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Monday, March 24, 2014

Matt's Movie Mortuary: The Evil Dead – The Original, The Remake, and Within the Woods

There's Something in the Woods... Even 30 Years Later
By Matt Wintz
Professor Wintz
Note: Matt Wintz is an Adjunct Professor in the Humanities and Cultural Sciences Department of Mesa Community College in Arizona. He teaches "Women and Films," where he discusses the impact of women in different film genres. He has been making short films – specifically horror – for ten years now. He is currently in pre-production for "Pumpkill 2: Seeds of Destruction" and is also planning a web series that's an amalgamation of "Heroes" and "The Stand." Professor Wintz's column –"Matt's Movie Mortuary" – will feature reviews and articles about the spooky and surprising world of horror films.
Remakes. Re-imaginings. Whichever you want to call them the movie industry has seen a share of them, especially in the horror genre. The eighties had them with "The Blob" and "Night of the Living Dead" and as the new millennium joined us, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" got them. So did "Dawn of the Dead." In some ways the films were able to stand on their own, bringing something that the original was missing or didn't have the full ability to capitalize on. Some were, in the technical term, horse-shit.
When it was announced that there was an "Evil Dead" remake in the works, fans groaned. Even though Sam Raimi and Bruce "The Chin" Campbell were going to be involved, as producers, the fans clamored for a sequel to "Army of Darkness." There's only ONE Ash, there's only ONE chainsaw-handed, one-line spouting, S-Mart Employee of the month who's able to look at one ugly woman and say "Yo She-Bitch... let's go." So to say that this idea was met with skepticism was an understatement. However, with the original being such a classic (seriously, Stephen King praised it) and since I'd heard good things about the remake, I decided to settle in for a viewing. But I was going to do something else. I tracked down "Within the Woods," the short film Sam Raimi did before "Evil Dead" that is supposed to be "Evil Dead" before he got more money, and decided I would watch that film, the original "Evil Dead," and the remake and see just what worked, what doesn't, and what else was going through my head.
Evil Dead (2013)

