Talking Movies: Evil Dead

Talking Movies

Released: 5 April 2013
Director: Fede Álvarez
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $17 million
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, and Randal Wilson/Rupert Degas

The Plot:
Mia Allen (Levy) is taken to a remote cabin by her friends and estranged brother, David (Fernandez), in hopes of forcing her to go cold turkey with her addiction to heroin. When they discover a macabre book filled with incantations in the morbid cellar, Mia is tormented by ghastly visions that turn out to be all-too-real as an ancient, demonic force seeks to brutalise and possess her and her friends.

The Background:
In 1981, critics and audiences were horrified when The Evil Dead hit cinemas. The result of a collaboration between now-legendary horror director Sam Raimi and his long-time friend Bruce Campbell (as well as friends and family alike), The Evil Dead might have been a low-brow, low-budget splatter-horror film, but it was a surprising critical and commercial hit. After failing to achieve mainstream success, Raimi reunited with Campbell for the bigger and better sequel; Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987) became a cult classic thanks to its over the top gore and iconic action hero, however it was only this latter element that was expanded upon for the third film, Army of Darkness (ibid, 1993), which divided audiences due to its heavier focus on slapstick comedy. While the story continued in videogames and comic books, rumours of a remake or fourth entry circled Hollywood for years; although Campbell declared the project dead in the water in 2007, he later announced that it had found new life with a script that was more a re-imagining of the original film than a straight-up remake. Director Fede Álvarez made his feature-film debut with the remake, which he saw as a continuation of the original film; Álvarez also made the creative decision to focus on practical effects and make-up wherever possible even though it took longer and cost more. Evil Dead proved a surprising success; it made just shy of $100 million at the box office and was met with largely positive reviews that praised the brutal gore and grittier tone, though there were inevitably some who took issue with the debauched content and the absence of Campbell’s memorable protagonist. While these latter criticisms were addressed when Campbell returned for an admittedly awesome three-season spin-off, Sam Raimi teased a continuation of Army of Darkness before finally opting to produce another standalone entry in the franchise rather than a sequel to Evil Dead.

The Review:
I went into great detail in my reviews of the original Evil Dead trilogy about my thoughts on the franchise; while I can respect the hustle and ambition of the first film, and there’s an appeal to Bruce Campbell’s unfiltered bravado in the third, it’s the second one that strikes the perfect tone between horror, action, and comedy that I think works best for the franchise. I’ll always recommend people go to Evil Dead II before the original and had long held the belief that The Evil Dead just hadn’t aged as well as its far superior sequel. There’s often a lot of hatred levelled at remakes, and deservedly so at times, but I would argue horror, of all genres, has fared pretty well whenever it gets a new coat of paint. After seeing the first trailers and getting over the fact that Campbell wouldn’t be returning (and, wisely, wasn’t recast), I remember being really excited for this darker, gritter re-imagining of the first film, an almost comical venture in hindsight that was in desperate need of an update no matter how highly I regard its sequel.

After quitting her addiction, Mia is possessed and tormented by a spiteful evil force!

So, no, Ash Williams is not in Evil Dead. It would’ve been a fool’s errand to ask any actor to try and fill those shoes so, instead, we get an all new, young and sexy cast with an entirely different motivation behind isolating themselves in a creepy cabin in the woods. Like the original movie, Evil Dead features five main characters, two of which are brother and sister. Mia and David were close as children but have since grown apart and there’s a fair amount of bad blood between them since David left Mia to care for their dying mother all alone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mia has become addicted to heroin and has tried, unsuccessfully, on many occasions to kick the habit. This is the first time that David has been present for her intervention, however, and much of the film’s focus is on him trying to care for her and make amends with her as she struggles with painful withdrawal symptoms, which manifest in the form of horrific visions of a demonic force seeking to devour her. Mia is, at her core, a fundamentally broken character; she has a loving and caring support network but, despite their best efforts, none of her friends truly understand what’s going through and she feels increasingly isolated when her claims to be haunted by a malicious evil are chalked up to her going cold turkey. When they refuse to give in to her desperate demands to leave, adamant to force her to kick her destructive habit once and for all, she tries to leave by herself, only to crash and be confronted by the evil in the forest, which here takes the form of a demonic doppelgänger of herself. Targeting her as the weakest member of the group, the demon possesses her through a far more logical (though no less traumatic) version of the infamous “tree rape” scene and she’s driven to abusing herself and others through increasing violent behaviour.

Mia’s friends and family fall victim to the evil’s malicious influence and suffer terribly as a result.

Mia is cared for by her best friend, Olivia (Lucas), a nurse who’s suffered through Mia’s attempts to kick her habit before and is at her wit’s end with it all, especially after Mia not only previously made the same promises to quit but after legally died after overdosing in the past. Her previous experiences with Mia’s wild hallucinations mean she fails to heed her friend’s scathing warnings about the stench coming from the cellar (which is full of dead cats hanging on meat hooks!) and their impending doom after they discover the Naturom Demonto. It’s all new to David, however, who is so desperate to keep his sister safe out of a sense of guilt that he doesn’t hesitate to take her to safety after discovering her scalding her body in the shower, only to be undone by the rising evil forces in the area. Although he might not seem it, David is closer to Ash than you might think; he’s a “charming liar” who’s been through his fair share of women and has the same terrible taste in neck-wear, and he’s also a sceptic and reluctant hero whose concerns begin and end with Mia and only extend further once the shit really hits the fan. His current girlfriend, Natalie (Blackmore), is a stranger to the group and naturally quite dependant on David as a result; she’s struggles to fit in and is adamant that they should leave once things start to escalate but David remains largely dumbfounded, only really taking things seriously once Mia starts puking up red bile and mutilating her tongue with a box cutter! Poor Natalie ends up the most unfortunate victim of the horrific events at the cabin; driven to near madness by the rotting infection in her arm, she severs it in a daze before attacking her friends in a possessed frenzy and being put out of her misery. Things don’t fare much better for Olivia, who is equally driven to maim her face as per depictions in the Naturom Demonto and ending up little more than a crazed, bloodthirsty demon who needs to be beaten to death.

The evil force now has a consistent physical form that yearns to claw its way to life and wreck havoc.

The demonic force that plagues these characters is significantly altered in Evil Dead; the film opens with a young girl (Phoenix Connolly) suffering from the book’s possession and the lore behind it only escalates from there. Though lacking the monstrous visage on the front cover, the Naturom Demonto is still bound in human flesh and inked in human blood but now contains helpful warnings, written in English, not to read its incantations out loud. It also contains many drawings of the fates the characters later suffer before schoolteacher Eric (Pucci), who makes no bones about chewing David out for his absenteeism and who you’d think would be one of the film’s smarter characters, decides to ignore all these warnings and read from the book, awakening the familiar evil force from the woods. While Eric suffers greatly (and comically) for his foolishness, he also acts as a source of exposition for the events occurring; this time, the book unleashes a disembodied, demonic spirit known as “The Abomination” (Wilson/Degas), which possesses a host and then sets about claiming five souls in order to take physical form in a dirge of rain. The possessed are driven into a violent daze, mutilating themselves and attacking others in a spiteful rage, while Mia cackles and looks on with glee from the cellar. While the only way to stop them is again by bodily dismemberment, the victim’s souls can only be saved from damnation using “purifying” fire, driving grieving fathers to watch their possessed daughters suffer, or a live burial. While David is able to succeed at the latter, the evil force manages to claim enough souls to burst from the ground in terrifying and gore-soaked fashion, though it appears throughout the film as a snarling, animalistic doppelgänger of Mia that delights in her torment and commits the cardinal sin of driving her to bash her and David’s beloved dog Grandpa (Inca) to death with a hammer!

The Nitty-Gritty:
Evil Dead is easily the heaviest of the entire franchise thanks to its focus on addiction; Mia has struggled so badly from the trauma of watching her mother waste away and then die that she turned to heroin for a release and this addiction has caused her nothing but further pain. Her friends, though doubtful, support her attempts to get clean but very much prescribe toe a “tough love” philosophy since she’s sworn off the drugs before and always relapsed. This, as much as anything, proves to be their downfall when they fail to take her claims seriously, resulting in her becoming more and more possessed and them suffering greatly. Another prominent aspect of the film involves David trying to make amends for abandoning Mia; the brother/sister dynamic was barely a thing in The Evil Dead but, here, it’s at the forefront of these characters. It’s because of his guilt and love for her that David tries to get Mia to safety, and that same sense of duty compels him to defend her even when she’s a cackling witch and even sacrifice himself in an attempt to safeguard her, foolish as that decision was. Thus evil Dead thematically and visually has very few links to the previous films; the tilting and rushing camera is back but the cabin and book are both very different. The cabin now has a close link to the two main characters and brings back many painful memories for both Mia and David, the former because of how hard it was to see her mother suffer and the latter because of his guilt and not being there to support them. The location isn’t quite the same and the nature of the possessed and the evil itself are also much different, though you can still spot Ash’s prized Oldsmobile on the grounds and Campbell makes a completely pointless post-credit cameo (I would’ve much preferred he had waved the kids off at the start or even if they’d stumbled upon his corpse).

The film is unrelenting with the brutality and viciousness of its gore and effects!

