We can chastise reboots and remakes all we want, but many of us have to admit that we make concessions for gems, especially when one big-chinned Ashley Williams is involved. What other series or franchise have offered a movie, only to remake the very same flick (with some distinct changes) five years later, and then bring on a true sequel -- or prequel if you take the time traveling into account -- after that?
The Evil Dead sparked off one of horror's most beloved and respected franchises. It dared to make its own path in a world where most classics followed Randy's strict horror rules. (Virgins are safe? Pshaw. The trees can change that!) Sam Raimi created a bare bones, no-budget fright fest, and when laughs were just as plentiful as the fear, he re-morphed the world into a dialogue parade that sent Bruce Campbell to the upper throne of quotable cult fandom.
As Peter Martin wrote in his Evil Dead piece back in 2007: "Raimi, especially, was disappointed that people laughed, because he intended to make a straightforward horror flick." But he didn't just accept the unanticipated response, or fight against it. Raimi went with the fan love, and soon the world was graced with Mr. Fancy Pants himself, fashioning hands out of chainsaws and maturing from the lovable dud too scared to shoot his possessed and decomposing friends, to a lean, mean, time-traveling quote machine.
But that came later. First there was The Evil Dead.
Like many of its horror friends, the movie hasn't aged well. Old, big-budget affairs always wear the shackles of age, so it's no surprise when a micro-budget horror looks dated. But hold on. Yes, these days the faults help the campy feel, but there's also something beyond the rough. Though the film is scratchy, and at times downright blurry, you can see Raimi's future in each scene, just as you can see how far he's come. Here's a horror film where scary moments include a girl scratching a crappy likeness of Spongebob Squarepants into her sketchbook and horny, possessed trees. But the feature's also got style.
Watch the film again, ignoring the sometimes atrocious acting and bad production values. Imagine if the film had an all-star cast and money to spruce up every visual moment. Then the skill becomes obvious. With little monetary room to move, Raimi adds menace by having the camera glide across the ground, running towards its victims. Better yet, in one scene it floats through the air, following that classic car as if it's a hawk hunting weak prey. Even the simple thud of the bench against the cabin wall elicits fear with minimal effort. Dust, shadows, and angles bring chills that the ridiculous plot never can.
Although it doesn't have the same heroic bend that Evil Dead 2 has -- the first essentially boils down to mental torture porn with Ash as the victim -- it remains engagingly active, loving the other-worldly premise and gushing over the stupidity of its victims. Here we have the only noticeably cautious kid heading out into the woods alone, after hearing "join us" bellow from the trees. Was she expecting a civilized tea party? I'd bet "Come out so we can kill you!" would have been just as effective. And, even after the discovery of the destroyed bridge, and the demonic possessions begin, the group splits up. They're stupid enough to think that one can sleep alone in a bedroom (like getting an ankle cut apart by a pencil leads to sweet dreams), while a Kandarian version of her friend cackles from the basement below.
This just couldn't be a one-genre film. Its ridiculousness and earnestness were destined for comedic fame. But thinking about Raimi's wish for this to be straight-forward horror, and ignoring my weakness and yearning for more quotable Ash, I wonder: Should Evil Dead 4 ever come to be, should Raimi continue the comedic trend, or tackle a genre switch like he did back in the '80s? With his increased talents, I'd love to see him go back to that original story now, for a third time, and make it the first fest he was first hoping to craft.
And more Kandarian demon-fighting Ash, with boomstick, wouldn't be so bad either.
Let's keep it simple this week. Chew on the idea of a scary ED4, and weigh in with your own Evil Dead love.
As for next week, TIFF just kicked off, so I thought I'd pick one of my favorite TIFF films ever, so grab a gun, get dusty, and prepare for...
Next Week's Film: The Proposition | Add it to you Netflix queue (DVD, Blu-ray, and Streaming)
Last Week's Film: Before Sunset