By Phil Parker
— The budget for the original Evil Dead, from 1981, was $375,000 (according to the Internet). It was directed by Sam Raimi, then 20, and starred Raimi’s high school buddy Bruce Campbell. The budget for the remake, out now, was $14 million. The difference between those figures is where Evil Dead gets smothered into something evil.
The new movie is not evil because it’s about a book bound in human flesh, written in human blood, which can summon demons who posses the living when its words are read aloud. The movie is evil because it’s terrible. The original was fun.
All those millions mean the special effects look more realistic, but that does that really make them better? A woman rips her own arm off. A tongue gets cut down the center. A dog gets bludgeoned with a hammer. The camera captures all this cleanly, with perfect lighting, makeup and effects. Does that sound fun?
The main actor in the 1981 version is Campbell, who’s handsome in a swashbuckling-goofball kind of way: broad, jutting chin; swoopy hair; cocky brow. The main actor in the new one (let’s not worry about his name) is handsome in a generic, unfunny, TV-doctor way: skinny, little goatee with a thin beard, close-cropped gelled hair and a lady’s whispy eyebrows.
The original is a little grainy now. The camera shakes. The dialogue is terse (“You bastards! Why are you torturing me like this?! Why?!”). The lighting’s not right. The last third is a goofy fight between Campbell, armed with ax and chainsaw, and demon-possessed women whose makeup looks clownish. There’s this part where his hand goes through a mirror and it’s obvious they just filmed a tub of water at a funny angle.
The original’s eye gougings and stabbings look great, but they don’t look realistic. They’re better that way. A skeleton monster’s skin melts into bug-infested goop and a deep, scary voice says: “Join us.” The prosthetics and fake blood are funny, and at the same time, still a little scary.
So now Evil Dead looks real, and the actors are talking longer. They argue about plot points like one character’s sobriety, and the main guy tearfully talks about his mom. “Don’t act like you don’t care about him,” someone says at one point. “You know you do.” They blab on and on like that.
How is it better that there’s so much more acting now? Long lines of dialogue like “David, from now on she’s going to do whatever it takes to get out of here” are stacked on top of each other. You can practically feel your time being wasted. It wasn’t just the special effects that were more economical on a shoestring budget.
The 14-screen megaplex where I saw Evil Dead is so overdone in neon-tinged excess. Posters in bright-lit frames are everywhere, screaming the names of big stars like Mark Whalberg and James Franco and Hugh Jackman and Emma Stone. I sat through 15 trailers before Evil Dead even started. The movie’s an hour and a half, but it felt like I was there for three hours. Maybe four. There are so many movies, and they all want so bad to be big hits.
The industry has become a marketing machine for bringing in customers and their money. It’s homogenized these big buildings into cash vacuums, putting out more and more eye candy (“The Wizard of OZ…. in 3D!!!”) to hypnotize us into zombies.
That’s the demon outside the cabin: the money game. The first Evil Dead was like a great little sister, endearing and funny. The new Evil Dead is that same little sister, only she hates us now and wants to hurt us. There was joy in the original, a film made on-the-cheap by movie-loving buddies. The new one is joyless and dull, corrupted by the pressure of an eight-figure budget. They should have just not bothered.
Phil Parker is a writer in Santa Fe. Follow his blog The Flip Side.