As ambitious and admittedly impressive as the traditional make-up and practical effects were in the original trilogy, Evil Dead definitely reaps the benefits of modern technology, and from emphasising practical effects throughout its production. The gore on display is truly unsettling; you really feel the brutality of each wound and it’s genuinely sickening seeing Natalie’s arm drop to the floor with a wet squelch. Indeed, the movie really excels is in taking the concept and really treating it seriously; there’s very little humour in Evil Dead and the evil force is far more malevolent than playful, though elements of this latter characterisation can still be found when the possessed Mia spitefully barks at her friends. Instead, the focus is on brutal and unashamed gore; that girl is absolutely roasted in the opening sequence, Mia’s skin bubbles from the searing-hot water, and she sicks up a spew of blood bile onto Olivia, who is ten compelled by the book (and the evil force) to carve open her face with a shard of glass. Poor Natalie gets assaulted by the possessed Mia in the cellar in a disturbingly sexual way before receiving an infectious bite to her hand and being compelled to saw the diseased limb off with an electric knife in a far more gruesome scene than any of Ash’s struggles with his own infected appendage. She’s then driven to attack her friends with a nail gun, only to end up losing her other limb to a shotgun blast and bleeding out on the cabin floor! And that’s before we even touch upon Mia scalding herself, a demonic root forcing itself way down her throat, and slicing into her tongue with a box cutter! Of all the characters, it’s Eric who suffers the most abuse, however. This bespectacled dumbass sure as hell can take a licking and keep on ticking; he slips on a piece of Olivia’s skin, landing on the toilet as he falls, before being brutalised by repeated stabs to the face by a needle, riddled with nails, and ending up with his arm being bludgeoned by the possessed Natalie and a bloodied and beaten mess courtesy of her crowbar attack, and yet he still keeps breathing!

The Abomination puts Mia through the wringer in the blood-drenched finale.

In comparison, Mia gets off quite lightly; she doesn’t end up having her head bashed in with a piece of ceramic and all of the injuries and ailments she suffers while possessed magically disappear after she spontaneously returns to life following David’s effort to purify her with a live burial, though she makes up for this in grisly fashion in the last act of the movie. With all of their friends dead or springing to unlife as violent and crazed demons, and with the book proving to be indestructible, David is forced to step up and protect Mia despite his best, most futile efforts to lie to himself about her condition. He ventures into the cellar to confront her and is manhandled in comical fashion by her crazed attack; it’s only thanks to one last gasp of life from Eric that David is able to bundle Mia up and bury her alive, purging her of the evil’s malicious influence and then immediately jump-starting her heart with a jerry-rigged defibrillator that he stabs haphazardly into her chest! Though this works, Eric’s possessed corpse attacks him and David is forced to sacrifice himself to keep Mia safe, setting the cabin (and himself) alight with a small explosion. This, however, proves to be the final sacrifice needed to bring the Abomination back to life; the skies literally pour blood and the creature, a twisted and demonic mirror of Mia, claws its way out of the ground in a recreation of the original film’s iconic poster. It attacks Mia with a ravenous malice scalding her skin with the lightest touch; Mia’s desperate attempts to hide and fight back also mirror Ash’s panicked escape from the unseen evil, but this finale proves easily the most unsettling sequence in the entire franchise thus far thanks to actually being able to see the blood-drenched demon as it scrambles after its prey. Although Mia severs the Abomination’s legs with a chainsaw, the gnarled demon overturns David’s truck and crushes Mia’s left wrist! Desperate and in agony, Mia has no choice but to tear her wrist free! Considering the film already showed a severed limb, I had no idea this was going to happen at the time and, even now, it’s absolutely brutal to watch! However, it’s a fantastic character moment for Mia as she finally takes charge and attacks her demons, given horrific physical form, to put an end to her misery by thrusting the stump into the chainsaw’s handle, and sawing through the Abomination’s head in a crazy fury! Defeated, the creature sinks into the ground and the blood rain promptly stops, leaving Mia a dishevelled and traumatised mess as she wanders off for help, the Naturom Demonto left forgotten and very much intact…

The Summary:
I remember being stunned by Evil Dead when I first watched it. Although a long-time fan of the franchise, even I would admit that the only one of the original trilogy I really enjoyed and highly rated was the second one, with the first having aged poorly and the third being too comical for my tastes. Thus, I was excited to see a gritty, no-nonsense modern take on the concept and Evil Dead certainly brought the horror back to this cult franchise! While it’s true that the film isn’t as immediately iconic without its smart-mouthed action hero, no actor could really fill Bruce Campbell’s boots and the cast we have is surprisingly strong for a horror film. Mia’s struggles with addiction and the impact it’s had on her friends is violent, tragic, and palpable, even more so for David, who is burdened by guilt at having been absent during his mother’s illness and Mia’s suffering. Of them all, Eric proved the most exasperating character; he’s constantly giving David a hard time (and rightfully so) and stupidly reads from the book despite clear warnings not to, but he make sup for it being enduring some truly horrific abuse once the shit hits the fan! And that’s what really makes Evil Dead a standout entry for me and one of the top horror remakes; it takes the source material seriously, pays homage to the originals by reconfiguring some of their most memorable moments into a gory new context, and expands on the lore in ways that are both familiar and unique to this incarnation. The film is worth the price of admission for its unrelenting, sickening gore but it proves to be a visually stunning and ominously engaging, spiteful horror that makes no apologies for its content and proudly showcases some truly disturbing moments as if in defiance of a slew of poorly-regarded PG-13 horror productions. As much as I enjoyed the spin-off TV show, it never fails to disappoint me that we never got a follow-up to the remake; it made money and proved popular but, sadly, we never got to see Ash and Mia team up as chainsaw buddies, but luckily we can also return to this gritty, unrelentingly brutal film whenever we want a good taste of visceral horror!

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What did you think to Evil Dead? Where would you rate it compared to other entries in the franchise? Were you disappointed by Ash and Bruce Campbell’s absence? What did you think to the new characters and the depiction of addition? Were you impressed by the film’s unrelenting gore and effects or is it a little too much for you? What did you think to the changes made to the lore and the depiction of the Abomination? Were you disappointed that we never got a follow-up to this film? What are some of your favourite remakes? Whatever your think about Evil Dead and its franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.

Talking Movies: Army of Darkness

Talking Movies

Released: 19 February 1993
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $11 million
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Richard Grove, and Ian Abercrombie

The Plot:
Thrust back to medieval times by the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, Ashley “Ash” Williams (Campbell) finds himself the only hope of fending off a veritable army of Deadites, led by his own demonic doppelgänger (also Campbell).

The Background:
In 1981, up-and-coming director Sam Raimi and long-time collaborator Bruce Campbell brought together friends and family alike to produce one of the most controversial splatter-horror films of all time, The Evil Dead. Despite regular on-set mishaps and tensions, the film was surprisingly well-received and, after his mainstream career failed to take off, Raimi returned to the concept six years later for a sequel. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987) might have been part-remake due to rights issues but it was met with largely positive reviews; its over the top gore led to it becoming a cult horror classic, though it would take another six years before a third instalment would see the light of day. After Darkman (ibid, 1990) proved a modest critical and commercial success, Raimi began developing ideas he’d had for the third film while shooting Evil Dead II, primarily a large-scale medieval piece with a time-displaced Ash. Producer Dino De Laurentiis was still onboard to provide financing for the film, though Raimi and his cohorts still had to fight to get the funds they needed for this larger venture. As ever, production was troubled by difficult conditions; the sweltering heat and Raimi’s penchant for abusing his life-long friend Bruce Campbell, and the gruelling shoot caused issues during the production, to say nothing of the painstaking practical effects work needed to bring the much larger concept to life. Having struggled with the ratings board with his previous Evil Dead films, Raimi purposely set out to make Army of Darkness more a slapstick horror/comedy and toned the gore way down, only to be hit with an unfairly high rating as penance for releasing the previous films independently. Additionally, studio interference saw Raimi’s original vision for a bleak cliff-hanger ending changed to a more hopeful one, and it’s often not clear which version you’re going to be watching when you purchase a copy of the movie. Finally, while Army of Darkness$21.5 million box office gross made it a relative success, many have been divided in their opinions on the film; some praised the presentation and effects work, others criticised the slapstick approach. While the film went a long way to further cement Ash as a horror icon and is often seen as a cult classic, it remains a contentious entry in the franchise and its events are often overlooked or outright ignored in subsequent entries (though this is also due to licensing issues).

The Review:
In my reviews of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, I made it pretty clear that my bias is firmly towards Evil Dead II on being the best of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy. For me, it’s the perfect balance of horror and comedy and really cemented Ash’s character as a reluctant hero who transforms into a horror icon after being put through the wringer by a malevolent force. Evil Dead II set Ash up nicely as a cursed victim forced to see those he loves and cares about either turned into zombie-like Deadites or brutally murdered before his eyes, and constantly haunted by the evil force no matter how hard he fights, and Army of Darkness immediately sets about reminding viewers of this with yet another recap of the previous movie in the opening. This time, it’s narrated by Ash, firmly placing him as the main character and focus of the franchise and this movie, and quickly skims through the events that saw Ash lose his hand and end up being sucked through a vortex to medieval times.

A frustrated Ash must set aside his ego and assume a heroic role to clean up his mess.

Understandably, given the horror and the trauma that he’s gone through, Ash is pretty tetchy in this film. While it’s nice to get a sense of his life before the horrors of the cabin, seeing him as a dedicated and knowledgeable S-Mart employee, any vestiges of his original bookish demeanour have been completely swept away and replaced with a bitter, antagonistic bravado that sees him openly mouth off to anyone, regardless of their authority or stature. He has, officially, had enough of this shit, basically, and his only concern is finding a way back home; he doesn’t want to be some prophesised hero, he doesn’t want to get involved in the issues between Lord Arthur (Gilbert) and Duke Henry the Red (Grove), and he certainly has no intention of battling the Deadites any more than he has to. Thus, he makes a deal with the Wise Man (Abercrombie) to retrieve the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to help them turn the tide in their war against the Deadites but on the proviso that the Wise Man uses the book to send him back home, no questions asked. Unfortunately for Ash, life is never that simple; the evil force constantly conspires against him but is only part of the problem in Army of Darkness. Ash’s ego and sense of superiority means he not only expresses his frustration to the masses but also fails to heed the Wise Man’s words; despite being little more than a retail employee, Ash sees himself as their physical and intellectual superior, a façade he maintains even as he’s blundering his way through the movie. This same bravado, brought on after the trauma he’s experienced, causes him just as much grief as any reanimated skeletons as he refuses to listen to proper instructions and ends up raising the titular army of darkness in his haste and selfishness to get back home.

