On Evil Dead (2013)

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The word of mouth that I heard about the remake / reboot of Evil Dead was that it fundamentally misunderstood the thing that made the Evil Dead trilogy so great in the first place: the comedy. There’s a zaniness to the Raimi original that brushes close to camp, slapstick comedy, and legitimately creepy horror (by the time we get to fan-favorite-for-some-reason Army of Darkness it is full-on camp mode). It’s a difficult tone to match, and the weird sing-song waffling of the trilogy suggests that it is more of a stumbled-upon alchemy than it was an exact empirical science. Still, they’re wonderful.

I agree with the general criticism that 2013’s remakeboot by Fede Alvarez misses that comedy mark and replaces it with the worst excesses of the post-Saw / post-Eli Roth horror cinema. It’s a brutal trip full of gore for gore’s sake that literally reduces the plot of the original film down to a Final Destination-esque “all these people will die horribly one-by-one” formula.

I have a fairly strong fortitude when it comes to these kinds of films–I’m not queasy or avoidant when it comes to blood and gore–but there were moments in this film where I simply had to look away. I don’t know if conjuring these images is a strength necessarily, but Alvarez certainly has the talent for it.

Yet, despite needing to look away, I found myself laughing more often than I thought I would be. This version of Evil Dead doesn’t generate comedy through traditional beats or visual gags or through showing a character falling down. It does it through a weird ironic reference to its source material. For example, there’s a scene directly riffing on the possessed hand from the original trilogy. A woman is bitten, and her hand begins to grow necrotic, shaking with the power of murder. She takes an electric carving knife to it, and sheets of blood rocket up into her face followed by some close ups (and worse) of the severed limb. When other characters come enter the room in horror, she looks at them and says that she feels much better.

And I laughed. Not at the gore, or the excess of it all, or at the (so gross) aftermath. I was laughing at the film holding the originals in stasis for a moment only to totally squander what comedy they could bring with the most brutalizing, literalized violence possible. The film generates comedy not through punchlines but through side reference to the original films; it’s a comedy of being in the know, of getting the reference, and of feeling the friction when a reference does or does not land in the way we expect it to. It’s a movie worth watching just for that quality alone.

But, as I said, it’s brutally violent and extreme, so be aware of that.

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