Retro Review: Comparing Corpses: Two EVIL DEAD Go Head-To-Blood-and-Gory-Head!

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

THE EVIL DEAD (1981); Dir. Sam Raimi; Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker and Sarah York; Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

There’s such a hue and cry over the seemingly unending parade of remakes coming out of the Hollywood horror entertainment complex. It’s increasingly hard to approach one on its own terms without feeling like you’re betraying all that is good and true in this world. And when it comes to a beloved horror classic like Sam Raimi’s 1981 gorefest THE EVIL DEAD, the stakes are raised even higher.

But here’s the complication: THE EVIL DEAD has already been remade. Not once, but twice. The film’s plot was summarized and streamlined into the first quarter hour or so of 1987’s EVIL DEAD II, which was then subsequently summarized and streamlined into the opening segment of the series’ third film, 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. Further complicating matters is the fact that THE EVIL DEAD is itself a remake. Raimi’s 1978 short film WITHIN THE WOODS was developed as a prototype horror film to draw investors, and it successfully led to Raimi raising the nearly $100,000 needed to develop a feature-length version of the short.

To be clear: THE EVIL DEAD is far from being some sacred, untouchable text. Not even Raimi sees it as being one, as he’s been futzing around with the same story since 1978. And even then it wasn’t that original an idea: though Raimi denies having seen the film prior to production, the storyline of THE EVIL DEAD is relatively close to that of the 1967-70 drive-in classic EQUINOX. Both involve scientists who have unwittingly opened a portal between this world and a demonic realm, a mysterious occult text and a handful of early-20s youths who visit the scientist’s cabin and wind up fighting off demons. It’s become such an archetypal setup that the “five kids in a cabin” trope is the basis for Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ultimate meta horror-comedy, 2012’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

That being said, how does Fede Alvarez’s 2013 version compare with the 1981 model? Let’s take a look.

Both stories are superficially similar: a group of five kids in their 20s visit a remote cabin, wherein they stumble upon a mysterious tome, the NATURON DEMONTO, which contains passages intended to open a portal and summon demons to this realm. The spells are read aloud (in the original, played via a scientist’s tape recording; in the 2013 version, directly read from the book), and said demons are summoned. One by one, the five are picked off and controlled by the ancient evil called forth by the book.

The first thing you’ll notice as different is the film’s immediate stylization. In the original, there’s a sense of everything being normal until we get to the cabin. In the remake, a pre-credit sequence of sacrifice casts a shadow over the proceedings, and to reflect that, there’s a consistent color desaturation which gives everything a sickly pallor and darkens the tone of the film. While I miss the gradual move away from “reality” that the original possesses, the point stands that the remake is, well, a remake. We know that bad stuff is about to go down and we know where it’s located (and if you didn’t know, the establishing sacrifice informs you).

The second thing is a deviation from the original’s storyline that affects the audience’s relationship with the characters: in the original, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is part of an ensemble and emerges as the film’s lead over time. In the remake, Jane Levy’s Mia (a recovering drug addict who has chosen the isolated cabin as a place to detox) is quickly established as the film’s focal character. By announcing right out of the gate who the film’s protagonist is, the sensation at the original’s outset that anybody could die at any time is somewhat lessened. We already know which character is established as the hero, but the question remains: how long will our hero last? Both films take their own path to establishing that question, but the original’s route creates more audience empathy. The remake’s approach results in a decrease in the sense of danger, meaning that no matter how many times the film pulls this rug out from under the viewer, the viewer is still inclined to think, “well, sure, but they can’t kill her; she’s the star!”

One thing in which both films succeed is the application of gore. Though budget kept the original’s prosthetic appliances looking like anything but prosthetic appliances, they made up for any shortcomings with a shocking amount of blood. And not just blood spurting from wounds, but from everywhere. And Raimi’s bravura direction pulled maximum shock out of every instance. Alvarez’s higher budget has resulted in more successful practical effects (he boasts that every effect was done on-set using practical effects, with CGI only used for touch-ups and more general uses such as manipulating the film’s color palette), and his insistence on not backing down from the original’s bloody reputation has resulted in this being quite probably the most gore-filled major studio film I’ve ever seen.

Bruce Campbell in the original EVIL DEAD. New Line Cinema, 1981. Available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Meanwhile, let me address something that I’ve seen crop up elsewhere in comparing the two: criticism that the 2013 film lacks the comedy of the original. The original film IS. NOT. FUNNY. Sure, there are one or two intentionally comedic moments in the first few minutes of the film as we follow our gang to the cabin. But the “splatstick” comedy that so many people associate with the EVIL DEAD franchise was something that popped up in the sequel, EVIL DEAD II. The first EVIL DEAD movie is every bit as serious about what’s going on as the remake. Got it? Good.

The main question, though, is this: does the film stand on its own two legs? I’d argue that it does, unequivocally. It does lack some of the sense of fun that the original had, particularly in its first half. But when the possession starts going and the blood starts flowing, it’s too easy to get caught up in the unbridled enthusiasm of the movie to not enjoy it from that point onward. Sure, there are plot holes and contrivances that might bring down any attempt to reason with the film, but in a movie like this, reason is the last thing you want to bring into the theater with you. The entire point of either film is to show what happens when reason can no longer be applied. And both films succeed and fail at showing that in probably equal amounts. And the remake might lack some of the bizarro flourishes that made Raimi’s film stand out that much more in that regard. But you can walk into this film not knowing of Bruce Campbell’s existence (I can’t imagine living such a life, but to each their own) and come away happy.