A spurned Sheila finds herself transformed into a spiteful witch by the evil’s power.

The opening recap once again shows Ash at the cabin with Linda (Bridget Fonda) but skims past her relevance pretty quickly this time around (and even completely omits Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry) from the narrative) to instead focus on Sheila (Davidtz). Since Arthur captured Ash alongside Henry and his men, who killed her brother in battle, Sheila is initially instrumental in condemning Ash to the Deadite pit since he’s assumed to be one of them. Like all of the “primates” in Arthur’s kingdom, Sheila is suitably impressed by Ash’s prowess in battle and his “boomstick” and quickly reverses her ill will towards him, which he initially callously dismisses since he’s busy living up the rewards of being hailed a hero. Although he’s as gruff and flippant towards her as he is to the other “primitives”, Ash finally gets the chance to get laid after being impressed by her spirited nature, but bashfully spurns her when given the choice between returning home or helping her and her people fight off the evil he’s unleashed, with even Sheila branding Ash a coward for this choice. Although it seems as though Sheila is doomed to become little more than a damsel in distress when she’s swept away by a Deadite gargoyle, she actually assumes the role of secondary antagonist after being brought to “Evil Ash” and transformed into a Bride of Frankenstein-esque (Elsa Lanchester) witch by his kiss. Her kidnapping proves to be just the kick up the ass Ash needs to get his shit together, but her demonic visage almost proves his undoing in the finale when she causes his supped-up Oldsmobile to crash and delights in tormenting his body and his heart.

Ash has no time for the Wise Man’s riddles or the rivalry between Arthur and Henry.

This is the first Evil Dead production to have a large cast of characters, and all of them react to Ash in different ways. Initially, Ash is met with suspicion by Arthur, though Ash is far from impressed by either Arthur or Henry and, once he escapes the pit, Ash immediately punches Arthur out and humiliates him. Although flippant towards Henry, especially as he was in chains when they met, Ash earns the duke’s respect after allowing him and his men to go free, which pays off dividends in the finale. It’s thanks to the Wise Man, who has knowledge of Ash’s greater destiny from his familiarity with the Necronomicon, that Ash is able to win the awe of the crowd and begrudgingly quest for the book. However, he loses the respect of the masses after dooming them all to death and destruction through his ineptitude and, while Arthur and the Wise Man are honour-bound to uphold their end of the bargain, they condemn him for his foolishness, but are soon relying on his surprising scientific acumen and military tactics to defend the castle. Ash’s eventual leadership skills and engineering abilities are so impressive that even Arthur is forced to offer his begrudging respect. Though a proud and seemingly cruel king, one who’s not only ore than happy to toss his prisoners into his Deadite pit to the amusement of the braying crowd but also freely executes any escapees with a crossbow, Arthur’s first priority is the safety of his people. He’s waged bitter war against Henry the Red for some time but is driven to find and protect the Necronomicon not to use it against his enemy, but to put an end to the Deadites that have infested his land. Still, the rivalry between Arthur and Henry runs so deep that, at first, it seems as though the duke has condemned his enemies to their fate; however, thanks to Ash’s rallying cry in a deleted scene, Henry and his men arrive just in the nick of time to help turn the tide against the invading Deadites and peace is finally fostered between the two as a result.

Ash sprouts an evil double who raises an army of the dead and seeks to conquer the land!

Naturally, the evil force is back at work in Army of Darkness; somehow, it’s already been unleashed across the land, despite the Necronomicon being hidden in an ominous cemetery. The demonic forces it unleashes and possesses are now freely referred to as Deadites and attack people openly, causing much fear and panic in the lands, and the evil force continues to be both possessed individuals and an invisible, roaring spirit that relentlessly pursues Ash. However, Ash is wise to its tricks this time around; he knows when it’s playing possum, when to fight, and when to flee when it’s nearby, though he’s far more capable in a one-on-one situation than when chased by the invisible force. For the first time, the evil force is given stable and consistent physical form in this movie; previously, it was simply limited to cackling, monstrous possessed bodies but Army of Darkness sees Ash once again battle against himself when the force manifests through his reflection in scenes that recall his experiences at the cabin in the second film. The result of this is Ash literally (and bloodlessly) splitting into two after his evil twin sprouts from his body; despite being a morally grey character, the more recognisably “Good” Ash triumphs over his evil twin and leaves him for dead, only for “Evil Ash” to return to life as a rotting, skeletal corpse that acts as the embodiment of the evil force and seeks to conquer the living through the titular army of darkness. Evil Ash gives Campbell more chances to showcase his range, being a maniacal and raving, pirate-like figure that ramps all of Ash’s arrogance and hot-headed bluster up to eleven, taking a possessed Sheila as his bride and digging up an army of the dead to ravage the land. The Necronomicon also gains more personification this time around; there are three books, each capable of biting and attacking Ash when he screws up the magic words, and the Deadites take a number of forms, from gibbering zombies to screeching witches, but is primarily represented by an army of skeletons. The evil force is also far more playful this time around; it’s still spiteful and malicious, but its loquacious and quirky skeletal troops are just as likely to get into slapstick scrapes as they are the skewer their victims.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Evil Dead films had always been fairly comedic up to this point; even the first, which is easily the grittiest and splatter-horror of the bunch, had its ridiculous moments, but Army of Darkness takes the comedy/horror atmosphere of Evil Dead II and runs with it! Some of this is a little lost on me; the Three Stooges were a bit before my time and I’m not really a fan of their slapstick comedy or repetitive routine, so seeing Ash fend off skeletal limbs as they bonk his nose and box his ears is a little too childish for me. A lot of the comedy is focused on Ash’s 20th century sensibilities, slang, and technology and the fear, awe, and confusion it inspires in the natives; to these people, Ash’s rudimentary science and bog-standard weaponry are like magic and his bravado is able to impress all the more since they are so enthralled at his ability to defeat the Deadites with his strange weapons. His grouchy demeanour is also a fun source of comedy; he’s far more selfish and outspoken this time around and only undertakes the Wise Man’s quest because he has no other choice to get home. The film also boosts his action hero status up to eleven, gifting him even more memorable one-liners and moments, as well as using his engineering abilities and 20th century science books to not only fortify the castle defences and turn his beloved Oldsmobile into a bad-ass fighting machine, but also somehow construct a working artificial hand using an armoured gauntlet and the gift of a montage!

Ash is now an arrogant fool who’s only separated from his evil double by a fine, grey morality.

Indeed, for me, much of the film is again carried by Bruce Campbell; I may not agree with every decision made to blow Ash’s characterisation so ridiculously out of proportion but there’s no question that, again, this is his show (as evident in the opening titles, which actually call the film Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness). If you enjoyed Ash’s fight against his severed hand in Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness takes that horse and well and truly flogs it to death by having Ash be set upon by cackling, miniature versions of himself using some ambitious, if dodgy, composite effects. These diminutive little gremlins torment Ash, stabbing and tripping and mocking him at every turn and forcing him into more and more comical extremes as he tries to stamp and drown them out. Ash’s character is also expanded upon in ways that would continue to be featured in subsequent adaptations and continuations of the franchise; now a much more self-serving anti-hero, Ash primarily fights for himself and makes no bones about it. He basks in the adulation of the people only to feed his ego and is more than happy to leave them to their fate after unleashing the book’s evil since he’s fed up with all the fighting and everything it’s cost him and just wants to go home. He has a change of heart, of course, but Ash’s hesitant nature literally manifests itself into a separate being in this film and it’s a grey morality that separates “Good” Ash from “Evil” Ash. Evil Ash is more obviously the personification of the evil force that’s been hunting Ash all this time and is bent on the wholesale slaughter and possession of the living, painting him as more obviously “bad”, but it takes a great deal of motivation for Ash to get his shit together and start fighting for something other than his own self-preservation, turning him from a reluctant but bad-ass hero to a flawed braggart who needs to be pushed into defending others.

Some impressive effects feature in the finale, which sees Ash either stranded in the future or returned to his normal life.

Thanks to focusing more on bombastic action and wacky, slapstick comedy, blood and gore is all-but-absent from Army of Darkness. While there is an impressive geyser of blood when one of Henry’s men is tossed into Arthur’s Deadite pit, there’s none at all when the recap shows Ash chopping off his hand and even the Deadites are less intimidating, save for the decaying visage of Evil Ash, and more likely to rattle off quips and play fight than tear flesh from bone. However, Army of Darkness raises the titular army from the grave with some remarkable practical effects, puppets, and old school camera techniques in the explosive and overly ambitious finale, which sees Ash forging gunpowder and becoming a symbol for the people to rally behind in the battle against the stop-motion effects, corpse-like costumes, and gibbering puppets used to bring the army of the dead to life. Ash uses his steam-powered Oldsmobile to mow them down using a bladed attachment and, despite being physically outmatched, proves an adaptable, if desperate, brawler, when he clashes swords with Evil Ash. Ash manages to hold both Evil Ash and a Deadite soldier at bay with a surprising deftness before setting him on fire, reducing Evil Ash to another babbling skeleton, and blowing him up using a bag of gunpowder. This restores Sheila to normal and results in victory, but Ash finds himself conflicted; he briefly considers staying in the past, where he can continue to be hailed a hero and even live like a king, but ultimately he decides that he belongs in his own time. The Wise Man finally repays his bravery with a solution to his time displacement; depending on which version of the film you watch, Ash either has to drink five droplets of a special potion or repeat another magic phrase to enter a deep sleep. Either way, he screws up this process once again and either ends up sleeping too long and waking up in a post-apocalyptic future or returns to his mediocre life as an S-Mart employee where he wows his co-workers with his tall tales and continues to fend off the vengeful Deadites (which, incidentally, has always been my preferred ending).

