's van driving there, a tight push-in on the old-style clock on the wall that's very reminiscent of the original, the return of the POV shot of the evil force flying through the forest (which is now going so fast that it threatens to break the sound barrier) and chasing Mia later on, and a couple of times where there's a moment of very quick, sped-up panning followed by the sound cutting out for a couple of seconds to emulate a sharp blow to the head that someone received. Not only have some of these techniques been done to death and don't feel at all original anymore, especially the last one I just described, but the thing about Raimi's use of them in the original is that he had no money and rather primitive tools to work with and yet, did it anyway to make the film stand out from other low-budget horror films made around that time, whereas this is a big-budget movie that can afford the finest in advanced camera equipment, makeup effects, and CGI, and so it only feels like Alvarez is showing off. Take for instance that big pull-back on the wrapped up Book of the Dead sitting on the table that eventually reveals Eric sitting there, looking at it, and the quick cuts to other relevant scenes, like when David and Eric go down into the basement and, when they comment on how something was burned down there, we get a brief, silent cut to the prologue where a possessed girl was burned alive down there. Back in the late 70's when the original was filmed, that kind of stuff may have been interesting but by this point, it's far from original and is just style over substance. What's more, it's always irritating when filmmakers throw so many nods to the original film into a remake, like they don't understand the concept of making something your own (what's worse is that if the remake is terrible, it's only going to make you wish you were watching the original). But those similar technical aspects are not the most blatant reminders of the original Evil Dead that this film has to offer. When David and Natalie arrive at the cabin, you can faintly hear, "Join us," and later on when the evil force blasts its way into the cabin, if you listen closely, you can hear an audio clip from the original of Cheryl going, "One by one, we will take you." Over the latter part of the ending credits, you hear the audio recording of the professor talking about his discovery of the Book of the Dead and the evil he has unwittingly unleashed. They even do a new version of the, "I'll swallow your soul," "Swallow this exchange," from Evil Dead II at the end when Mia kills the main demon. But the most baffling callback comes after the ending credits, when Bruce Campbell suddenly appears in shadow, says, "Groovy," and sharply turns to look at the screen. That just dumbfounded me, to say the least, because of how pointless it was. And no, Bruce, this movie is not groovy.

I can't put my finger on why but the cabin and the surrounding woods don't have the same eerie quality to them that the original film did. I think a big part of it, though, is that the original cabin was an actual place that they just found and naturally looked the way it did, whereas the cabin here looks the way Hollywood would try to portray an old, run-down place like this. Another part of it is that this is another remake that has the over-stylized, muted look of a music video, and I know a lot of people are probably rolling their eyes, thinking, "God, here he goes on that tangent again," but I cannot express how sick I am of this look. If used well, it can establish a creepy mood, but most of the time it seems like filmmakers do it simply because it looks cool. Sepia tones, lots of backlighting, and big shafts of light do look interesting when you see them for the first time (as I felt when I first saw the 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) but, when you see this look over and over again, it loses a lot of its luster and becomes very ho-hum. Plus, in this case, it does not make the cabin and the woods look scary in the slightest. And finally, adding in a bunch of dead cats hanging from the ceiling in the basement and the remains of a demonic-cleansing ceremony is nowhere near as creepy as the rundown look of the basement in the original film, with the pitch-black, the constant sounds of dripping water, and the discovery of the Book of the Dead and everything else down there only adding to the feel.

After the cast, the thing about this movie that really struck me is how utterly uncreative the depiction of the demons is. Like I said in my introduction, I can respect Sam Raimi for trying to come up with his own unique take on demons and possession, with the only "borrowed" element being the voices, which did call The Exorcist to mind, but here, the filmmakers did nothing but plaguirize not only that movie but numerous others about possession. The look of the possessed is that pale, malnourished design, with the sunken eyes and such, which brings to mind what Regan looked like when she fell completely under possession. They're well-designed and disgusting, especially Olivia and Natalie's, but they're nothing you haven't seen before, as is the self-mutilation they tend to perform. The jerky movements that they tend to make bring to mind The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, and countless other movies, including [REC] and even The Descent when the possessed Oliva is crawling across the bathroom floor towards Eric. But by far the most unoriginal thing about them is that they often curse and verbally abuse their victims like Pazuzu. The scene that really brought that to mind is when Natalie is dragged into the cellar by the possessed Mia, who, right before kissing her, says, "I can smell your filthy soul," and, "Kiss me, you dirty cunt!" And after David pulls Natalie out, Mia snarls, "Why don't you come down here so I can suck your cock, pretty boy?" and follows that up with, "Your little sister's being raped in hell!" She might as well have said, "Your sister's sucking cock in hell." There are other moments, like when Mia is told near the end, "You're gonna die here, you pathetic junkie!" and the crap that possessed teenager hurls at her father at the very beginning of the movie, letting you know right off the bat what you're in for, but I think you get the point: the lack of originality here is stunning.

