There is an obsessive, cultish hysteria surrounding the original Evil Dead trilogy. Very few film franchises have bred such a feverish fan base as that of the Deadites; it is as though the film its self was given license to possess the living. However, was the fanaticism born from the ferocious ingenuity of the splatter filled original, or was it congealed by the bonkers sequel with its unique take on slapstick horror? The answer seems clear when you realize no one quotes the original. All the classic lines: “Groovy”, “I’ll swallow your soul”, “Give me some sugar baby”, “This is my boom stick!” are from the later two films. Very rarely do you hear: “For god sake, what happened to her eyes!” or “Kill her if you can, loverboy”. This could be attributed to the fact the original film is less concerned with having fun and more interested in punishing the audience as sadistically as their little budget would allow. This overt mean-spiritedness makes for a film that’s less of a rip-roaring party and more of an intense attack on the senses that both rips and roars. What the remake of Evil Dead latched onto is this sense of unrelenting horror. All it wants is to make you squirm, scream and vomit, and it achieves all of these things admirably.
Before we dive right into this exhaustive comparison between The Evil Dead and its remake, here’s a warning. If you haven’t seen either of these films, or if you have only seen one of them, or if you have only seen half of both of them, do not go on past this point. You’ll regret it. I’m not saying by reading any further you’ll unintentionally invoke some demonic spirit in the woods, but you will spoil it for yourself and there’s just no going back from that.
The first difference one notices is the dollar sign. It’s obvious the original film was scrounging for pocket change while the remake was at least modestly budgeted. What does that mean beyond an aesthetic level? Well, in terms of film production, money can either be a blessing or a curse. For instance, it’s true that with little funds, the scope of a film becomes limited, however, that also means there’s little money at risk and therefore artistic freedom is granted more freely. Would you spend ten million dollars on a film about a woman cursed to continuously birth a full-grown pig? No, that’s disgusting and very few people would want to see it. But what if the movie only cost ten thousand dollars? Maybe then you would fund it, if the script were good enough. Not to worry, there is no giant pig birthing to be found in either of the Evil Deads. However, for a film whose mandate is to push the envelope and get under people’s skin, the freedom to do shocking things becomes crucially important. Usually that freedom is beaten down by the money people who fret not about a film’s purpose, but rather, the masses ability to digest said film.
This brings us to tree rape. In the original, one of the female leads ventures out into the dark forest alone and is sexually brutalized and eventually penetrated by the woods themselves. It’s bizarre, outrageous and shocking, but the original production could get away with it, cause who was watching? Now here comes the remake. Surely they’d have to tone down some of that craziness. Nope! They just made the phallic tree branch ever more slimy and grotesque. For the refusal to deliver a film unworthy of the original’s bombastically vicious intent, the remake should be praised.
Although most of the remake is played with a straight face, it does allow for a few winks… or maybe they were just facial twitches, one cannot be sure given the grim circumstances. Either way, they were delightful. Some were obvious, like the infamous Raimi-mobile first used in the original film, now rotting in the cabin’s backyard. Some were subtler, like the sentimental necklace being laid out on the ground in the shape of a skull, as it was during the original’s finale. Between one-handed heroes and repeated lines, it’s clear the filmmakers were also huge fans, but not so much as to let the film become nothing more than a limp love letter, as is the fate of so many films that try to pay homage.
Evil Dead turned out to have striking similarities to The Hills Have Eyes remake in terms of their relationships to their predecessors. Both of these remakes are spawned from truly gritty low budget cult classics (the original The Evil Dead even has a torn poster of The Hills Have Eyes in the cellar as a kind of friendly challenge between filmmakers). Neither of the remakes shied away from the horrors of the original films, nor did they have the audacity to think they could do better. They simply wanted to do more. It’s not about reinventing the wheel – why would you, especially if the wheel has been on a roll for the better part of thirty years?
Now, some people might say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but what’s the point of a grotesque remake of a grotesque film?” What’s the point of grotesquery? In a way, that’s what Evil Dead has been about from the very beginning. It’s about an unstoppable malevolent force ripping through young flesh and reducing it to its most detestable form. It’s about experiencing the corruption of both body and soul. There are times when the reality of our existence hits us, and it usually hits us pretty hard. To get through the day, we numb ourselves to the notion that life is almost comically fragile, otherwise, how could we chance stepping out into the world? To relieve the pressure and to honestly face the horrors we so quickly hide from, we turn to films like Evil Dead. Their cathartic nature is something that appeals to that pent up anxiety and helps alleviate it.
Unfortunately, every silver lining comes with a dark and foreboding storm cloud. When The Evil Dead was originally released, Stephen King called it “the most ferociously original horror film of the year”. Truly, the power of the first Evil Dead was in its freshness and ferocity. The remake has the ferocity, but sadly, simply by definition, cannot deliver on the freshness. Although Evil Dead was a brutal, gory romp, at the end of the day, it’s just another remake. There comes a time when all trends should end and it’s about time we laid this one to rest. And by rest, I mean of course we need some bodily dismemberment first. We don’t want this one coming back.