The Summary:
To this day, I struggle with Army of Darkness. It’s certainly the biggest and most ambitious of the original Evil Dead trilogy, with a much larger scope and cast of characters and it really expands upon the lore of the franchise in its own way, but it’s such a jarring genre shift from the last two movies that it just doesn’t always land for me. Ash’s bravado has been ramped up to such an extreme that he’s gone from a quirky and unlikely action/horror hero to a selfish wise-ass who’s both too arrogant and blockheaded to remember some simple words and yet adaptable and knowledgeable enough to craft an artificial hand and a steam-powered quasi-tank using medieval technology. Ash is at his most unlikable here at times, which works in the sense of him setting aside his ego and fighting for something other than himself, and I totally get that he’d be frustrated after everything he’s been through, but it makes him more of a cliché than someone to root for. The film is super toned down compared to the last two, relying on slapstick comedy and over the top action rather than gore and horror, and sadly rehashing a lot of the entertaining aspects of Evil Dead II through a watered-down presentation. There are some good aspects, such as the impressive (if overly ambitious) special effects and Bruce Campbell’s charisma, but I’d argue they’re not enough to give this much consideration. While I prefer the “good ending”, it really doesn’t matter which version you watch as the film is barely ever referenced and I can’t say I’m sorry about that. You’re much better off sticking with the cliff-hanger of the last movie and assuming that Ash found his way back using the book rather than sitting through this, unless you have little kids who want to get into horror but aren’t quite ready to see the gory content of the first two movies.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Army of Darkness? Which ending do you prefer? What did you think to Ash’s characterisation as an arrogant blowhard? Did you enjoy the shift towards slapstick comedy or do you prefer the gory content of the other films? What did you think to Evil Ash and the Deadite army? Did you enjoy the special effects used in the film or do you find it too dated and cringe-worthy? Would you like to see Army of Darkness get more recognition or do you think it’s better off ignored? Whatever your thoughts on Army of Darkness and the Evil Dead franchise, drop a comment below or on my social media and be sure to check out my other Evil Dead content.

Talking Movies: Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

Talking Movies

Released: 13 March 1987
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor: Rosebud Releasing Corporation
Budget: $3.5 million
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Lou Hancock/Ted Raimi, and Denise Bixler

The Plot:
After discovering a recorded incantation that unleashes a demonic spirit from the nearby woods and possesses his girlfriend, Ashley “Ash” Williams (Campbell) is tormented and partially possessed by the evil force. Things escalate when locals and scientist Annie Knowby (Berry) arrive at the cabin, only to be set upon by a monstrous, zombie-like demon dwelling in the basement…

The Background:
Back in 1981, long-time friends and collaborators Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert begged and borrowed to turn a simple horror concept into the ambitious, if hazardous, The Evil Dead , a low-budget horror that established Raimi’s directorial style but failed to propel him into the mainstream despite surprisingly positive reviews and being a sleeper hit. After his follow-up projects bombed, Raimi returned to his horror roots for an Evil Dead sequel, but production was immediately upended by rights issues; since Raimi didn’t own the rights to his original film, the opening sequence of the sequel served as a partial recap/remake of The Evil Dead, though now streamlined to focus on only Ash and his girlfriend. While shooting the first film, Raimi had conceived of a sequel in which Ash would be transported back to medieval times, an idea that the studios passed on; however, despite The Evil Dead’s financial success, producer Dino De Laurentiis wouldn’t approve of Raimi’s more outlandish ideas, necessitating a return trip to the cabin. Although the script had been conceptualised for some time, Raimi brought in another long-time friend, Scott Spiegel, to make adjustments and it was Spiegel who took the franchise in a more horror/comedy direction, with him and Raimi both drawing inspiration from their love of the Three Stooges. This was especially evident in Campbell’s slapstick fights against both the evil force and his own possessed hand; Evil Dead II dramatically increased Campbell’s abuse and stunt work, and the set remained notably hazardous for the cast and crew. As before, the film’s special effects and horror were achieved in-camera using a series of dollies, animatronics, and traditional filmmaking techniques; footage was run in reverse, large and uncomfortable suits were worn, and shots often tracked the actors from the rafters and through the walls of the set. Over 880 gallons of fake blood were used during filming, a custom-built prop chainsaw was built to be attached Ash’s severed hand, and the KNB EFX Group had to use every trick in the book, from miniatures to matte paintings, to deliver the film’s far gorier and more ambitious make-up and special effects. This meant that the film again had trouble with the ratings board; when they proposed cuts that would severely cripple the film’s runtime, it went unrated upon release, a gamble which may account for its much lower box office gross of $5.9 million. However, Evil Dead II was met with largely positive reviews; critics praised the direction and performances, especially Campbell’s work, as much as the over the top gore and blend of horror, comedy, and action. Of all the Evil Dead films, Evil Dead II is the most influential; it’s regarded as a cult horror classic and its characterisation of Ash and shift towards horror/comedy was replicated in subsequent comic books, videogames, and the unfortunately short-lived television series.

The Review:
If you’ve seen The Evil Dead then you might initially be put off by Evil Dead II simply because it immediately retcons a great deal of that film; gone are Ash’s friends and sibling, reducing the cast of the initial cabin experience to a vastly different version of Ash and his doting girlfriend, Linda (Bixler). However, I do believe this is to the film’s benefit; the reshot opening sequence, which effectively retells and replaces the first movie, features all of the best parts of The Evil Dead but with higher production values across the board, meaning you can easily skip the original movie and be all the better for it since Evil Dead II establishes so much of the lore, atmosphere, and characterisations that would continue throughout the remainder of the series. The movie opens with Professor Knowby’s (John Peaks) ominous narration regarding the semi-intelligent book, now rechristened “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis” but still referred to as the “Book of the Dead” and containing the same rituals as before, but now with a far more animated face and a great deal more power and influence seeped into its gory pages. From there, the film very much mirrors the first movie; this time, it’s just Ash taking his girlfriend to a secluded, abandoned cabin for a romantic getaway and elements of Scott’s (Richard DeManincor) character are weaved into him.

Ash is far more well-rounded and made dangerously unpredictable by the evil’s influence.

Consequently, in contrast to the first movie, Ash is no longer bookish or some geek who struggles to be assertive; by borrowing Scott’s bravado, Ash is bolstered and given deeper characterisation by a snarky confidence that translates far better once he assumes the role of unlikely horror hero. He still thinks gifting an awful magnifying glass necklace to his girlfriend is a good idea and still exhibits the same likable charisma and tortured conflict seen in the first film, but he’s much more competent and less wishy-washy here, though all his sexual confidence can’t keep him from giving into curiosity and playing Professor Knowby’s tape and bringing forth the evil lying dormant in the forest. Although he doesn’t have to suffer the pain of watching his sister and friends get possessed and picked off by the evil force they unleash, he’s still tormented when Linda is overtaken by the titular evil dead and becomes a gibbering, maniacal zombie-like creature. Ash’s concern and love for a large group of friends is focused all on Linda, making her a much more prominent character in his life and she returns again and again to spitefully mock him or cause him further harm. He’s also the sole focus of the evil force itself; similar to the last film, the evil possesses Linda and even the house itself to taunt Ash, driving him to near madness in a far shorter and more brutal space of time, but it also infects him more than once. Most prominently, it enters his hand, compelling it to attack him and forcing him to sever it at the wrist with a chainsaw, but it also overtakes him completely on a couple of occasions, something that was strangely missing from the first film and works in tandem with Ash’s fractured mindset to make him a dangerous and unpredictable character this time around since you’re never sure when he’s going to suddenly become a flesh-hungry Deadite.

Ash’s love for Linda is one of the few things that keeps him sane, while Annie is the key to banishing the evil.

Although Linda’s role is again quite small, the absence of Ash’s other friends means she takes on a more prominent role in a number of ways. First, as mentioned, all of his attention is focused on her, giving her more to do and more agency in the cabin and allowing Ash’s grief to be largely focused on her. Second, she becomes something of a secondary antagonist after being possessed; Linda proves to be Ash’s Achille’s heel time and again and the evil force doesn’t hesitate to exploit that. While he’s far faster at chopping off her possessed head to defend himself, he remains heartbroken at the loss and even when her headless corpse mocks him and attacks him with a chainsaw, he remains conflicted and reluctant to harm her until he’s pushed to breaking point. Finally, Ash is definitely a much more confident character when it comes to women in this film, but he’s absolutely portrayed as a one-woman man; Linda’s memory is one of the few things that keeps Ash sane and allows him to resist the influence of the evil force, and her necklace has very much the same impact on him as the rising sun, banishing the evil from his body and bringing him to his senses, which allows her to be far more important to the overall plot, and to Ash, than simply being another cackling demon in the corner. Ash also eventually bonds with Annie; while she initially believes that he’s murdered her father and mother, Henrietta Knowby (Hancock/Rami, respectively), her research into the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis means that she’s soon relying on Ash to help them survive until the dawn and recover the missing pages of the book to put a stop to the rampant evil. Like her father, Annie has been researching the book for some time and is excited to get to the cabin so she can bring the book’s missing pages to her father, only to find a deranged man covered in blood and wielding a shotgun. It’s only after hearing about what happened to her parents that Annie starts to realise that the real danger lurks in the cellar and the pages of the Necronomicon and that her ability to read from the book is their only hoping of stopping the evil force.

The supporting cast largely exists to cause problems and get themselves offed in gory fashion.