The thing about the demons that really confused me is the main evil force behind everything, which is called the Abomination in the credits (the only Abomination I know is Tim Roth but that's beside the point). Even though I now realize that it looks like Mia when she's possessed, I initially thought that the figure she encounters in the forest that ultimately does take control of her was the teenage girl who you see burned alive in the prologue and that she was also what rises up out of the ground and attacks Mia during the climax. We learn that the Book of the Dead tells of an evil force that, once it's feasted on five human souls (I guess the other demons that possess everyone else act as a conduit for this force), will allow the Abomination to rise up and make the skies rain blood, so I figured that it was still using that teenager as a host. However, after rewatching the movie, I realized that it always takes the form of Mia even when it's not possessing her... for some reason. That really confused me, especially when I read that the name of the actor who plays both the possessed Mia and the Abomination was Randal Wilson, which sounded like a guy's name to me. In any case, it has nothing to do with the teenager at the beginning, except that the Abomination was possibly inhabiting her at first, making that prologue pointless. And it's possible that I'm completely wrong about that too but this movie's mythology is so confusing and I have such an indifferent opinion on it that I really don't care. Also, does the description of a creepy, pale girl with dark hair obscuring her face remind you of anything, say just about every Asian ghost movie you can imagine? I guess I shouldn't be surprised since Sam Raimi produced the American version of The Grudge but I thought we'd had our fill of that look and had moved on.

As for the look of the Book of the Dead, it does look better than it did in Army of Darkness, definitely looking like it's bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, but like I've said, they could never recreate the visceral quality of the book in the original film. While the drawings inside it look fine and it does have something of a creepy vibe to it, I miss the face on the cover (doesn't it look bland without it?) and it still looks like a well-made prop rather than something genuine. It does look ominous when you first see it wrapped in a black plastic bag and with barbed wire around... although, again, that, along with those blatant warnings written on the pages, should have been a clue to Eric that this is something to leave alone, but whatever. Although, it's weird how, more so than in any of the previous movie, the book is a guide to how the demonic possession works and how to free those who do become possessed. It's almost like Demonic Possession for Dummies in that regard. However, I do like how here, the book cannot be burned like in the original, ruling out the possibility of ending it all that way.

The gore may have been the best aspect of the original Evil Dead to me but I could also appreciate other aspects of the film, whereas it's the only thing this film got absolutely right, which is kind of a shame. But, that said, the gore here is quite a sight to behold. It not only trumps the original by sheer volume but, at some points, it reaches Dead Alive levels of craziness, making it quite possibly the goriest demonic-possession movie ever. Among the grisly sights are, along with the dead cats in the basement, a dead dog that Mia apparently killed off-camera; Mia vomiting blood all over Olivia; the latter slicing off a big chunk of her cheek with a piece of broken glass when she becomes possessed; Eric getting stabbed around his right eye with a hypodermic needle, which is followed up with a close-up of him pulling out a piece of the needle from underneath his eye (that's really cringe-inducing to watch); Mia slicing her tongue open with a box-cutter (which is never touched on again and, after the demon leaves her, she's perfectly fine) before giving Natalie a bloody, lesbian kiss; a bite wound that she left on Natalie's left hand spreading an infection throughout her arm, causing it to look horribly diseased, and she deals with it by cutting it off with an electric knife, splashing blood all over her face and the floor; Natalie shooting herself in the face with a nail-gun before shooting Eric and David with it, as well as splitting Eric's hand open with a crowbar, before getting her other arm blown off by a shotgun; David getting slashed with the box-cutter before Eric gets it in the stomach; and David getting stabbed in the neck. By the climax, it's literally raining blood as the Abomination rises up and that leads to more mayhem like Mia's knee getting cut open by a blade, the Abomination's legs getting sliced off by a chainsaw, Mia being forced to pull her own arm off when it gets pinned by a tumbling van, and finally, Mia taking the chainsaw to the Abomination's head and slicing it and the torso completely in half, sending gore everywhere before the body sinks back into the blood-soaked ground. It's all practical makeup effects, it's gross and horrific, and it's very well done. (This I can understand having problems with the ratings board, not Army of Darkness.) So, if you want a lot of brutal carnage and nothing else, this movie has you covered. It may not do anything else that well but, when the blood starts flying, it's hard to laugh while going, "Ew!" in delight.

