Before we walk through the woods and enter the cabin, I’d like to take a moment and recognize Sam Raimi. Today is his birthday. Born this day in 1959, Sam has held a distinguished career. He’s directed numerous horror pictures adored by many twisted people and non-twisted people alike, worldwide. He’s got a fan base reaching from the dark Necronomicon fueled world of Evil Dead (1981) all the way past Darkman (1990) into the comic book world of Spider-man (which is still considered by many as the best film adaption to date). He’s even directed a little known western called, The Quick and the Dead (1995). He’s dabbled in television, and I’m not just talking about the highly anticipated return of everyone’s favorite chainsaw welding sassy hero in Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (2015), but also the short lived 90s shows, M.A.N.T.I.S and Legend of the Seeker. And he has also produced some amazing and totally underrated horror flicks, including both 30 Days of Night (2007) and The Possession (2012). And this is just a tip of the iceberg. Sam Raimi, in my humble opinion, is an amazing storyteller, not without his faults. His vision has a unique blend of terror and comedy that is often precarious to mix. Many couldn’t quite jive with his return to form with Drag Me to Hell (2009) with its strange formula of laughs and jolts of absolute fear…well, all but the true die hard fans. I actually loved Drag Me to Hell. It was wonderfully sadistic! In celebrating the macabre directors birthday, I thought it was high-time I reviewed his most legendary and longest lasting cult film, The Evil Dead (1981).
Longest lasting cult classic…? What does even mean? More to point, longest lasting, as in a franchise property in which is still being watched, talked about, and continued, to date. Sam’s Spider-man days are over. There are no more westerns. No more trips to hell. No more over the top 90s television action. No more blown apart scientists with one heck of an anger management problem. His one true lasting cult creation, is Ash and those demon bastards in The Evil Dead. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What a sec? Wasn’t there a remake of Evil Dead?” And though this as nothing to do with our discussion, I do have this to say, there was and there wasn’t. Confused? Good!
We can debate this all day long, and I’ve been in a few conversations on social media about this subject, but in my opinion, Evil Dead (2013) was not a remake or reboot. It was simply another “cabin in the woods, kids find Necronomicon” movie. The 2013 misadventure kept to the familiar themes of the original while maintaining its own story arch and more gritty vibe. To me, that spells continuity, the continuation of the “Evil Dead” mythology through a new cast of characters. Hell, it was even rumored (and still is) that Ash will team up with Mia in some future (probably never going to happen) film. How could they team up if Mia’s story was a reboot of the original? They couldn’t, simple enough. Thus, Evil Dead (2013) was not a reboot of The Evil Dead (1981). It would be easier to argue The Evil Dead 2 as a reboot of the first film then it would the 2013 film. Just saying…stop arguing with me!!!
Again…I’m getting really far off topic here. Can we talk about just The Evil Dead (1981) for a moment?
The Evil Dead first released to theaters in October 1981. It was a low budget film with a no name cast of teenaged-twenty-somethings, shot on 16mm film in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000. Though not the first “cabin in the woods” horror movie, you could probably give that credit to either Equinox (1970) or The Red House (1947), but you could make a strong argument that The Evil Dead solidified “the cabin” as a pop trope in horror stories. The plot is easy to follow. A group of friends head out to a lonely cabin in the woods for a little R&R. The place is dilapidated, albeit cozy. Its a celebration of friendship and perhaps even a little romance, despite the third wheel. But there’s a eerie presence in the cabin. Strange sounds in the cellar. The boys investigate and discover a nasty looking book and a tape recorder, among other things (including a poster of The Hills Have Eyes on the wall). They play the recording and the archaeologist on the tape recites some of the words he’d translated from the Necronomicon. His incantation awakens something dark and demonic in the forest surrounding the cabin. One by one, Ash (Bruce Campbell) watches his friends get possessed. Before daybreak, he must find a way to survive…or meet the same fate as his friends.
The Evil Dead captures, for me, the potential for horror. I’m talking more in film probably then storytelling, though in storytelling itself you cannot find a more perfect and basic trope to work with than the “cabin in the woods.” As for film, though, The Evil Dead demonstrates the power of low-budget horror with a list of no-name actors but over-the-top effects. I guess today we’d call these indie films, or independent to be frank. Horror, in its long life, seems to have thrived better as independent and low-budgeted. Directors and cast members and producers have to rely on cost effective means, focusing on mood and tension, and maximizing production budgets as much as humanly, sanely possible. And when it comes to horror, such as this film, at a glance they’d need to used more of the budget on practical effects than anything else. The effects for me are what count. Good storytelling, that’s a given. But you’re trying to sale me on horror, you gotta bring the practical gore.