While Ash’s friends might be gone, Evil Dead II still features an extended cast; Annie comes to the cabin with her research partner, Professor Ed Getley (Domeier), and they enlist the help of two locals, repairman Jake (Hicks) and his girlfriend, Bobby Joe (Wesley), easily the two most annoying characters in the entire film. Thanks to Ash having been tormented by the evil force and jumping at every shadow (not to mention being covered in blood and having a stump for a hand!), Annie and the others instantly distrust and attack him, locking him in the cellar without heeding his warnings. Much like Cheryl Williams (Ellen Sandweiss), sneering redneck Bobby Joe is driven out into the malevolent woods and attacked, though with far less disturbing methods, and Jake becomes so consumed with concern for her that he tosses the Necronomicon’s pages into the foreboding cellar and forces Ash and Annie to go into the woods at gunpoint and find her. Mean, stupid, and cynical, Jake doesn’t believe any of the supernatural mumbo-jumbo Ash and even Annie tries to convince him of, needlessly extending the film and endangering the group and ending up dead as a result. Since Ash is infused with some of Scott’s bluster this time around, it’s poor, unassuming Ed who mirrors Ash from the first film; he’s basically a blank slate there to make up the numbers and add to the body count and give Ash a heroic moment when he puts the possessed academic down with an axe. Professor Knowby takes on a far greater role here as well; not only is he responsible for bringing the Necronomicon  to the cabin and first unleashing its demons, he essentially dooms the characters by burying his possessed wife in the fruit cellar. In a desperate attempt to find redemption, his tormented spirit appears before them to provide the key to dispelling the evil and acting as something of a counter to the malevolent force.

The evil force delights in tormenting Ash and attacking through demonic possession.

Of course, the primary antagonistic force in the film is the disembodied “evil dead”. Unlike in the first movie, where it’s pretty clear that the evil force is lurking in the forest and waiting to strike at its prey, the evil is dormant and quiet until Ash plays the tape recording but no less ruthless than before. Indeed, this time around, the evil force is far more diverse; in addition to urging its victims to “Join us!” with a booming whisper (William Preston Robertson) and wrecking the main bridge back to civilisation, it creepily transforms the front of the cabin into a glaring face and delights in torturing Ash by possessing furniture, lights, and stuffed animals inside the cabin for one of the most amusing and disturbing scenes in the film. The evil force repeats many of the same tricks from the first film, sweeping around with erratic and unsettling movements, bashing through doors, wrecking the only bridge to safety, and infecting its victims through possession and bloodletting, but also has many more options for physical manifestation; it turns Linda into a cackling Deadite and even transforms Ash into a hideous demon, but derives much pleasure from possessing his hand and causing him direct physical harm. Even when it’s cut off, Ash’s hand continues to torment him, even stabbing Annie in the back by the finale, but the evil dead’s most prominent manifestation is the bloated, demonic Henrietta (Raimi) who dwells in the cellar. Both Linda and Henrietta are much more vocal than the Deadites from the last film, issuing threats and torturing their victims verbally as well as physically, with the swollen Henrietta swinging Annie around while levitating overhead. As before, there are ways to conquer the evil force; it’s banished by daylight and strong emotional ties, for example, but those possessed can only be stopped by total bodily dismemberment, something that again proves difficult for the likes of Ash given how much he loves Linda. A new wrinkle introduced here, though, is that the Necronomicon itself also holds the secret to stopping the evil force; since Annie is the only one who can read it and the pages she needs are lost in Henrietta’s cellar, this gives the characters more options and motivation for venturing deeper into the cabin, and the book, for a solution, and the book even contains some prophetic passages concerning Ash’s future adventures and greater destiny within the series.

The Nitty-Gritty:
There’s no doubt in my mind that Evil Dead II is the superior of the first two movies; the film looks so much better and benefits from a better quality of film grain and lighting, higher production values, and the seasoning of Raimi and Campbell as director and actor. It’s still full of the same sweeping, erratic camera work as the first movie but everything looks like it’s of a much higher quality; this extends to the puppets and practical effects, which shine all the brighter here thanks to the greater budget, and to Campbell’s performance. Before, he was a little quiet and understated but he’s really put through the wringer here, quickly forced to endure horrendous torture from the evil force in the first fifteen minutes of the film and spending a lot of it seemingly on the knife’s edge of insanity after flailing about with his girlfriend’s severed head chomping on his hand, being tormented by laughing furniture, being driven through the windscreen of his car, and having been forced to fight and then chop off his own hand! However, while Bruce Campbell’s performances are far better than in the first film, Evil Dead II is really let down by Jake and Bobby Joe. The former, in particular, is exceptionally grating; I get that that’s the point, he’s meant to be a sweaty, unlikeable, self-serving redneck, but damn is he a pig-headed pain in the ass and the most glaringly unwatchable aspect of the film, which is saying a lot considering all the gore involved!

Ash is really put through the wringer here but comes out of it as one of horror’s most iconic heroes.

Luckily, Ash is here to counterbalance this. Ash has to go from cocksure college student to horror hero in far less time than in the first film, but it’s pulled off well thanks to Campbell’s refined charisma and the early going being able to directly focus on Ash’s relationship with Linda while still piling on the madness and abuse towards the character. Ash really goes through a gauntlet in this film; not only is he forced to chop up, bury, and continuously fight against his Deadite girlfriend, he fights himself in some of the most memorable sequences in the entire franchise that really showcase Campbell’s comedic chops and physical performance. While I’m no fan of the Three Stooges, it’s hard to deny Campbell’s physical commitment to the movie, which saw him getting beaten up, repeatedly hit over the head, and almost drown in a puddle. Nowhere is this more memorable than during Ash’s battle against his severed hand, which also doubles as an external representation of the battle that rages within himself; thanks to being infected by the evil force, he’s also susceptible to it and must fight to overcome it by remembering his lost love. Ash is also far more forthright and proactive in this film; having been driven to the brink by the spiteful evil force, he openly stands up to Jake even when he’s armed and constantly tries to warn Annie and the others of the evil at the cabin, only to be met with disbelief and aggression. When Annie and Ash are forced to venture into the cellar to retrieve the pages, Ash completes his transformation into one of horror’s most memorable action icons by reconfiguring a chainsaw into an attachment for his bloody stump, arming himself with a sawn-off shotgun, and spouting his most memorable catchphrase: “Groovy!”

The film perfectly balances its cartoonish humour with copious gore and horrifying demons.

Naturally, given it’s of the same splatter-horror subgenre as its predecessor, Evil Dead II still features copious amounts of blood, violence, and gore, though things are definitely much more skewed towards comedy this time around. As unsettling as it is when Ash’s reflection comes to life, deer heads and lamps giggle at his misfortune, and when his hand is twisted into an infectious claw, it’s all much more over the top and campy, with the evil force’s spiteful demeanour now taking a more playful edge, demonstrated when his severed hand flips him the bird and Linda’s decaying corpse does a little dance for him before smashing his head into the boarded up window with skeletal hands that are clearly being moved by Bruce Campbell. Still, there’s a great deal of gore on show here; Ash spends the whole movie sporting a series of weeping cuts on his face, the cabin tries to drown him in all kinds of viscera, and Ash gets a face full of the red stuff when he first chainsaws Linda’s head in two and then lops his hand off at the wrist. Stop motion effects are still employed here, particularly when Henrietta emerges from the cellar floor and her corpse-like face transforms into a more demonic visage, as are traditional, cheap tricks like running the footage of Kassie Wesley in reverse to make it seem like Bobby Joe has swallowed the witch’s eyeball! Similar techniques are again used to bring the trees to life to attack Bobby Joe, though this time they settle for taking root in her flesh, dragging her through the woods, and smashing her against a tree trunk rather than sexually violating her. Like Cheryl, Ed is transformed into a demonic creature through which the evil speaks, becoming a monstrous ghoul that swallows a chunk of Bobby Joe’s hair and ends up chopped into bloody pieces, though his blood takes on a green hue. Easily the best Deadite effect is saved for Ash, who becomes a monstrous version of himself at a couple of points, while Henrietta fulfils the role of the principal physical manifestation of the evil, dragging Jake down into the cellar and leaving him little more than a torrent of blood.

Although Annie’s able to dispel the evil, Ash is sucked through a portal and winds up trapped in medieval times!

After shaking off the evil’s influence, Ash tools himself up in his now iconic look and ventures into the cellar to retrieve the expanded pages of the Necronomicon, which hold the key to dispelling the evil: one passage forces it to take on a physical form and another opens a rift through which the spirit can be banished. After successfully retrieving the pages from the flooded, rat-infested cellar, Ash is attacked by Henrietta, who bursts from the cellar with a maniacal glee, transforming into a squealing, demonic mass that would make Ray Harryhausen proud! Thanks to a timely distraction from Annie, Ash is able to chop the witch up and finally finish her off with a shotgun blast to the face and a witty one-liner (“Swallow this!”) However, the evil force attacks the cabin in full force, emerging as a gigantic, terrifying tree-like demon with a face so horrifying that a plant instantly withers and it sends a white streak through Ash’s hair! Although Ash’s bastard limb delivers a mortal wound to Annie, she’s able to finish the incantation with her dying breath, banishing the evil to the void but, sadly, taking Ash and his Oldsmobile as well since she never gets to close the portal. Previously, while examining the pages of the Necronomicon, Ash was overwhelmed by a sudden energy when he saw a depiction of the “Hero from the Sky”, a prophesised saviour who defeated the evil back in ancient times. Keen-eyed viewers will note the figure’s similarity to Ash and this brief picture is no coincidence as, in the finale, Ash finds himself unceremoniously deposited back in medieval times. There, he’s initially greeted with hostility by the armour-clad natives but proves himself to be the prophesised hero when he instinctively shoots down an incoming winged Deadite. However, while he’s subsequently hailed as a hero, Ash is left distraught as he realises he’s trapped in ancient times and his long night is still far from over