The remake kicks off with a girl in the woods being kidnapped by two "Deliverance" looking guys and being tied up in a basement/cabin, only for her father to be part of the kidnapping. We then see that they are trying to purge a demon from her because, well... in this movie that kind of thing happens. After setting her ablaze as she threatens to rip out his soul, the father then shotguns her to bring up the opening credits. We then get to the obligatory introduction of five young people showing up at a cabin, but this time we're not here for just a fun trip. Mia is being treated to an intervention by three friends and her brother David, and we're treated with some family background and drama as the scene becomes a dark and stormy night for Mia's first night of withdrawal.
As Mia complains of a smell, Olivia (who's a registered nurse) tells everyone it's the withdrawal. However, when the family dog paws at the rug in front of everyone, it uncovers a bloodstained floor and door into the cellar. Upon opening it, everyone reacts to a smell and we go downstairs to the cellar from the opening scene, complete with the Necronomicon and Double-Barreled Boomstick sitting on the table. Mia, the recovering drug addict, is the smartest one in the room, telling them they shouldn't have touched anything in the basement as they bring the book and shotgun up. Dun-dun... DUN.
Our hippie-looking high school teacher Eric decides to cut open the bag with the book and read it, aloud, as he cuts his finger on a page and bleeds on it. And even though it's written in BIG RED LETTERS to NOT read the book, he decides to. And we get the classic "Evil Dead" force running through the woods and hits Mia just as she throws up. She then begins seeing a creepy girl in the woods before coming inside and we're treated to Mia saying she needs to get out of there, the group refusing to let her go, and her running out and grabbing the car and taking off. She sees the girl on the road again and crashes the car into the river, and now we've established they won't have a way out when the demons come a calling. As Mia runs from the river, we're then treated to a remake of one of the more memorable scenes from the original when a group of trees decide to get a little frisky and proceed to, well... rape her, thanks to some black grossness provided by a possessed version of herself.
Eric and Olivia talk about how David is there, and there's no reveal of why Eric's pissed. David finds the dog dead, having been beat to death with a hammer, and David believes it to be Mia, leading to him trying to break the door in and they find her boiling in the shower. As David tries to get Mia out, we come to the bridge which has been washed out while Mia is going all demoness in the front seat. Olivia, who had been the whole "I'm giving her the treatment she'd get at a hospital" and leading the crusade is now becoming unraveled with what happened, and Eric talks about how things are getting worse. Mia then walks out, cracking her neck and bringing the shotgun with her. She shoots David in the arm and we get some demon stuff going on, followed by her saying "You're all going to die tonight" and she collapses. We then get a bloody deadite vomit bath on Olivia who throws Mia into the open cellar, and they close it on her. So slowly, the movie starts to pay homage to the original, and things begin to pick up steam. Eric then throws down the "It's witchcraft" gauntlet and Olivia then starts to show signs of getting possessed: we are off to the races. Olivia goes after Eric, and afterward Eric reveals to David that he read from the book and it's "something evil." David's girlfriend Natalie (who is finally given a name forty-five minutes into the movie) goes to find things to help treat Eric's wounds, and she finds that the cellar is now open and Mia is calling for her. And of course, she goes into the cellar.
I will give the movie some credit, they do come up with some pretty decent demonic one-liners such as "Your sister is being raped in hell." They also look to homage "Evil Dead 2" as Natalie's hand becomes possessed (much like Ash's in the original) and she decides to hack it off, but this time not with a chainsaw but an electric knife. They also use the old Professor Knoby reading from the first "Evil Dead" in the closing credits, which is a nice touch as well. I always loved that reading, it sets a great tone. And of course, the post-credits sequence is, well... "groovy."
The Evil Dead (1981)
Now of course one of the biggest critiques of the new "Evil Dead" is that it's simply not the original. The original, for those who are uninitiated, was the 1981 Sam Raimi classic that had a wonderful quote promoting the movie from Stephen King on the poster. Starring the greatest chin in the business, Bruce Campbell, the original followed series protagonist Ash Williams, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, and their friendly romantic couple Scotty and Shelly as they ventured into the woods and were beset by demons after a tape recording of some of the readings from the same Book of the Dead that the remake brings in. One thing to remember about the original 1981 film, that some fans seemed to forget when the remake was announced, was that it played as a straight horror film. There was no possessed hand into chainsaw hand into wisecracking one-liner hero, Ash just happened to be the last one standing after a demonic nightmare that his friends succumb to. Here, the remake and original both stand together: this isn't necessarily a "splatstick" horror comedy. Is there humor at times? Maybe, but it's a horror movie, you're supposed to be squeamish as the trees rape the young women they do, and while the gore and blood is over the top, it's still meant to be a trippy nightmare.
Within the Woods (1978)
The entirety of the "Evil Dead" universe comes from a short film that Raimi and Campbell had done together as a precursor to all this entitled "Within the Woods." This doesn't have the Book of the Dead but deals with a possibly possessed dagger that is taken from its place in an Indian burial ground. The interesting twist here is that it's Bruce Campbell's character who takes it and is possessed, and it's his girlfriend (played by Ellen Sandweiss who plays his sister in "Evil Dead") who's the main heroine. Running around a half hour but having many bits of both "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2" that would come later, the film was used as a way for Raimi to make money for a full-length feature. Found on the bootleg market (or Youtube) the film isn't horrible and if you can get past its low budget from 1978, it's definitely wonderful as a curiosity piece.
Overall, I can say that I enjoyed the newer version of "Evil Dead" and there are some good moments that make the viewer squirm. This was not a remake that fell flat to the viewer or the informed public of the original, but it doesn't set itself apart like, say, the "Dawn of the Dead" remake that has gone on to break from the constraints of being just a remake and be an excellent stand-alone. Now of course, if pressed, I would say that the newer version isn't as great as the original, but that is part because of the aura the original (and its lead actor) have built for themselves over thirty years. It is possible, given a few years and the potential sequels being talked about, that this new saga of "Evil Dead" could pave its own blood-soaked path through the woods of horror history.
Until next time...

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