To me, the key to a truly great “remake” of a pre-existing horror film is simple. Would the new update make a good double feature with the original movie? When it comes to programming a double bill, the goal is to find two movies with a similar theme that would complement each other. And there’s no better test to see if a remake works than by watching it back to back with its inspiration and seeing if it respects its source material and tells a similar enough story, yet does its own new thing. Each week, we’re going to pair up two horror films – its original and its remake as a double feature and see if it makes for a great double bill. Welcome to Double Take!
Now this pairing is actually quite perfect for a number of reasons. This week, hot on the heels of the premiere of Starz’ ASH VS EVIL DEAD, we’re pairing up the original 1981 EVIL DEAD with its 2013 remake. And the reason I think both work as well as they do is because they’re both straight horror films that go for the throat, and are not really connected to the current version of Ash or what most people associate with the “EVIL DEAD” franchise. The new show feels more like a combination of the comedic tone and slapstick humor of EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS, which again is what immediately comes to mind when you think of EVIL DEAD, but that’s not where the franchise started!
All new to the film business, EVIL DEAD marked the first feature film debut from director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and actor Bruce Campbell. The group had been making films together for years in school, often trading different roles in each production, but for the most part, it was always a given that Sam was the director, Rob the producer and Bruce the actor. After pooling together money from private investors and dentists, they set their sights on producing a “horror” film, because at least with horror, you could get away with no name actors, and also horror did very well at the box office and proved a lucrative way to break into the film business. It took them a few years to actually cross the finish line on their debut movie, but I’m sure none of them could’ve ever imagined that when the film unspooled in front of unsuspecting audiences that it would become the bonafide horror classic it now is. Among those enthusiastic audience members was Stephen King who was quoted as saying that EVIL DEAD was “the most furiously original film of the year.” Pretty high praise coming from the king!
The story of the original is familiar to modern savvy horror audiences, but back then, the genius is in its simplicity and also in its execution. 5 friends take a drive out to a remote cabin in the woods, find an old journal in the basement, play a tape recorder of incantations from this book of the dead, and before you know it, each of them start getting possessed by Candarian demons! The fact that Bruce Campbell’s Ash is the last survivor is sheer coincidence. He’s not actually the heroic, wise-talking Ash that we know and love of the future installments. In fact, he’s kind of… well, a scared wiener. You’re convinced for the majority of the film that Scott (Hal Delrich) is going to emerge as the hero, but he makes the mistake of going out into those woods by himself and suffering the severe consequences. Tonally, any of the humor in the original EVIL DEAD is mild and comes more from the characters interactions with each other as opposed to the filmmakers themselves going for audience laughs.
In crafting the remake, it took many, many years to figure out the best approach for a new EVIL DEAD. ARMY OF DARKNESS was released in 1992 and did not do well for Universal, so when asked about yet another sequel, Campbell would always reply, “no one in Hollywood is saying ‘boy we need another one of those!’ Back in 2003, when FREDDY VS JASON was a huge hit, there were discussions of throwing Ash into the mix for a full on monster mash-up with FREDDY VS JASON VS ASH. Raimi was reluctant to give the rights to the Ash character over, and that idea was relegated to a limited series comic book. Realistically, an EVIL DEAD 4 or ARMY OF DARKNESS 2 seemed unlikely and unreasonable with Raimi now a sought after big-budget studio player. So the original trio became producers on the 2013 Fede Alvarez update, which opted to not include an Ash character, but instead have a different 5 kids meet a similar fate to the original cast of EVIL DEAD. Shiloh Fernandez’s David is the closest thing the movie has to an “Ash,” although really Jane Levy’s Mia takes front and center by the film’s conclusion.
What the remake does well is go for the scares and it goes for the gore. I cannot believe this managed to squeak past the MPAA with an R rating considering the trouble most horror movies had in the late 80’s/ early 90’s. I mean, it rains freakin’ blood in this movie!!!
If you were to watch the series, you’re better off watching EVIL DEAD 2, ARMY OF DARKNESS and then ASH VS EVIL DEAD. But if you want a pretty kick ass terrifying and gory double bill, tonally the two movies that go together best are the original EVIL DEAD from 1981 and the 2013 EVIL DEAD remake.
What do you guys think?