The Summary:
I mentioned in my review of the first movie that my first Evil Dead experience was Evil Dead II and, even now, I would always point a newcomer to this movie over any of the original three since it really is the most complete version of the story with the perfect blend of horror, action, and comedy. Thanks to opening with a recreation of the first film, one that reduces the cast down to simply Ash and his girlfriend, you get all the best parts of The Evil Dead with higher production values, better performances, and better effects told in a nice concise twenty-odd minutes. From there, the film expands on the original concept and then ends with Ash being trapped in medieval times for a bleak cliff-hanger ending that’s still more enjoyable than most of the third film even though it’s just a short tease at the end. While it lacks a lot of the raw grittiness of the super low-budget original, Evil Dead II more than makes up for it with higher production values and a much more enjoyable presentation; the gore and ambitious effects are much higher quality and shine so much brighter because of it. There are times when it’s a little cartoonish in its execution but, for me, Evil Dead II has always been the perfect balance of the dirty splatter-horror of the first and the ludicrously comedic action of the third film. Ash is a far more well-rounded character, one who transforms from a meek survivor into an action icon with his chainsaw for a hand and one-liners. Crucially, he remains a flawed and vulnerable character; driven half-mad by the evil and overcome by it more than once, Ash becomes as dangerous as the evil he’s fighting and is given far greater characterisation thanks to the film focusing more on him than bland supporting characters. In the end, if you’ve never seen an Evil Dead movie and don’t know where to start, don’t be intimidated by the II in the title and make sure you start here, with what is, for me, still the quintessential classic Evil Dead experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What do you think to Evil Dead II? Do you prefer it to the original film and how would you rate it compared to the other films? What did you think to how Ash’s new characterisation and transformation into a more competent action hero? Were you a fan of his battle against his severed hand and chainsaw appendage? Did Jake and Bobby Joe also grate on your nerves? What did you think to the film’s presentation, gore, and the marriage of horror and comedy? Would you cut your hand off so readily if it got possessed? Whatever your thoughts on Evil Dead II and the franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.

Talking Movies: The Evil Dead

Talking Movies

Released: 15 April 1981
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Budget: $375,000
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly

The Plot:
Ashley “Ash” Williams (Campbell) and his friends, including his girlfriend Linda (Baker) and sister Cheryl (Sandweiss), drive to a remote cabin in the woods for a vacation. There, they find an audio tape that, when played, unleashes a legion of demonic spirits that possess and torment the group, leaving Ash to defend himself from his zombified friends.

The Background:
The Evil Dead was the brainchild of now-legendary horror director Sam Raimi, who had collaborated with his long-time friend Bruce Campbell on several low-budget Super 8mm film projects in the past. When they hit upon the idea of venturing into horror, Raimi produced a proof of concept on a measly $1,600 that served as the prototype for The Evil Dead and sought financing for a larger project by begging friends and family alike to amass the funds he required. With a cast and crew made up of locals, friends, and family, the film was shot entirely on Kodak 16mm film stock and fraught with mishaps: there were many minor injuries, including Betsy Baker accidentally getting her eyelashes ripped off, the contact lenses used to give the cast demonic eyes were extremely uncomfortable to wear, arguments frequently broke out because of the cramped conditions, and Raimi delighted in tormenting his cast, especially Campbell, to capture more realistic emotions on set. The Evil Dead popularised Raimi’s penchant for unsettling gore and sweeping camera movements; Dutch angles, camera dollies, and use of a cobbled together shaky cam all added to the unique visual presentation of the film. The film was also bolstered by some ambitious low-budget gore; Raimi relied entirely on make-up, prosthetics, and painstaking stop motion to create his gory effects, which included copious amounts of animal meat and live cockroaches. Perhaps the most controversial scene in the film saw Cheryl sexually assaulted by a demonic tree, a sequence with Raimi himself later admitted was unnecessarily gratuitous. Raimi went all in for the film’s theatrical premiere by hiring ambulances to wait outside Detroit’s Redford Theatre to build a sense of atmosphere around the film, which was beloved by legendary horror writer Stephen King and became one of the genre’s most infamous splatter-horror movies. Despite being slapped with a dreaded NC-17 rating or outright banned in some countries, The Evil Dead was surprisingly well-received for a horror film; the film was a sleeper hit, making between $2.7 and $29.4 million at the box office, and critics have praised The Evil Dead’s unnerving atmosphere and camera work and its unique twist on the genre, though its low-budget and obvious flaws were highlighted as failings. Despite its praise and financial success, The Evil Dead failed to launch Raimi’s directing career; he was forced to begin work on a follow-up that was part-remake, part-sequel due to rights issues, and this low-budget splatter-horror soon became a cult franchise that made a horror icon out of Bruce Campbell, allowed Sam Raimi to experiment with other genres before achieving mainstream success, and came to encompass comedy/horror sequels, videogames, and even a stage show!

The Review:
As a big horror fan, I became aware of the Evil Dead films largely through reputation; Ash was as much a recognisable horror icon as any of the top slashers when I was a kid, though my first real exposure to the series came with a completely out of context viewing of the second movie back in my youth that obviously impressed me enough to keep an eye on the franchise. When I finally switched from VHS to DVD, either the first or the second boxset I bought was the Evil Dead trilogy; back then, I would religiously watch all the special features and commentaries and it was amazing seeing this low-budget horror franchise being brought to life and becoming a cult phenomenon. I think it’s only fair to say, though, that it’s always been easy for me to rank the original trilogy; the second is clearly the best for me, with the first and third kind of tied at the bottom for different reasons. Still, it’s a horror staple and has been a part of my home movie collection for decades now and it’s always enjoyable to throw on one of these outrageous splatter-horrors and remember a time when the genre had some serious balls.

Ash and his friends are tormented by an evil force that first claims his sister, Cheryl.

The film centres on five college friends – Ash, his girlfriend Linda and sister Cheryl, Scott (DeManincor) and his girlfriend, Shelly (Lilly) – who decide to vacation at an old cabin in the woods that they rented on the cheap because it’s so secluded, rundown, and preceeded by a dilapidated bridge. It’s always weird rewatching the original Evil Dead and seeing Ash portrayed as a decidedly uncool and dorky college student; compared to Scott, who’s aggressively assertive and cynical at times, Ash is contemplative and bookish, far more likely to fumble his way through Latin than he is to spout one-liners. Indeed, it’s Scott who first investigates the basement and is more inclined towards being brash and outspoken, even pointing a loaded gun in Ash’s face just for a laugh and willing to take his chances out in the haunted woods than wait around in the cabin. In comparison, Ash is more empathetic; while he enjoys a gag, he knows when to stop, unlike Scott, and is more concerned with the welfare of others and figuring a way out of their predicament, though his curiosity concerning the Naturom Demonto directly leads to the evil force being unleashed when he plays Raymond Knowby’s (Bob Dorian) tape. Of all the characters, it’s Cheryl who senses the unsettling nature of the cabin and the surrounding woods right from the start; she’s clearly uncomfortable in the cabin, with its creepy decorations and atmosphere, compelled to draw a picture of the Naturom Demonto, and so creeped out by the haunting voice (Sam Raimi) whispering from the woods that she stupidly goes out to investigate and gets disturbingly abused for her curiosity.

While the romance between Ash and Linda is barebones, the tension and horror are palpable.

The attack leaves Cheryl understandably traumatised, so much so that she demands to leave the area right away, despite the disbelief of her friends and brother. Still, Ash agrees to take her to safety, only to discover that the bridge has been destroyed and they are now trapped in the cabin, much to Cheryl’s dismay as she fully gives in to despair following the shock and horror of her attack. Of course, Cheryl isn’t the only one who shares Ash’s affections; The Evil Dead makes an attempt to explore the romance between Ash and Linda when he gifts her probably the ugliest magnifying glass necklace-thing in a fun romantic gesture, but they don’t get many chances to interact with each other. Linda and Shelly are so bland and interchangeable that I often get the two mixed up or forget about whichever one isn’t wearing the necklace and they only really become interesting to the plot after being infected by the evil. The possessed Cheryl essentially becomes the primary antagonist, growling and watching from the basement, while Shelly violently attacks Scott after being claimed by the evil force and Linda becomes a spiteful, child-like demon who delights in mocking and tormenting her former friends. The entire experience rattles Ash and Scott in different ways; Ash refuses to leave behind his injured girlfriend, and later cannot bring himself to dismember her after she becomes possessed, whereas Scott its perfectly happy to save his own skin, only to end up cut to ribbons offscreen, thus leaving Ash as the sole survivor forced to step into a more proactive role to try and save his friends and destroy the evil force torturing them.

The spiteful, evil force lurking is the woods is unleashed with violent and bloody results.

Contrary to later films and entries in the franchise, the titular “evil dead” is somewhat vaguely defined here. Represented as a disembodied, malevolent force that lurks in the woods, the evil is already present even before Raymond Knowby’s tape is played but is fully unleashed upon the recitation of passages from the fabled Naturom Demonto. A Sumerian text containing ancient burial rituals and incantations, this book of the dead is inked in human blood and bound in human flesh and brings forth an intangible evil that possesses not only the main characters, but the surrounding area. It briefly jerks the wheel of Ash’s prized (if unreliable) Oldsmobile, almost causing a head-on collision, and an ominous voice calls for the characters to “Join us!” all before the book is even discovered, so strong is its influence. Of course, perhaps the most memorable incarnation of the evil force is when it possesses the surrounding trees to attack Cheryl. Cheryl then becomes the principal embodiment of the evil force, levitating and barking threats and being hideously transformed into a demonic, zombie-like being. From there, the horror only escalates; Cheryl attacks her friends, demonstrating incredible physical strength by manhandling them and the evil force is easily able to possess anyone injured while in the cabin following her transformation. Cheryl further degenerates into an ashen, cackling, crone-like monstrosity while trapped in the basement, leaving Shelly to attack Scott, her skin cracked and boiling, clawing at him even as her face splits and melts away.

