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Thursday
Oct252012

The Evil Dead Remake Won't Swallow Your Soul (Promise)!

The Evil Dead remake's trailer officially debuted yesterday, following some clandestine shaky-cam footage that made its way out of New York Comic-Con earlier this month. One of the dumbest things a film lover can do in life is take previews seriously: crafting an effective, thrilling sizzle reel is an art form to which scores of people have fallen victim over the years. So, when I say that it looks like director Fede Alvarez has actually pulled off a fresh take on Sam Raimi's horror classic, please take my words with a shaker's worth of salt.

As with everything on the Internet, the trailer has sparked controversy. Scratch that. The controversy ignited the moment the remake was announced, and has grown more virulent with every leaked image and frame of footage. It was refreshing to see many people confess to sharing my positive reaction; too often, we get caught up in the fashionable hate for remakes and/or all things mainstream cinema. What surprised me, though, was the intensity of the negative reaction and the lack of depth in the impassioned anti-remake arguments.

Let's break those down, shall we? Cue Anonymous-Internet-Cineaste Voice:

"All Hollywood makes nowadays is sequels, remakes, comic-book movies, and remakes of comic-book movies!" This is a hard one to argue. True, there's not a lot of original content floating down the mainstream, and that's because the entertainment industry is...well, an industry. As such, it's built on money. And while film junkies share an inherent desire for quality, original content, risking forty-plus dollars on a possibly disappointing night at the movies is a dicey proposition for casual entertainment seekers--especially in this economy.

At that price, if I were to ask you to choose between a piece of bubble-gum-flavored Bazooka Joe and another one that tastes like pomegranate-turkey-mint-soufflé (with assurances that the latter was developed by an edgy, young confectioner who plans to disrupt the stagnant corporate model with outrageous, consciousness-expanding flavors), can you honestly say you wouldn't pick the one most familiar to you? For forty bucks? 

I can't prove this, but I doubt the people complaining about the lack of good choices at the cineplex even go to the cineplex. They're likely boycotters of everything new--because to them, everything new sucks.

In fairness, they're slightly better than those who complain about sequels, remakes, and comic-book movies while still financially supporting them. They might think their measly contribution to Paranormal Activity 4's box office is inconsequential, but there's no electoral college in cinema. This is a cold, calculating democracy, and every ticket edges Paramount's loading bar closer to PA5.

"This movie has too big a budget to be a remake of the original Evil Dead!" What the hell does that even mean? The new film cost and estimated $14 million, compared to Raimi's 1981 budged of roughly $375,000. By today's standards, the scales are practically even. Fourteen mill won't even land you an off-brand marquee star, let alone the raw materials with which you can cut a ninety-minute horror film with digital effects and acceptable lighting.

The Evil Dead remake is a studio picture, yes, but it's being made by a bunch of relative unknowns who've been given a fraction of Cloud Atlas's wardrobe budget to work with. Judging from the trailer, I suspect this is because the executives are worried that their graphic, disturbing, R-rated movie will either be inaccessible to teens, or will turn off a target audience who's been weaned on a decade of safe, PG-13 horror. 

Since we're talking money, let's look at a couple of highly regarded remakes from the halcyon 1980s: John Carpenter's The Thing, which came out a year after the original Evil Dead, and Chuck Russell's The Blob, from 1988. They cost $15 million and $19 million, respectively (more than forty times Raimi's budget), and they both flopped.

Had the Internet been around then, I suspect people would have been up in arms about Hollywood spitting on the graves of Howard Hawks and Steve McQueen ("How dare they do another version of The Thing from Another World--in color! They even shortened the title because audiences are too stupid to understand anything longer than two words!").

The point is, budgets are lousy indicators of quality--either way you look at them. Paranormal Activity 4 cost less than half of Alvarez's Evil Dead,** and it's absolute garbage.

