Abattoir Blues #1 – Evil Dead’s lessons for Hollywood
We went to see Evil Dead on opening night. So pumped we were! Pumped like kicks, kicks that are up. And then, roughly ninety seconds in, my friend leaned over and whispered “Oh no; it SUCKS.”
And he was right. Fede Alvarez’s reimagining (snort) of Sam Raimi’s landmark splatterfest is pretty, entertaining and astoundingly gory. But it sucks. It’s not a good film. It flirts with competence, at best. And the most galling thing is that all the ingredients needed to make a good, even GREAT film were right there, in plain sight. There are lessons to be learned here, lessons that could save the Hollywood remake machine a lot of lost credibility and, by extension, probably push up those all-important second weekend numbers. Allow me, with my minimal experience of film production, to save an industry based around the expertise of thousands.
1 – Do Your Homework
An assumption made by many still-amniotic-fluid-drenched horror remake directors is that the pitch and the plot are the key to instant quality replication. But that’s obviously bollocks. Evil Dead‘s setup is a knockout, make no mistake, but its enduring elements – the ones that elevated it to greatness – are less obvious: the absurdist slapstick humour; the slow build of the first half vs. the relentlessness of the second; the use of the house and the environment as, essentially, supporting characters.
These are three areas in which The Evil Dead: Redux spectacularly drops the ball. Other than the shock-to-the-system humour inherent in realizing someone’s about to hack off a limb, it’s played almost entirely straight. The opening act barely exists, and I lost count of the number of momentum-killing breathers I was given once the clamato starts a-gushing. And that log cabin is utterly robbed of an introduction; it’s just suddenly there, in the background, in broad daylight, with all the threat of an old, sad horse. The interior, the surrounding forest, that basement; barely an establishing shot between them. Perhaps most telling is the notorious tree-rape scene – later dismissed by Raimi himself as the puerile work of an adolescent mind – which is used again here with only superficial amendments.
There’s big money in play when a film like The Evil Dead: Now I Don’t Usually Do This, But Go Ahead And Break ‘Em Off Wit’ a Little Preview of the Remix goes into production. Can you really afford not to sit down and really get to grips with a proven hit?
2 – Get a Second Opinion
This is a problem that applies to every single bad horror remake, but it’s especially pertinent here; The Evil Dead: Electric Boogaloo has a stunningly bad script. Exposition isn’t so much delivered as deposited, and.. I mean, that’s it, it’s all exposition. It’s more spreadsheet than screenplay.
So here’s my proposition. You’re already in LA. You don’t have to watch much TV or listen to that many podcasts to know that LA is overrun with comedians in need of work, and good ones too. Give two of them your two-hundred-odd lines of screenplay for one day and pay them like a few hundred dollars each. You won’t get Twelve Angry Men but you’ll get SOMETHING. A few extra points on your Metascore, at least. It probably would have been enough to stop me writing this article.
3 – It’s Not Murder if They’re Meat
“So.. which one of you is the Ash?” – Me, at the twenty minute mark, possibly out loud.
The answer is dumb as hell, but we’ll come back to that. Worse, however, is that save for Jane Levy’s recovering junkie, there aren’t any characters. There’s the one who has to read the book and then get hurt A LOT, a leading man so utterly bereft of personality that he actually abdicates the role, a stern woman who almost has a personality and therefore exits early, and one girl who genuinely disappears until she has to cut her own arm off. They are people that walk and talk, but robbed of any progression, motivation, colour and charm, they’re just targets.
You can’t affect an audience that isn’t engaged with your characters. Where’s the tension in sending someone into the darkened basement if I have no stake in their survival? The closing scene of the original is wickedly tense because Ash already feels like a friend; we see something of ourselves in him, we have a good time in his company, and we want to be as cool as him – and only rockstars are cool after they’re dead. The Exorcist, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, even Final Destination 2; compelling horror movies live and die by engaging lead performances and sympathetic characters.
4 – Sentiment Schmentiment
There’s a time and place for sentiment. A remake of a famously jet-black horror-comedy is neither. After jacking in its battle-with-addiction metaphor almost immediately (Stick to Your Subtext would be our lesson number 6, but this isn’t Buzzfeed), The Evil Dead: The Desolation of Smaug heads off on a saccharine ‘the power of the brother-sister bond’ kick, reshuffling a scene from the original for a jaw-droppingly out-of-place sequence that had me begging for a gotcha!, an explosion, ANYTHING other than total bedwetter sincerity. It was the final scene of Carrie without the bloodied hand, and the moment when I finally checked out.
Straight-faced sentiment is not without its place in horror; the climactic moments of The Fly and Shaun of the Dead, and the mythos of Swamp Thing and Frankenstein are all strong examples of an extra dimension added by the careful use of heartstring tugging. But it’s rarely more than an awkward fit, and there’s no need for it.
5 – End on a High
Now, you may have noticed this, but The Evil Dead: Let’s Get Silly hasn’t actually been reviewed all that badly. Here’s where the tables are turned, and it’s The Evil Dead: Viva Rock Vegas that gets to do the teaching. Y’see, it’s got a REALLY COOL ending. After the aforementioned gooey sugar emission, things take a turn for the biblical and it starts raining blood. Finally, we’re in familiar, comfortable, gleefully OTT territory, and it CRUSHES. As a chainsaw goes into one side of a head and comes out of the other, you can feel all the ill will wash away. And that kind of cathartic release has momentum; if you were feeling particularly benevolent that day, it could last right up until you’ve submitted 1000 words of copy.