The Nitty-Gritty:
While far from the first horror film to employ the “cabin in the woods” cliché, The Evil Dead may very well be the most mainstream and infamous example of it. Personally, I’ve always been a little ambivalent and ignorant towards it; I’m not very outdoorsy and spending a weekend in a secluded, creepy cabin isn’t really something we do here in the UK, so it can be a bit of a hit and miss premise since, much like the idea of summer camp, I can’t readily imagine ever being in such a position. Still, despite the questionable performances of the main actors (it’s clear that this is new territory for them, resulting in some clunky and awkward line deliveries), The Evil Dead does a really good job of making the cabin itself as much a character as the actors. Rusty tools, creaking floorboards, an aggravating ticking clock, and unsettling stuffed animals adorn the interior, creating an ominous atmosphere even before the evil force sweeps through the group. I’m a big fan of Sam Raimi’s unique camera work in this film; the evil force is represented through a series of sweeping first-person shots that fly through the woods, barge through the cabin, and is completely unbound by its surroundings, creating a menacing, unseen force that cannot be fought or escaped no matter how hard the characters try.

The film leaves an impression thanks to its gore and controversial content.

The Evil Dead deserves a lot of credit for doing as much as it can with a shoestring budget; yes, the effects haven’t aged too well and are questionable these days, easily being the worst of the franchise, but its commitment to violent gore is commendable. Still, the make-up effects are a bit hit and miss at times; those possessed resemble a combination of the possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair/Mercedes McCambridge) and a zombie, featuring creamy-white eyes, slashes and gouges, a pale complexion, and an abundance of viscera and veins, and they jerk around like puppets with bone-crunching rigidity. The real meat of the horror is in the sickening depiction of gore; pencils are stabbed into ankles and the possessed Shelly is not only half melting but chews her own hand off at the wrist and ends up chopped into quivering, bloody limbs! Later, when Ash is attacked by his possessed friends in full force, he gouges out Scott’s eyes with nauseating brutality and the remains of his friends bubble and melt away as only the finest and most gruesome stop motion can depict. Of course, easily the most outrageous an unsettling part of the film comes within the first thirty minutes when, beckoned by the evil force, Cheryl wanders into the pitch-black woods where the force barrels through the trees and then possesses them, tangling her up in their branches and stripping her naked. The branches then thrash her, choke her, and force her down to be sexually assaulted by them through a combination of reverse footage and in-camera wire work which, while impressive, is maybe taking things a little too far just for the sake of shock value.

After enduring horrendous torture, Ash appears to win the day but the evil seemingly never dies…

If you’re more familiar with Ash as a chainsaw-wielding, shotgun-toting bad-ass then The Evil Dead will be a bit of a shock to you. Ash does use a shotgun in the film, though sporadically and with little effect, and he only fires up a chainsaw one time, though he’s unable to bring himself to chop up his beloved Linda’s body. Instead, he simply tries to bury her alive, resulting in her reanimating and attacking him out in the woods. Although Bruce Campbell would suffer far worse abuse in the later films, he certainly gets a hard time of it here; he’s tossed about by his possessed friends, crashing through furniture each time, beaten with a poker, and ends up caked in blood when Linda’s headless corpse tries to rape him and when he ventures into the basement for more ammo! Still, while he’s more an exhausted survivor than a wisecracking action hero, further study of Knowby’s recording reveals to Ash that the only way to stop the possessed is by bodily dismemberment; though they can fight off their possessed friends and even cause them pain, even causing violent, gory seizures with the Sumerian dagger, they will continue to reanimate unless they’re chopped up. Although Ash is initially hesitant compared to Scott, he’s soon decapitating and beating Linda’s possessed corpse with a shovel and fending off the cackling, mocking games of the evil force. Somehow, he’s even able to remain himself after his leg is gouged by Linda and later chewed on by Scott, potentially because the evil force delights in torturing him, and is forced to find new reserves of resolve to endure the torment. The cabin itself comes to life as the force stalks him, driving him to near madness through fear and exhaustion, and his demonic friends attack in a frenzy for the gore-drenched finale. In the chaos, Ash is able to use the ugly necklace to toss the Naturom Demonto into the fireplace, which causes the possessed to freeze, be torn to bloody ribbons by demonic claws, and then rapidly, sickeningly decompose before his eyes. However, as the blood-soaked and dishevelled Ash stumbles out into the light of dawn, the unseen force charges through the house and seemingly swallows him for one last jump scare!

The Summary:
As suggested earlier, The Evil Dead is far from my favourite entry in the splatter-horror franchise; as a horror movie, it’s pretty by the numbers in a lot of ways and more of a standard, low-budget gorefest that seeks to shock through its violent, bloody, and questionable content rather than provide something with real substance. The characters are all very bland and forgettable, even Ash, who exhibits none of his later bravado and impresses only because he’s the most good looking and he happens to be lucky enough to survive. I suppose you can argue that he balances the traits of the other characters – he’s not as brash as Scott or anxious as Cheryl or as forgettable as Linda or Shelly – and there is a tragedy and charisma to him, but I much prefer the tweaks made to his character from the second film onwards. That basically just leaves the gore, horror, and effects which, while ambitious and impressive, pale in comparison to other horror films and even the Evil Dead sequels. The Evil Dead feels like an extended proof of concept; the ideas are there, there’s some potential here, and it certainly shocks in its outrageous gore and content, but it’s definitely inferior compared to its sequel. I would still recommend it as a cult horror film and an example of how to stretch a limited budget and produce shocking content, and I commend the effort that went into it, but it’s hard to rate it much higher when there are better horror films from this era and the second movie so massively outpaces this one and set the standard for the rest of the franchise.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of The Evil Dead? Where would you rate it compared to other entries in the franchise? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to how Ash was portrayed here? What did you think to the evil force and its spiteful, playful nature? Were you impressed by the film’s gore and effects or is it a little too low-budget for you? What did you think to the performances and Sam Raimi’s directorial style? Would you read from a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood? Whatever your thoughts on The Evil Dead and its franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.

10 FTW: Surprisingly Good Horror Remakes

We’ve heard it all a thousand times by now: “when will Hollywood stop with the remakes!?”, “Why can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas!?”, “Remakes suxxorz1!!” Honestly, while some films should never be re-made and some remakes do baffle the mind, remakes aren’t the plague of cinema that a lot of people like to think they are. In fact, some are pretty damn good.

If you’re one of those bleeding heart Twitter people, though, who just like to decry remakes in general, maybe you should take a moment to consider this small list of horror remakes that are not only surprisingly good but, in some cases, actually surpass their originals:

10 Halloween (Zombie, 2007)

We’re kicking things off with quite the controversial choice here. I’ll argue until the end of time that John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) is the forefather of all modern horror, particularly the slasher genre. It’s a subtle, atmospheric piece with a fantastic, mysterious antagonist and the truly frightening prospect that random unspeakable acts of horror can happen in a suburban environment. Rob Zombie’s take, however, is a loud, frenetic, uncomfortably gruesome take on the property. Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch/Tyler Mane) is an incredibly disturbed young boy from a violent and abusive family who becomes a remorseless, emotionless, unstoppable tank of a killing machine. Zombie delves right into his own take on Michael’s backstory, presenting in grotesque detail the exact events that turn Michael into a nigh-supernatural killer.

In many ways, the initial focus of the film acts as a kind of prequel to the events of Carpenter’s original, as the remainder of the film’s runtime is devoted to recreating Michael’s killing spree in Haddonfield, with the primary difference being that nearly the entirety of the film is told from Michael’s perspective. Sure, Malcolm McDowell, great as he is, cannot hope to compete with the fantastic Donald Pleasence but the film is bolstered by the incredibly cute Scout Taylor-Compton (who is arguably more attractive and relatable to modern audiences than Jamie Lee Curtis) and even appearances by Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris (and what an appearance hers is!) While it’s unlikely to be as iconic or influential as Carpenter’s benchmark film, for those who find the original and its sequels dated and slow, Rob Zombie’s remake is a much-needed kick up the ass that, for better or worse, dragged Halloween kicking and screaming out of obscurity.

9 Poltergeist (Kenan, 2015)

I know, right? How could Hollywood ever even entertain the idea of remaking Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg’s 1982 horror classic? Well, they did, and don’t be mistaken; it’s not actually that bad. While it lacks probably my favourite scene from the original, where corpses rise from the Freeman’s unfinished swimming pool, the remake is just as terrifying and engaging as the original, with the added bonus of having a modern-day make-over that is far more accessible than the now-dated original. Don’t get me wrong, the original is still a classic, but Sam Rockwell and Kennedi Clements put in some great performances, easily on par with those of Craig T. Nelson and the late JoBeth Williams. Did Poltergeist necessarily need a remake? Probably not, and the fact that numerous haunted house stories since the original have all pulled from or mirrored Hooper’s seminal horror classic probably didn’t help to differentiate Kenan’s new take on the property, but I feel it’s a largely misrepresented film that is nowhere near as bad as some people think.

8 It (Muschietti, 2017)

Although I spoke about this film quite recently, it is deserving enough to make this list. Watching Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries, great as it is and as amazing as Tim Curry’s performance in that is, you can’t help but think that Stephen King’s novel deserved to be told without the restraints of a television miniseries. Focusing exclusively on the child side of King’s story, and bringing the events forward to the 1980s rather than the 1950s, Muschietti adheres closely to King’s text while still putting his own spin on events. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is suitably unsettingly and otherworldly; what he lacks in Curry’s charisma he more than makes up for by being genuinely creepy and a fearsome menace. Muschietti also focuses on the friendship and troubles of his child protagonists incredibly well, anchoring them to the film’s central narrative and allowing King’s themes of childhood and loss of innocence to play out beautifully. With a lengthy runtime and concluding on a fantastic tease for a second chapter, this new version of It, while not without its issues (primarily regarding screen time for the many characters), did not disappoint in realising the gruesome potential that the miniseries could only hint at.

