Modern horror movie remakes tend to follow a particular pattern: They have better production values, often ridiculously better acting, sound editing, music and special effects.
And with all that, they also almost universally lack the energy and shock value of the original, trading visceral horror for slickness and a sometimes a PG-13 rating. As such they’re often more fun, more generally accessible, while being completely cinematically forgettable.
The original Evil Dead, the product of a young Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert (with an assist from the Coen brothers) is a dizzying all-out fun-house, done in complete sincerity for $90,000 back in 1979. When I first saw it, I thought, contra Stephen King (“fiercely original”), that it wasn’t very original at all: Five college kids trapped in a cabin as an evil force possesses one-by-one them and torments them till dawn.
But I was looking at the story, which was traditional, if not tired, back in 1979. From a production and story-line development standpoint, it’s absolutely inspired. Raimi hung from the rafters, strapped the camera to a motorbike, and never did a single boring shot in 85 minutes. Not only did he shoot some great angles, they were often tied together thematically.
So with all that, it’s no big surprise if I say that the 2013 version of The Evil Dead in no way occupies the same cultural niche that the original did, and that is (like most remakes) more accessible and certainly slicker than the original.
But this movie works way better than most horror remakes: It is immensely respectful of the original (perhaps because Raimi, Campbell and Tapert are producers) and doesn’t try to recapture Bruce Campbell’s Ash, so you don’t really know who’s going to survive, if anyone. The story is patched in certain ways that make the narrative more coherent: For example, the original features two couples and Ash’s sister, who is the first to experience the Evil Dead, but the other four don’t believe her.
This really didn’t make sense in the original. In this movie, the four friends have gathered in the wood to help the sister dry out. Since she’s flipping out, they at least have a reason to not believe her and to insist on staying in the woods.
By the way, in the original, the sister’s first encounter with the Evil Dead is to be raped by a tree, in a truly unpleasant scene that Sam Raimi has expressed regret over. I was a little surprised to see the scene re-done here, but it isn’t nearly as awful and has a greater connection with the actual story.
Also, one of Raimi’s trademark shots in the original was kind of a cheat—basically a fast-moving POV when nothing is is there to have the POV—and this movie uses that shot more carefully.
It’s slick and enjoyable without being completely antiseptic. We all enjoyed it, even The Flower, who isn’t much of a horror fan. She said “It kept you guessing.” And that’s probably what it had in common with the original: The fun-house feel. The Boy even liked it, and I didn’t hear any griping about cliches. (The ending of Raimi’s own recent effort Drag Me To Hell pissed him off, e.g.)
Another interesting aspect is that a Big Baddie is threatened, giving a greater motivation (I guess) to stop the Evil Dead. I think this was sort of implied in the original, but not very clearly. (The original was not filmed in one shoot, but in pieces, as low-budget movies that run out of budget often are.) This gives the narrative a better shape and less ambiguous ending.
This, by the way, is the second remake of Evil Dead. The first remake was called…Evil Dead 2!