Evil Deadby Kavish Chetty / 16.08.2013
Terror, authentic terror, is atavistic, primal; resurrects our emotionally-blunted senses. The poster for Evil Dead declares “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”, inscribed in capital letters within its sombre atmosphere: limping, saturated image of a young girl. Importantly, “experience” and not “see”, because the best kind of terrors are felt, rousing each cell to a quailed vulnerability. Pardon me for taking this slogan too seriously, and then becoming quickly disenchanted when Evil Dead – a reboot and remake of the 1981 cult classic “The” Evil Dead – reveals its inner spirit as one not of terror, but rather terrorism – gorily ante-upping climaxes, within which each character is reduced to a flesh-capsule, bodies in pain, terrorised flesh, gruesome exhibits of aesthetic sadism. The response to this is not one of fright, but revulsion. The original Evil Dead was campy and absurd (and utterly bullshit, regardless of the seethed cultists who were aroused to its worship). The new one takes the same general plot and narrative drive, but re-imagines it with the sanguinary seriousness of modern horror: bleached colours, litanic invocations of blood. The redemptive B-grade hilarity of the original is cut out of this constitution, and instead, all its charisma is to be absorbed in its “realism”, and therefore terror.
One problem is that “real-ising” Evil Dead does nothing to make more believable its core idiocy: namely, that human beings would behave like this (“don’t go in there”, “for god’s sake, don’t read that aloud!”). Also, our strengthened appetites for violence preclude a gore equals terror equation – so watching tongues being split apart into serpentine monstrosity, or the stigmata of nail-guns fired at open palms, or chainsaws turning cerebella into ravaged medical curiosities… these are now gratuitously vulgar, of a cinema which is trying too hard to persuade us of how hard-core its sensibilities are. Some plot, for those wanting it: five young adults spend a weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods. Their purpose is not recreational, but rather functional – one among them, Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict, and as she ritualistically discards her smack down an eerie well, her friends resolve, as a therapeutic gesture of tough love, to not allow her to leave the cabin even as she will inevitably withdraw from the drug in episodes of screaming mania. The same night, however, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) discovers a secret basement filled with hung cat-carcasses, artefacts of witchcraft and exorcism, and a rough leather-bound tome. Ignoring each page’s red-lettered caution against reading from this manual, he does so anyway, summoning a malevolent spirit which possesses Mia. As a result, our party can no longer distinguish between withdrawal and possession, an ambiguity which productively allows the demon to cause chaos.
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead had the auguring majesty of being “original”, among the first glut of “cabin in the woods” sagas – now already superannuated and ironised by the appropriately titled parody-film The Cabin in the Woods. Is there anything that Evil Dead has to say beyond its father and its satirist? Certainly, its special effects outclass either: geysers of crimson shooting from split necks; boiled skin and self-severed limbs. It’s also a more mature rendition than the previous (would it be possible to out-juvenile the original?). But the realism and maturity only help connect this movie to a now hopelessly overcooked lineage of “torture porn” cinema (Saw, Hostel etc.), the ubiquitous pleasure of abuse; anatomies become laboratories of imaginative violence. The overarching logic is that cinematic violence and terror are of apiece, but far more persuasive are the Japanese, who don’t rely only on internal fluids for their scares, but pursue the horrors of the liminal through ambience and build-up, tension, defamiliarisation, cyberspace and its alienation, madness, children etc. Gore is too easy, and the nervous laugh which accompanied its depiction in theatres in the 80s, has still been the bodily response of the ‘00s.
These are squandered syllables. Those who take a pleasure – scopophilic, erotic, voyeuristic, sadistic – in depoliticised damage being done to young girls and boys, will really adore this film; so will those to whom it summons a thick slathering of B-grade nostalgia. But the overriding impression is that this new Evil Dead resists the charm of the original – an apotheosis of pop-art, an indie classic on a shoestring budget – precisely by bleeding money, by bringing slick, mechanistic production principles to bear on an idea best left to the agitations of the young, unmonied, rebellious film-makers who authored it first.