7 Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004)

Released at the peak of Hollywood’s new-found fondness for zombie films in the early-to-mid-2000s, largely spearheaded by 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002) and the God-awful Resident Evil (Anderson, 2002) and its decent-enough sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (ibid, 2004), Zack Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s massively-influential 1978 film of the same name takes the general themes and premise of its source material and ramps them up with some incredible action, grotesque gore effects, and a much-needed modern day gloss. While zombie purists may lament the inclusion of the fast-moving, animalistic undead introduced in 28 Days Later, Snyder’s rapid editing and penchant for style over substance make the creatures more vicious and scary than in Romero’s original film. With some great supporting performances by the likes of Ving Rhames and Michael Kelly (and even a brief cameo by Ken Foree, repeating his iconic line from the original film), Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a non-stop masterpiece of zombie cinema that never slows down to the snail’s pace that Romero’s introspective original prefers to adopt.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)

One of the primary reasons I was inspired to make this list, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) was a film that desperately needed this remake! Seriously, the original might have been shocking and gruesome at the time but, since then, it has not aged well; it’s a slow, dull piece of cinema that drags on way too long, with questionable acting and a lifeless soundtrack. The only redeeming quality comes from the maniacal Sawyer family, and even they are a hooting, loud bunch of camp. Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, which would go on to be responsible for a variety of horror remakes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much better than it had any right to be. With an uncomfortable gradient, shocking soundtrack, and even some decent performances by Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour, Nispel’s remake downplays the cannibalistic nature of the franchise in favour of grotesque torture-porn levels of horror.

While the film reintroduces Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), one of horror’s most iconic figures, and even suggests a tragic backstory for the character, Nispel’s Chainsaw brought us one of the most despicable and significant horror icons in years in the form of Sherriff Hoyt (masterfully embodied by the great R. Lee Ermey). Hoyt, a tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed sadist, drives the plot of this remake, raises its quality to another level, and his popularity was arguably responsible for the equally-enjoyable prequel, The Texas Chain saw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006). On a side note, though, am I the only one shocked that, including remakes and reimaginings, the Chainsaw franchise is made up of eight separate movies? Crazy!

The Blob
5 The Blob (Russell, 1988)

Now we’re getting somewhere! Irvin Yeaworth’s original 1958 film, starring Steve McQueen, was a campy piece of B-movie mush that has come to resemble a comedy more than a science-fiction piece. Channelling the likes of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, Chuck Russell’s reimagining, however, takes the story of the bulbous alien lifeform to far more grotesque levels. Incorporating some incredibly disgusting practical effects, the population of a small town is literally dissolved by the titular amoeba. Although some of the composite shots are obviously dated by today’s standards, an entirely CGI rendition of the Blob would probably have aged incredibly poorly by now. Instead, The Blob retains a level of camp in its premise but, with its gruesome effects and no-nonsense attitude, is a great example of how effective and impactful practical effects can be.

Friday the 13th
4 Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

We’re back with Marcus Nispel and Platinum Dunes for this masterfully well-crafted remake of not only the original 1980 classic but, also, the first three sequels. Similar to Halloween, for those who find the original movies to be dated and cut-and-pasted, by-the-numbers slasher films with very little to differentiate them from each other until Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985) then this is the film for you! In fact, I often encourage newcomers to the franchise to watch this film and then jump straight to Jason Lives! Friday the 13th Part VI (McLoughlin, 1986); not because the continuity would tie together but, by doing that, you watch one kick-ass film with loads of gratuitous mid-2000s sex (which is far more graphic, enjoyable, and realistic than sex scenes from the 1980s) and horror imagery that sums up the first four entries of the franchise incredibly well and then you can delve into the enjoyable nonsense of zombie Jason Voorhees.

Beginning with the brutal decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) and detailing how Jason (Caleb Guss/Derek Mears) witnessed her murder and grew up alone in the wooded forests of Camp Crystal Lake, as well as detailing Jason’s transformation from the lesser-known burlap sack look to the now-iconic hockey mask, Friday the 13th is filled with some incredibly gruesome kills as Jason uses bear traps, snares, and other tricks to entrap and kill hapless teenagers all over the shop. Add to that some strong performances by Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, and Jared Padalecki and you have an intense, non-stop horror film that, like Jason, comes at you a mile a minute. Honestly, the only bad thing I have to say about this film is that, despite making $92.7 million on a budget of $19 million, we never saw a sequel; even Rob Zombie’s Halloween got a shitty sequel!

The Thing
3 John Carpenter’s The Thing (Carpenter, 1982) and The Thing (Heijningen Jr, 2011)

Here’s some more controversy for you: I actually liked Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s version of The Thing. It starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who I absolutely adore, and, while marketed as a remake, was actually, ingeniously, a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror/sci-fi classic. Based exclusively on a brief scene from Carpenter’s film, van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing details how a Norwegian research team unearth an extraterrestrial craft and unwittingly awaken a shape-changing, parasitic alien lifeform and concludes with the survivors attempting to hunt down and eliminate the creature’s final form, which leads directly into the beginning of Carpenter’s The Thing.

Drawing loosely from both Christian Nyby’s 1952 B-movie classic The Thing From Another World! and the story that inspired it, Who Goes There? (Campbell, 1938), John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the quintessential examples of the effectiveness of practical special effects to the horror genre. Kurt Russell and Keith David lead the charge when their small Antarctic outpost is slowly assimilated by the titular alien creature, leaving the survivors to descend into distrust and anarchy as they struggle to fight off the ever-growing menace both outside and within their number. Carpenter’s film features some truly incredibly moments of practical effects wizardry, from a torso sprouting razor sharp teeth, to a severed head growing spider-like appendages and a dog literally splitting in two as tentacles blast out from its head; yet, while its similarly-impressive practical effects were tampered with in post-production, I never felt like Heijningen Jr’s The Thing was sub-par to Carpenter’s film. Instead, it works amazing well as a companion piece, allowing one to binge-watch both movies side-by-side and be suitably entertained.

2 Evil Dead (Alvarez, 2013)

Similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sam Raimi’s landmark 1981 horror film The Evil Dead was in desperate need of a remake. Sure, the stop-motion, puppetry, and practical effects were great considering the limited time and budget Raimi had available to him but, over time, neither they nor the acting have aged incredibly well. In fact, for me, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987), which retells the events of the original in its opening moments, already surpassed Raimi’s original film by leaps and bounds: Ash (epitomised by Bruce Campbell) is a far more capable, well-rounded character, the effects are much better, and the film adopts a quirky style of black comedy that was sorely missing in the original. Fast forward to 2013 and, rather than attempt to emulate Raimi’s black comedy style, Fede Alvarez approaches his remake with an intense seriousness.

The horror is brutal and horrendous to look at; there’s no laughing deer heads here. Instead, characters saw their arms off, are attacked by nail guns, get beaten by crowbars, and are forced to tear their arms off at the elbow in gruesome fashion. The plot is largely the same, with a group of largely likeable characters accidentally awakening an ancient evil, but the stakes are much higher; here, the evil seeks to take on a physical form and bring about the apocalypse whereas in Raimi’s original film it simply wanted to claim the souls of those trapped in the cabin. While it lacks a character as iconic as Ash, Evil Dead makes up for it with some truly difficult to watch moments that are both sickening and perversely entertaining; even Raimi’s controversial tree rape scene is included and utilised in a far more effective and plot-relevant way and that alone is reason enough to place this film over the original, in my view.

The Fly
1 The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)

This is it, the quintessential argument that not all remakes are bad and that they can, in some cases, vastly surpass their originals. While Kurt Neumann’s 1958 film of the same name may be closer to the original story and is still a pretty decent piece of 1950s science-fiction, despite its now campy tone, Cronenberg took the idea of a man teleporting himself with a fly and took it to whole new levels. Before, the man bore the head and arm of the fly as a result of the accident and slowly deteriorated into madness; here, though, thanks largely to an absolutely stellar performance by the always-amazing Jeff Goldblum, Cronenberg details the physical and mental degradation of his main character, Seth Brundle, in painstakingly brutal detail. Brundle, a brilliant scientist, initially embraces his newfound physical attributes before realising that he has been stricken by an infection on a cellular level not unlike AIDS or cancer. Soon, his body deteriorates at an alarming rate, with top-notch special effects being employed to make Goldblum practically unrecognisable through heavy make-up and full-body prosthetics.

As he alienates those around him, Brundle’s mind also begins to depreciate; initially desperate to reverse the effects, he soon comes to believe that he was never a man to begin with and prepares a gruesome legacy for himself whereby he will merge his crippled body with that of his lover (a strong, heartwrenching performance by Geena Davis) and his unborn child. In the process, he not only dissolves his rival’s hand and foot with corrosive fly vomit but literally bursts out of the remains of his decrepit human skin to emerge as a grotesque fly-like creature, before finally, tragically, forcing his lover to end his torment. The Fly transcends boundaries; it is a horrific tale of science gone wrong, a body horror with terrifying consequences but, at its heart, it is also an extremely tragic love story. Cronenberg did what many fail to do with their remakes; he took the original concept and not only put his own spin on it but also transformed it into something entirely separate from the source material and yet vastly superior to it in many ways.

Arguably, remakes like A Nightmare on Elm Street (Bayer, 2010) (which attempted to put a unique spin on the franchise and ended up becoming a carbon-copy retelling of Wes Craven’s seminal 1984 original), Total Recall (Wiseman, 2012), RoboCop (Padilha, 2014) could really learn a thing or two from The Fly, and many of the remakes on this list. If you’re going to remake a movie, don’t just retread the same material as before; go back to the source, back to the text, and either produce a more faithful adaptation or extrapolate the core themes and general premise and produce a great movie, rather than a simple, insulting cash-grab.