I am a coward of epic proportions when it comes to horror movies. I also love them. I love Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi and Nosferatu and teen slashers Stephen King and Ray Harryhausen. I love it when a bunch of teenagers get themselves trapped in a haunted insane asylum where all the patients burned to death 50 years ago to this day. I love it when people are mysteriously summoned to an abandoned house on a hill and have to survive the night. I wasn’t always like this. In grade school, I spent my Saturday nights cowering under the covers while trying to get through an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? The first episode of The X-Files I ever saw was the one where Tooms chases Mulder under the escalator and it eats him and his goo spreads over the stairs. I’m 30 years old and I still have a mini-panic attack every time I take the escalator.
Most filmmakers don’t aspire to make art anymore, and that’s fine I guess. But it seems like the horror genre gets a bigger piece of that moldy pie, particularly when it comes to torture porn. Graphic violence for the sake of being graphically violent. No point, no artistic merit, nothing but gross shock-outs. Like, oddly enough, the romantic comedy, somewhere in the last decade filmmakers re-evaluated the horror genre, picked out its worst attributes, and highlighted them above all else. Their tactics haven’t failed. If people would stop wanting to watch Katherine Heigel make grumpy cat faces at Gerard Butler or young people getting sewn together, the world would be an altogether better place. And I wouldn’t have been sent to watch the pervasively unnecessary Evil Dead remake.
Mia is a heroin addict who enlists the help of her absent brother and their two friends and the brother’s girlfriend to help her kick the habit cold turkey. They trek out to their family’s abandoned cabin out in the middle of the wilderness and find it broken into, riddled with cat carcasses, and smelling of burnt hair. They decide to stay anyway, as you do. While discovering the dead cats hanging from the basement rafters, Eric, the Scotty replacement, finds a book that is clearly made of stitched-together human flesh (sans disfigured face) and does what NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD DO and reads from the damn thing. Despite the myriad warnings for him NOT TO DO JUST THAT he freaking does it anyway because he’s an asshole. He summons up a demon who has to take five souls down to hell in order to open the door for her master. How convenient, then, that there are five idiot kids in that stupid cabin, just ripe for the picking.
If you have made it to 2013 without knowing one of the characters in the original Evil Dead gets raped by a demonic tree, then I’m sorry but don’t come crying to me about spoilers. That scene is re-enacted here, and it’s even worse than you think. Mia spreads her possession around like an STD—seriously, she passes it through kissing, bloody vomit, and a bite which, sadly, doesn’t result in the girl staging a battle sequence with her hand. People die, then come back and die again, and the whole thing is resolved in a way that is somehow even dumber than the original. They didn’t even have the decency to toss in a solid cliffhanger for the inevitable sequel.
I can’t decide if Evil Dead is too graphic for traditional horror or not graphic enough for torture porn. The original did a lot of things poorly (a good 30 minutes of the movie was nothing but Linda laughing maniacally and Ash standing around looking shocked and vaguely squeemish). It’s easy to throw shade at a movie whose main aspiration is to trap five attractive people in a confined space and kill them off in increasingly vicious ways. But even the modes of dispatch aren’t all that creative or innovative. At least Final Destination had the decency to knock off a character by hitting them with an exploding neon sign. Evil Dead wants to make its audience uncomfortable, and for that it succeeds in spades, but that’s less to do with the violence and more to do with the characters being the dumbest people on the face of the earth. When Mia’s eyes change color and she goes crazy and vomits a good 10 gallons of blood on Olivia—who is a nurse and therefore not supposed to be this dense—she chalks it up to Mia going through withdrawal. This is also the same chick who not 10 minutes before convinced the group to commit a felony by illegally imprisoning Mia in the cabin to prevent her from leaving.
The thing that made the first Evil Dead movie so good wasn’t the horror, but Raimi’s filmmaking earnestness. He didn’t set out to make a campy schlock-fest but real horror. It doesn’t matter that he failed spectacularly at it. What matters is the craft he poured into the creation of that film. There is an artistry to it. If you watch the first film, there is genuine skill in the way the shots are constructed, the way the suspension is built, the way he uses light and darkness, shadows and colors, everything. One of my favorite shots in any film ever is the upside down shot of Ash where the camera starts over his head and turns to face him and his terrified, adorable mug. The remake pays homage to that shot but wastes it on a bunch random, non-raping trees who haven’t done anything, not even threaten Mark Wahlberg with their sinister happenings.
There is no talent in front of or behind the camera in the remake. No one took any time to make something with this picture. They threw in a ton of Easter eggs for fans, but they served no purpose except to say, “Hey, look, a car that looks like Ash’s! But this one is rusty and doesn’t run and you’re old.” The actors do the best they can with shoddy material, but they aren’t good enough to pull it off. Jane Levy (Mia) does competent work as a victim, but Ted Raimi made a much better possessed chick. Remember how pathetic Ash was in the first half of The Evil Dead? That’s the entirety of the character of David, Mia’s brother, and Shiloh Fernandez plays him like he’s auditioning for a late-90s WB teen drama. Eric’s only job is to ruin everyone’s day by releasing the demon, and Lou Taylor Pucci isn’t completely terrible at playing that part. The other two are insignificant insofar as characters; they exist solely as cannon fodder.
If you insist on seeing Evil Dead, at least have the sense to see it in a packed theatre on a weekend night. Don’t wait to Netflix it or sit through a mostly empty screening like I did. At least in a crowded screening you have a better chance of getting swept up in the action. Ultimately, it’s not a horrible movie—here’s looking you, House of Wax remake—but it’s pretty far from good. It’s biggest crime is not making a point for why it should exist. A remake should try to do something new with the material. All the 2013 version did was become more stomach-churning, and even that aspect wasn’t as gross as it could be. The tag almost, almost, almost makes the whole affair worth it. Almost.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.