Evil Dead vs. The Evil Dead

Evil Dead

Evil Dead

It is perhaps unfair to compare two movies that were made decades apart, most especially when one was made on a budget of less than $100 000 whilst the other was made with a budget of over $17 million, but when the two titles are from the same franchise, comparisons are inevitable.  Such is the case with the new Evil Dead film.

Director Sam Raimi on the set of "Army of Darkness" with Bruce Campbell.

Director Sam Raimi on the set of Army of Darkness with Bruce Campbell.

The Evil Dead was a low-budget horror film that was released in 1981.  It frankly was a slowly paced film that was influenced by classic horror films.  It was perhaps homage to, or perhaps simply a recycling of a regurgitation of horror films.  It takes a great deal of time to build up to the climax and uses clichéd suspense techniques that get over used in the film.  It seems every time there is a door that needs to be open, there is a pause and a close up of the door knob and then a hand enters the shot reaching slowly out.  This trick is repeated throughout and gets tiresome.  As far as suspense goes, the movie is an utter failure.  The make-up work in most scenes is pathetic at best, bu,t at the same time any great movie fan who recognizes the context can appreciate that this is a film made by a fan of film, not by an experienced film maker.  Sam Raimi would of course develop into a great film maker with a distinct voice, but he was not a great film maker when he made this film.  From the make-up, to the moon project onto a screen that doesn’t match with the night sky, to inconsistencies in hair and make-up, this film is filled with errors, but no errors that are bad enough to laugh at, simply the type one would groan at.

The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead

It does feature some clever work.  The claymation scenes at the end are beautiful, as is the stop-motion scenes that features vines and branches consuming one of the vacationing teens.  The work required to complete these scenes is evident and while not believable, are still great fun to look at and easy to appreciate.  One is reminded of the work of Hollywood special effects legend Ray Harryhausen whose fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argunaughts would serve as inspiration for Raimi in the third instalment of the Evil Dead franchise when Raimi resurrected his own army of skeletons to take on a medieval castle.

Jessica Lucas as Olivia in "Evil Dead".

Jessica Lucas as Olivia in “Evil Dead”.

The original film would spawn two sequels (or three if you count the new film as a continuation of the original films, which Raimi suggests is the case) and these films would define Raimi as the author of the horror comedy genre (one which was executed best by Raimi in Drag Me To Hell, but was perhaps even better performed in Cabin In the Woods which is very clearly a homage to Raimi’s work, and one where the student may have surpassed the teacher, thanks in part to a great cast featuring a brilliant comedic performance from Richard Jenkins).  The Evil Dead though is not funny in the way that Evil Dead II and Army Of Darkness are, and so does not have the tongue-in-cheek value of the follow-up films.  As a horror movie it is a valiant effort considering the context, but it ultimately fails due to Raimi’s want of experience and both the film’s limited budget and a lacklustre cast.

Jessica Lucas when she is not in horror-film make-up.

Jessica Lucas when she is not in horror-film make-up.

The new film, which differentiates itself from the original by dropping the “The” off the title, does not adopt the comedy angle picked up by Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, but rather stays true to the original film’s intent.  It is everything that the original film could have been had it had the budget and a decent (but still not great) cast.  It has scenes that genuinely build suspense, and even if it employs clichéd techniques, it doesn’t make the mistake of using them repeatedly and ineffectively.  The effects are also much better, gorier, and more effective in every way.  There is a scene where one possessed teen uses box cutters to slice her tongue in half, whilst another possessed teen cuts off a portion of her face.  These scenes are not for queasy or young viewers, but they are graphic and effective and guaranteed to make you shut your eyes.  The over-the-top scenes present in the original are there as well, with one teen vomiting an excessive amount of blood on another.

 

Aside from the typical gruesome and graphic horror film fair, the film does offer something else that was absent in the original film.  Mia, the protagonist of Evil Dead (and antagonist for much of the film), is a heroin addict seeking to rid herself of her addiction.  The visit to the cabin in the woods is meant to be a place where Mia can kick the habit and suffer through withdrawals without having any drugs to fall back on when the sickness hits her.  It is Mia who is first possessed and then becomes something other than who she is.  There exists then an interesting parallel between the possession of Mia by evil spirits and her addiction.  The possession causes her to act in ways that she would not have otherwise, and takes complete control over her.  This is how many view addiction.  Addiction can change people and consume them.  The sickness that accompanies withdrawals bring a pain that can impel people to do things they would have never considered doing before their addiction took hold of them, and so serves as a possession of sorts.  This lends the films more substance than the original had.  The original film seemed to be a novice’s attempt to make a horror film on a cheap budget.  Content did not seem to be the focus for Raimi, but that is not the case with this film.  It attempts to do more than simply scare and disgust the audience.  It carries some interesting commentary as well.

The Book Of The Dead.

The Book Of The Dead.

There of course is always something to be said for being the original, so in that case, The Evil Dead will always have a special place in the hearts of fans of the genre, but this remake, or reboot, or sequel, or whatever Evil Dead is meant to be is a far superior film on almost every level.  The “original” film was not even that original when it was released.  Evil Dead at least brings something fresh to the genre.  It is unfair to compare the two when the original was made by an inexperienced crew, a cast of actors who were cast because they were friends of the director in high school, and a budget that wouldn’t have even allowed them to pay for one established actor even if one were willing.  The new film had a budget that was literally over 212 times that of the original film.  The production crew was far more experienced (even if it was a first time director), and the cast was picked up through a more traditional casting process than was the original film and was peopled with actors whose resumes individually represented more work than the entire cast of The Evil Dead.  The original film is not without its merits, but Evil Dead is superior in every way.  Though it would have been nice to include a little claymation work in the more recent edition to the Evil Dead franchise.

 

 

And for those of you who are fans of the horror-comedy genre, be sure to check out Cabin In The Woods:

And also Sam Raimi’s triumphant return to the horror-comedy genre, Drag Me To Hell:

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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