Review(s): Evil Dead

The Halloween season is upon us and that means I’m watching (more) horror movies again. I decided to start this season by rewatching the Evil Dead trilogy and then seeing how the 2013 remake and the Ash vs. Evil Dead series stacked up. This week I’m reviewing the Evil Dead movies: Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Evil Dead (2013).

My Review Philosophy

Before I get started on my reviews, let me talk about how I review movies. I’ve been accused of liking everything that comes out and that is not a fair assessment (the Transformers movies for instance are trash).

When I watch a movie I try to enjoy it based on what it is trying to be. If I watch an action movie I am not judging its plot but the explosions and set pieces. If I see a spy movie, then I don’t compare it to a Bond flick (James Bond is a terrible spy) but instead look at the convoluted telling of who did what. This process however gets harder with a remake, particularly one based on a property from my childhood. There is a lot of nostalgia to overcome.

So as far as my review is concerned the Evil Dead movies fit into the categories of splatter horror (the remake) and horror comedy (the originals). With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Warning: Spoilers!!

 

Evil Dead (The Original)

The basic plot of Evil Dead is that a group of young people (two couples and the sister of one of the men, Ashley “Ash” Williams) head to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. They discover a creepy book (the Sumerian Book of the Dead, a.k.a. the Naturom Demonto) and a tape recording left behind by the person who owns the cabin, a Professor Knowby. In his recording Knowby relates how he uncovered the book which hold rituals for summoning demons and other dark feats. He of course recites them in the recording.

Cue evil being released.

It first grabs, rapes and possesses Ash’s sister, Cheryl, before working its way through the rest of the cast. They become Deadites, zombie like creatures possessed by demons who use their hosts knowledge to torment Ash. The only route out of the woods, an old wooden bridge, is destroyed by the evil. Ash eventually is forced to hack up his friends before finally destroying the book in a fire.

The first in the Evil Dead series, this early example of Sam Raimi’s work shows both his inexperience and his promise. Though not a bad horror film, It is definitely the worst film in the bunch. It probably doesn’t help that this film had the lowest budget or that the film lost most of the cast and crew before being finished. The acting is uneven, the effects cheap and unconvincing, and the ending fight isn’t that great.

The action is gory with buckets of blood being sprayed across the cast.

Even so I found plenty that was interesting in the movie. The cinematography is inspired. The basic plot works well (and much better than the typical horror flick). The basic ideas behind the book of the dead, the demon, and the Deadites are just great.

The choice to never show demon helps. The movie cleverly only shows us its point of view, roaring through the woods, and the expressions of fear in those it pursues. Its physical interactions are limited to animating objects like the trees, breaking down barriers and corrupting the living and dead.

The Deadites appear as possessed people, as in the Exorcist, but tend to be even more distorted physically. The corruption seems hastened by physical wounds though the rate is rather uneven. Cheryl lasts for hours before turning. Ash despite his many wounds remains human. But others turn very quickly. Weirdly when the book is destroyed demonic limbs claw out of the Deadites before crumbling to dust. It’s an interesting choice we don’t see later in the series.

Evil Dead 2

I know some people think Evil Dead 2 is a remake. What it does is compress and retell the first movie’s plot in the first few minutes of the movie. Ash’s friends and sister are removed. Instead he spends the weekend (and kills) his girlfriend (played by a different actress) and then lops off his hand when the evil gets into it. The book, now the Necronomicon Ex-Mortus, survives this first night and Ash escapes the evil just barely. Also accompanying the book is the Kandarian dagger, a gruesome blade with a hilt of human bone.

Following on the success of Evil Dead, thanks in part to backing by Stephen King, Evil Dead 2 has a lot more money and thus a lot more (cheesy) special effects. The evil plays with Ash’s mind, animating furniture, spraying him with even more buckets of blood, and then going quiet long enough for the new cast of victims to arrive and blame him for Dr. Knowby and his wife’s death/disappearance.

These visitors include Knowby’s daughter Annie, her useless research partner and a redneck couple who help Annie bypass the broken bridge to the cabin. One by one they are knocked off, until Annie and Ash use the book to manifest the evil spirit and then banish it. The process turns Ash’s hair gray and leaves Annie dead from a Kandarian dagger to the back (thanks to Ash’s evil hand).

Ash himself is sucked through the same portal as the evil, arriving in the year 1300 near the same castle Knowby later recovers the Necronomicon from. Just as the Necronomicon showed within its pages earlier in the film.

A much stronger movie, this film has a few nice twists.

I liked the betrayal by the redneck mechanic midway through. He hopes to save his girlfriend from the forest and forces Ash and Annie to help him. He tosses the book in the basement (which necessitates a nasty fight later on) and basically screws everyone over. I’ve got to appreciate a good scared irrational person.

However the addition of the space-time vortex was an odd twist but one that sets up the next film in the series (more on that next week). Time travel seems just a bit odd mixed with demons and the undead (though I’ve had ideas like that as well).

Overall Evil Dead 2 is a good horror comedy and I consider it the core of the Evil Dead series.

Evil Dead (2013)

The Evil Dead reboot draws heavily from the original Evil Dead but with a more serious higher budget take. Again we have a cast consisting of two couples and the sister, Mia, of one of the men (David). But Mia is much more of the focus of the story than Cheryl was.

The premise is that the friends and family of Mia have come together at her mother’s cabin to conduct an intervention. Mia is going cold turkey and her friends have decided they won’t let her back out of it this time. So when Mia starts seeing and experiencing things during her withdrawal, the rest of the characters don’t immediately believe her.

I found the rationale refreshing even if the nurse friend Olivia should realize that kicking the habit is going to take longer than three days. The nurse should also realize that hospitals have one thing over her, i.e. protocols for suicide risks. Once signs appear that something (herself or the woods as she claims) is hurting the Mia, Olivia probably should have taken her friend to the professionals. But I figure pride and overconfidence clouded her judgement.

As in the first film, they find the book and someone (Olivia’s boyfriend Eric) reads the scratched out incantations. The backstory is that Mia’s mother, now dead, was a witch and had tried to remove the threat as best she could. Mia escapes into the woods and is raped by the evil. She becomes possessed, eventually nearly scalding herself to death. When her friends try to take her to the hospital finally they find the road washed out by the storm.

The book in this movie lacks a discernible face but remains inked in blood and bound in human flesh. It also depicts many horrible acts of self-mutilation, several of which the possess end up performing on themselves. In terms of horror this works well.

This version of the Deadites are disturbing in their puppet like behavior. They spend less time mocking and more time just being scary. It makes less sense in the world (we never discover if the possessed sense what their bodies are doing) but works for us the audience.

Adding to the self-mutilation theme is the loss of not one but two hands. Natalie, David’s girlfriend, tries to cut out the evil with an electric knife (it doesn’t work) and Mia loses a hand in the final fight.

Which involves the other surprise.

Mia is saved. David manages to purify Mia by burying her alive. After cleansing the area, he digs her up and revives her. Unfortunately he missed Eric’s corpse and the book manages to complete its ritual.

The movie does have its share of weak points. Natalie is given little characterization. A plot hole is revealed when the characters somehow fail to smell the rotting animal corpses in the basement. David gives Mia a ring of rowan to strengthen will which never goes anywhere.

Worst however is the final monster. It is basically just a human being. Mia might get banged up in the end but it is hard to see how the evil would threaten the larger world.

Still of the three, Evil Dead (2013) is the scariest film and its Deadites are the best of the movie series.