Some might say the effects in The Evil Dead look cheesy, and maybe some parts do nowadays. But in my book, given the budget restraints, The Evil Dead looked and still looks amazingly graphic. Shaky steady-cam and all the buckets of blood. A fantastic wonderland of dark imagery and terror and perhaps even a little humor.
The story isn’t complicated and that’s a good thing. It is friendship and love pitted against the fear of the unknown, the evil taking possession of those closest to us. Not every horror story needs to have some complex AHS plot. Add the practical gore with the simple story, and that’ll give you one hell of an entertaining need to watch movie.
My Rating: 5/5
Something strange started happening during the dawn of the new millennium. Beginning as early as 2003, once revered horror movie classics were being revamped for a supposed new audience, a audience geared toward a sicking predisposition for hyper violence and “better” special effects. Now that we’re well into a new decade, its interesting looking back and speculating why certain trends even started in the first place. The biggest and most fascinating parallel between those “classics” and their children are the things happening in the world when said films were being made. For me, the two biggest world events impacting film worth mentioning (especially considering our horror subject matter!) are the Vietnam War and the Iraq/Afghanistan War.
The Two Wars:
Doing our best to avoid a politico argument, lets look more at the similarities between the two decades (1965-1975, 2001-?). Besides the obvious similarities in the type of war (strategic and tactics, guerrilla urban warfare, and the precarious balance in winning hearts and minds while simultaneously engaging the enemy), the Vietnam War and Iraq War could also be compared to the amount of combat footage that made its way into the mainstream. In the living rooms of millions of Americans, while folks sat down for their nightly news, they were bombarded with images of seemingly “random” acts of violence. Allow me to clarify. These acts of violence feel random because folks in the U.S. and folks over in the desert or jungle getting blown up are disconnected. The people back home in their living rooms have no way of knowing whats really going on “over there” except from what the media provides. This new norm impacted how we engage movies, especially the shock value in horror movies.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
The best thing that could ever come from the mess over in Asia-Minor was how it effected horror films and turned them into positive avenues of expressing discontent. Some have dubbed this epoch in the history of horror as Savage Cinema. Films, such as: Deliverance (1972),The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and later The Hills Have Eyes (1977) disconnected horror away from fantasy. The horrors of the world were no longer shown in the castles of Transylvania or some tomb in Cairo, but in our own backyards, down the road, behind the curtain. The monsters were no longer beasts or creatures of myth, but our own neighbors, our relatives, or that seemingly ordinary fellow walking down the street. Horror, in essence, became set in reality.
Now, flash forward to the post modern take on Savage Cinema during the 2000’s. Comparatively, in every way possible, each and every remake falls short of the original. The effects and filmography were often better, but what they left behind was the message, the meaning behind the chainsaw and the desperate family living among the rocks in the Californian desert. The heart was replaced for even stronger images of violence. In a way, I suppose this could say something of the time period. Did we no longer care for actual storytelling? Were we simply looking for our “new” norm among the flooding destruction brought on during our nightly news broadcasts? Perhaps, but can we really forgive those remakes, such as: The Fog (2005), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween II (2009), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) and so many more that needless tore asunder classic storytelling for pointless mayhem? The only real forgivable remake during this epoch was Dawn of the Dead (2004), though not entirely. The forgivable aspect of the new Dawn of the Dead was how producers didn’t trash on the old characters, but instead introduced new ones for a new evolution of the film. And, in a way, maintained the similar, though less obvious, take on consumerism.
A New Decade:
Though we are just entering the 2010’s, there seems to be a change in how movie makers are approaching remakes. The trend of completely redoing the classics have, in a way, transformed into a continuation in the story itself, in a undefined kind of way. Basically, the new remakes are not really remakes anymore; they are and they aren’t. Make sense? Consider the recent revamp of Evil Dead. The story wasn’t so much a new story of the original, but a continuation without having to give a huge boring and needless back story. The simply yet obvious easter eggs were enough to reconcile the old with the new. The way Evil Dead was re-imagined could possibly (and hopefully) be a reacquiring trend in how future remakes will be done. News of the upcoming revamp of Poltergeist seems to confirm this “new” direction as we’re given not a retelling of the same story with flashier gimmicks, but a continuation of the story with a new set of characters facing a similar threat without having to spend an hour explaining the original. The most interesting take on this new Poltergeist (which, by the way, the 1982 classic is a personal favorite of mine) is how producers are approaching home ownership. In the original story it was about the 1980’s boom in home development, and with this new revamp, its about the boom in refurbishing old homes. Keeping it the same; not keeping it the same, simultaneously.
Hopefully this trend will continue, especially when pertaining to old classics. While I personally would rather see new stories being told, if Hollywood insists on remaking the classics, let the story evolve instead of just mindlessly rehashing what has already been said.