Aaron R. Davis
I realize this is a display of the hot-headed fanboy behavior I’m usually denouncing in this very column, but I’m not interested in an Evil Dead remake. Why would I be? Why would anyone be?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since I heard about it a week ago: Why would anyone want to see it?
The Evil Dead is one of the great low-budget homemade horror flicks of the 1980s. I know there are a lot of people who would have you believe that the 1980s were the period when filmmaking became all about blockbusters and making money and there was no such thing as art in films anymore, but screw those people. The 1980s were a great time for independent movies, because that’s the last time movies were truly independent. That was the last time people had to go out and hustle for cash and spend years just to make a great horror flick.
I know people love to talk up the early 90s as the rise of independent filmmaking: please. A bunch of college students running up their credit cards and easily getting distribution deals and Harvey Keitel to star in their flick because the script’s just too damn good? No, no, that’s too easy. It’s too easy to make a Reservoir Dogs when there are distributors like Miramax in existence. Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert … these are the guys who had to go out and get money piecemeal and hustle for bookings and somehow manage to luck their way into a Stephen King endorsement.
And still the movie languished in semi-obscurity for over a decade, until it was basically rediscovered by my generation who deemed it a transformative cult experience. And then my generation remarketed the shit out of it — and its sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness — and licensed it to hell and turned it into a reference for horror hipsters and those particularly irritating film buffs who just like to show off.
That, my friends, is independent filmmaking.
Ever since the films were rediscovered and Anchor Bay-ed into a moneymaking machine, there’s been talk of Evil Dead 4. When is Evil Dead 4 going to be made? When is everyone going to just get back together and do the fourth movie? After all, the international — better — version of Army of Darkness ends with something of a possible cliffhanger, not like Universal’s insisted-upon triumphant ending. Surely when Ash wakes up in the future, there are more evil, dead things to fight, right?
Sam Raimi would certainly bring up the possibility now and then, but there were other things he was working on, other films he wanted to make, most notably what I’m sure I will soon be referring to as the good Spider-Man movies. (Yes, yes, I can be just as big a fanboy as the fanboys I hate, big deal.) And let’s be realistic: despite the fact that he’s more awesome than just about every other actor combined, a horror flick for today’s audience of desensitized, dead-eyed, remake-hungry, CW-watching kids starring puffy, graying Bruce Campbell was always going to be an impossible sell.
What to do, what to do?
Well, do what every other studio is doing now: remake the classics.
And now, this week, we’ve seen the announcement of an Evil Dead remake.
I’m sure that somewhere, somehow, someone is excited by this news. But I ain’t that person. I was never one of the voices clamoring for an Evil Dead 4, honestly. I never cared about it. I like what I have. I feel very lucky to have all three ED flicks on DVD, each with different commentaries, and one including both versions of Army of Darkness. I’m happy that I’ve seen all three movies in midnight showings. I have an Ash action figure. If I wanted to, there’s a whole line of Ash comics I could read. And the popularity of the movies has made it possible for Bruce Campbell to do a whole lot of cool shit that he might not have been able to do before. I’m happy with that. It’s just enough past the initial boom that I don’t have to listen to guys badly quote all of the lines from the movies — unless I’m playing a Duke Nukem game — but long past the time when you could barely even find the first two movies on video. I am very comfortable with my level of Evil Dead fandom.
A remake I am not comfortable with.
First of all, almost none of the horror remakes of recent years have been good. Some have been serviceable, even mildly enjoyable, but none of them were at all necessary. Some were just destructive and pointless. I actually felt sorry for Robert Englund because the Nightmare on Elm Street remake was so truly, truly awful. How could we not only recast Freddy, but throw this abomination out onto screens while the poor guy was still alive?
But the main reason I don’t want to see this movie is actually contained in the official press statement released by Raimi, Tapert and Campbell, who are producing the remake themselves. (And yes, I know I should have at least a modicum of faith in this project since these three are nurturing it, but I still don’t.) This one line caught my attention: “We can’t wait to scare a new generation of moviegoers using filmmaking techniques that were not available to us thirty years ago.”
And that’s just where my disinterest lies. Not in someone other than Raimi directing the films (I don’t even know who Federico Alvarez is), not in the Diablo Cody script revisions (the original movies were funny because they were funny, not smug) and not in the idea of some Bowflex-bodied CW star playing Ash (bullshit, but expected). It’s in the idea of filmmaking techniques that were not available thirty years ago.
Oh, good. CGI.
That’s the problem in a nutshell.
The Evil Dead is a singularly great flick because of its limitations. Because Raimi, Tapert, Campbell and company were forced to be creative and take stupid, even dangerous chances in order to get what they wanted. And it’s the same reason I think independent movies were more powerful in the 80s. You had to take chances. You had to take time. You were forced to find creative ways to work around the limited money, limited techniques and your own inexperience. This wasn’t doing it all digitally and fixing it on your editing software. This was hard work.
The Sam Raimi who made The Evil Dead was a kid following a dream. The Sam Raimi who is going to produce the remake is the slick director of the Spider-Man movies. And I like both Sam Raimis … but those guys are worlds apart.
I don’t think I want to see an Evil Dead without that same homemade charm the original had. This isn’t a bunch of guys working out of an abandoned house in the woods trying their damnedest to scare the hell out of an audience. This is a company making a corporate decision to capitalize on brand recognition by making a marketable product for profits. They can’t recapture what made the film so original and unique.
This isn’t a labor of love. It’s as cynical a decision as a Smurfs movie.
And I just don’t need it.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org