There is some CGI to be found here, although it's used very sparingly. In fact, the only real blatant one that I can think of is a really dodgy fire effect when that possessed girl at the beginning is set ablaze. It doesn't look as bad as that close-up of Freddy Krueger's burning face in the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street but it's still a pretty weak effect nevertheless. The only other sequence where CGI may have been used that I can think of is the recreation of the tree scene from the original (since he was involved with the film, I'm surprised Raimi even let them do that considering how much he regrets the original) and even then, it somes like a lot of that was pulled off with physical effects instead. I'm pretty sure that the shot of the Abomination coughing up that black, worm-like thing was computer-generated but it crawling around the weeds and up Mia's leg may have been done practically (if it was indeed done digitally, it was really good). In conclusion, if there's any other compliment that I can give this film, it's that it was a rare instance of a horror film in this day and age not relying too much on CGI, which I wish we could get more of.

I don't remember a damn thing about the music score by Roque Banos, who has scored a lot of stuff but the only thing I recognized was The Machinist with Christian Bale. It's nothing more than a bunch of generic horror movie music that either drones in the background or becomes bombastic, only not memorably so, when all hell breaks loose. Joseph LoDuca's scores for the other movies may not have been favorites but they at least all had pieces that I could remember, whereas if you asked me to describe a specific theme from this score, I'd just sit there in awkward silence. Many give Steve Jablonsky crap for his scores to the Platinum Dunes remakes, saying that they're not at all memorable, but speaking for myself, I really like his music for their two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and I also enjoy parts of his score for their 2009 Friday the 13th, all three of which are scores I can remember with greater ease than this one.

I may not be a fan of this franchise but I can safely that Evil Dead is, without a doubt, the weakest of the bunch. There are many aspects of the other films that I can praise to high heaven, whereas the only compliments I can give to this one are to the amazing gore effects and the fact that the film is 98% CGI-free. Otherwise, there's nothing to this flick: the characters, despite the filmmakers' attempts to give them compelling backstories, are all bland and not worth caring about, the murky, music video look to the film is tired and doesn't give off any kind of atmosphere, Fede Alvarez tries to emulate the camerawork and editing that Sam Raimi put into the original film but it has none of the impact since he wasn't struggling with a shoestring budget and because it's all been done to death by this point, the film has that annoying habit that many remakes do of constantly reminding you of the original, the depiction of the demons and possession is cliched and unoriginal, the concept behind the main evil force is confusing in my opinion, and the music score is the definition of forgettable. It's just another overly serious (that's something I forgot to touch on in the review: there's no humor here at all), joyless, and needless remake that brings nothing new to the table. If you only want some practical, bloody carnage, you'll get that but, trust me when I say that's all you'll get.

As you should know by now, The Evil Dead is not my franchise. I can understand why it has such a strong cult following and why Sam Raimi went places after creating it but it's one that simply does not float my boat. The biggest reason for that was the timing. I was introduced to the Halloween series, the Friday the 13th series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and all the others at exactly the right times for me to become enamored with them (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre almost didn't make it by the time I saw the original movie but it grew on me), whereas by the time I got to The Evil Dead, the time had long since passed and the hype around all three of the films only added to the fatigue and disappointment I felt. So, as you can guess, I do not care what else comes of this franchise, be it the Ash vs. The Evil Dead TV show, the sequel to this that's supposedly in development, or the video games based off of it. The only reason I did these reviews is so I could finally say my peace on these movies and move on, which is what I'm now going to do. Hope you enjoyed them and we'll see you next time.

2 comments:

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  2. Very nice job on the review. Definitely agree on your thoughts with the remake.

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