Hollywood pathetically attempts to recapture the glory of the past (Evil Dead review)

Evil Dead red light

I’m “biast” (pro): love the original…

I’m “biast” (con): …but see little call for its remake

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s “the most terrifying film you will ever experience,” Evil Dead would have us believe. Bah. Is it gory? Sure. This is one of the most disgusting movies I’ve ever seen, grading strictly on a scale of blood and guts and viscera — and burns and slashes and stabs and cuts and bashes and so on. But terrifying? Hardly. Unless there’s some fright to be found in how damn depressing it is to see Hollywood once again attempt to recapture the glory of the past instead of doing something new. But even that is so tediously ordinary as a state of being for Hollywood as to lack any sense of surprise about it.

It’s even more depressing when the original 1981 Evil Dead, from writer and director Sam Raimi, was a reaction to a lack of creativity in horror films… a tradition of utter cleverlessness that this remake proudly continues. How the hell could Raimi give his stamp of approval to this slap in the face to his own work? (Raimi doesn’t merely approve — he’s a producer and so helped get this made.) How the hell could he not have understood that what made his film work so well was that his lack of a reasonable filmmaking budget forced him to be wildly inventive with stuff that costs nothing, like deploying certain odd camera angles to create an eerie atmosphere? How the hell could he not know that everything that was fresh and new about his Evil Dead has been imitated — over and over and never well — throughout the past three decades?

That’s why it was almost inevitable that any remake of Evil Dead was going to feel bland and generic. That’s why it was almost inevitable that it was going to lack a sense of humor. Because everything that made Evil Dead unique has long since been co-opted by the genre and had its uniqueness squeezed out of it by rote repetition. This is exactly the sort of movie that last year’s ingenious The Cabin in the Woods rendered wholly irrelevant, precisely because it was itself a reaction to all the Evil Dead copycats we’ve endured over the past 30 years.

Here is, perhaps, the most damning thing that could be said about this Evil Dead remake, and you don’t even have to have seen the film to guess the answer: Is it possible to imagine a new Bruce Campbell coming out of this film? Hint: No. No, it isn’t. Because Hollywood isn’t interested in Bruce Campbell. If it were, he’d be a household name instead of a geek demigod.

And so it is a flat and flavorless band of twentysomethings who head to a cabin in the woods, where they will be slaughtered by demons. The script — by director Fede Alvarez (viral short “Panic Attack”), Rodo Sayagues, and the increasingly overrated Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body, Juno) — has to invent a new reason for a flat and flavorless band of twentysomethings to head to a cabin in the woods and stay there, even when demonic shit starts to hit the fan, and it’s this: one of them (Jane Levy: Fun Size) is going cold turkey on her drug habit (heroin? it’s never clear what her drug of choice is, and it doesn’t matter), which she’s attempted before and failed. Remoteness from her dealer is what’s called for, and while there’s some thematic potential in the notion that drug addiction and withdrawal is akin to demonic possession, that’s not dealt with in any interesting way here. It cannot be as long as the demonic possession is actually supposed to be real, and not a metaphoric thing.

It’s real, of course, coming via a book of dark-magic spells and other nasty stuff that gets read by the gang even though it’s wrapped in barbed wire and has “Leave this book alone” written on it in blood. These kids are dumb, naturally, and partly as a consequence also not very interesting. “I can smell your filthy soul,” the demon in the body of one of the Scooby gang hisses at another, and gee, wouldn’t it be interesting if we got a hint of that filthy soul? (I can’t help but think about what Miggs said to Agent Starling, and Hannibal Lecter’s calm reaction to that: “I myself cannot.”) That could be an intriguing twist: maybe these younglings deserve to die at the hands of vengeful demons.

But no. They really are nothing more than fodder for demonic attack. Worse for them, the demon turns out to be pretty easy to dispatch, though not until most of them are already dead. Sucks for them.

Sucks for us, too. We really have seen this all before.

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