"I'm never gonna see this movie! If we keep supporting these shitty, soulless remakes, Hollywood will never stop making them!" Another odd argument. It's the same crap spouted by the proudly ignorant "I don't watch TV" crowd who tuned out during the According to Jim era and completely missed the AMC revolution. More to the point, it's the attitude of religious fundamentalists who plug their ears whenever scary science talk threatens to upset their delicate, millennia-old beliefs.

I'm not suggesting that people see every new movie at the multiplex, but to outright ignore films that "look bad" because there are sooooo many "important" or "indie" films that are more worth their precious, valuable time is just ridiculous. This guarantees an imbalanced moviegoing life devoid of surprise and variety. This year alone, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed 21 Jump Street, The Three Stooges, Total Recall, Dark Shadows, and Dredd--all films with awful trailers that I approached with zero enthusiasm.

None of these are likely to stand the test of time as being classics, but they entertained me quite a bit. This doesn't make me a brain-dead sheep, nor does it dampen my ability to appreciate "good" movies--quite the opposite. Unlike ninety percent (I'm guessing) of the people who refuse to see Alvarez's Evil Dead, I can talk at length about why the Total Recall remake is, in many ways, superior to the original, and why Dredd might have an edge on Blade Runner. By contrast, many conversations I have with film snobs inevitably lead to a variation of, "There's no way I'll see [BLANK], 'cause it's stupid and won't hold a candle to [CHERISHED PRE-MILLENNIUM GENRE FILM]".

I imagine there are people who never abandoned VHS tapes, too, but do I have to take their puritanism seriously? No. No, I don't.

The last point I'd like to make is that just because something is a remake, that doesn't mean it can't also be original. Consider one of my favorite films of 2012, the independent film Dead Weight. Leaving aside the fact that if one were to apply this bizarre reverse-snobbery to that movie ("It didn't cost enough money to be worth my time"), they would be missing out on a great little film. But at its core, Dead Weight has a very similar premise to other stories that are currently popular in pop culture--namely The Walking Dead.

Filmmakers John Pata and Adam Bartlett have taken a familiar framing device (a mysterious plague that turns America into a wasteland of survivors and murderous zombies) and skewed it brilliantly. You barely see the external threat in this film, as the action and drama focus squarely on the crumbling social structures of the few remaining humans. It's a great movie, but could be completely written off as a low-rent version of The Walking Dead, or The Road, or The Stand by anyone who looks at a trailer or reads a synopsis.

I have no idea whether or not Alvarez and company even attempted to blow up the story of The Evil Dead with their remake. Either way, they're screwed in the eyes of genre purists: change the core elements of Raimi's original and they're desecrating holy ground;*** make a cabin-in-the-woods story without the recognizable title, and they're "just ripping off The Evil Dead".

Hell, one of the year's biggest bombs was the superb Dredd, which is precisely the kind of smart, gritty, inventive throwback so many people claim to miss in this new, dumb era. One of the reasons Hollywood is so adverse to putting out truly edgy material is because there's no guarantee people will show up for it--hence a penchant for branded product that at least stands a chance of being seen. I'm hopeful that the stuff in the Evil Dead trailer is, as it appears to be, indicative of old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall, supernatural violence. I'm skeptical, sure, but I'll at least give it a shot.

If the movie's a let-down, I'll probably spend a thousand words ranting about it. If it's great, I'll sing its praises. Regardless, my leg up on the people bitching about the new trailer will be a solid one, by virtue of my having taken the time to understand just what the hell I'm talking about.

*Which was announced before the close of opening weekend. Congratulations, America! For the record, I pay for nearly every movie I see, and complain about the quality of a lot of them--especially genre films. However, I consider a thirteen-hundred-word analysis to be sufficient penance, as opposed to, say, twelve words posted to an Internet forum.

**$5 million is the Hollywood equivalent of shooting a movie on a Fisher-Price camera at the kitchen table.

***For proof, look no further than 2004's Punisher, a film many comics fanboys wrote off the moment they heard it was set in Florida instead of New York. Four years later, when the New York-set Punisher: War Zone was released, no one saw it because it was too cartoonishly violent--the opposite of another complaint about the previous film. Sigh.

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