And I—knowing and loving the original, which I’ve probably owned more copies of in my life than any other film—walked away having enjoyed myself thoroughly. It’s a nice complement to the original, which it references enough to question whether it might be some kind of sequel: not only are the superficial elements in place (the cabin and the book, though the book has been redesigned due to copyright problems), but Ash’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale is still present outside the cabin. (Nerds like myself might chime in with “…but Ash’s car was transported through the portal to ancient Sumeria in 1300 at the end of EVIL DEAD II!” To which I award you the coveted No-Prize, and direct you to the lobby to collect it.)

The new EVIL DEAD equals the original in blood and gore. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2013.

It’s certainly the best of the recent crop of horror movie remakes. And while that might sound like damning with faint praise, it’s not intended to be. It works as both a celebration of the original and a successful horror film on its own. It doesn’t shy away from its visceral roots in order to deliver a PG-13 rating, or preemptively compromise itself so as to not invoke the MPAA’s wrath. Surprisingly, something this brutal made it through unscathed.

Five kids in a cabin. Deceptively easy to screw up. Thankfully, Fede Alvarez has kept things simple.

Blood simple.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: Eddie Ray on the Tricks and Treats of Growing Up a Halloween Kid in ATLRetro, His A-T of Why Atlanta is Horror-Town, USA, and His Top Seven Picks for a Super-Supernatural Time This Year

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2012 By:

No one can exorcise the Afro Demon outta Atlanta's Man of 1000 Halloween Faces Eddie Ray.

By Eddie Ray
Contributing Writer

As I sit here and write this, I am listening to the score to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, editing an “I love Halloween” video for YouTube, working on my Zombie Walk costume, working on my Halloween night costume, and patching up my costume for Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. So to say I work for Halloween is an understatement. I do love Halloween, but the truth is I believe in Halloween. There is a huge difference. Real Halloween kids start decorating and celebrating Halloween on September 1, and the party lasts until November 1.

I was taught this when I was very young, and I began saying that I love and work for Halloween when I was probably about 6 or 7 years old. I grew up in a Halloween house with ghost stories, horror movies and even a Halloween friend who helped show me that I needed to help keep the season of Halloween exciting and moving forward. It was my duty in some ways. When I was little I was so excited to see the leaves change color and for the month of September to begin so that I could grab all of our Halloween decorations and hang them on doors, in windows and plug up orange lights outside.

Halloween is a magical time – notice I said “is” and not “was” – for me and all the Halloween Kids who love the season as much I do. I grew up on the south side of Atlanta in Suburbia, which meant trick-or-treating was a big deal for all the kids. I even loved that there was a possibility that your candy could be the last shit you ate because it could be poisoned. Will it be a trick or will it be a treat? My family would have big Halloween parties every year, which I eventually took over and began decorating for, DJ-ing for and making my own elaborate costumes for. I even designed haunted houses in the yard to go through, and since I loved horror so much, I began making horror films when I was about 10 years old. I didn’t say that shit was good; I was 10!

A young Eddie Ray goes gangster.

I think a lot of Halloween Kids grew up this way in Atlanta, and I would eventually met some of them in the future. I believe that we were all meant to find each other. I met Luke Godfrey during the filming of a low-budget zombie movie. He had just started the first Zombie Walk in Atlanta (watch a video filmed by Eddie at this year’s walk on Sun. Oct. 14 here), and we became friends right off. He would later open up the haunted attraction Chambers of Horror with Nick Morgan. This was the first haunted attraction/house I ever acted in. I met Jonny Rej (co-owner of The Plaza) and Shane Morton through the Plaza Theatre, and now I help them train actors, direct scenes and act in their haunted attraction, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse [If you missed our ATLRetro feature on AZA, click here]. I have always loved haunted houses/attractions growing up and go to all the ones that Georgia has to offer. I met special effects artist Blake Myers through a friend of mine, and we rambled on about John Carpenter for a while and have been friends ever since. Now he is doing effects for horror films like V/H/S, and he helps run the Buried Alive Film Festival (Nov. 9-10, 2012 at the Plaza).

Eddie Ray gives a Red Scare to the GA Capitol during Atlanta Zombie Walk.

These are just a few of the friends that I help with different Halloween events throughout the month of October. The point is we all grew up the same way, and we loved horror and Halloween. Now we keep the Halloween dream alive every year with events, horror attractions, parades and films that are made here. Atlanta really is a horror and Halloween town, because we help make it that way. It’s fun for all ages, races, sexes and sexualities. Halloween is for all who love it. I am proud to live in a Halloween town like Atlanta. Now get out there and support all the Halloween fun Atlanta has to offer you!

Here are some reasons why Atlanta is a horror/Halloween town!

A. Hello, the CDC is here.

B. There is a shitload of foreclosed and abandoned creepy-ass buildings here.

C. A shit-ton of ghost stories from Atlanta’s rocky-ass past. Savannah is always listed as one of the most haunted places in America. I grew up near a DEVIL’S CHURCH ROAD! It was Spooky Dookie!

D. Zombie Walks,  Zombie Prom, WALKING DEAD (TV Show), DANCE OF THE DEAD (Movie), Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2 (Movie), DEAR GOD! NO! (Movie) and V/H/S  (Movie)  all happen or were filmed here.

E. All the amazing horror make-up effects people who live here.

F. The Buried Alive Film Festival, at which I was winner of the Audience Choice Award for SATANIC PANIC; BAND OUT OF HELL last year. Yay, me!

G. Ponce Hookers. I was chased by one once.

H. People come down to Atlanta from other cities to celebrate Halloween here.

I. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade.

J. Silver Scream Spookshow

K. All the amazing haunted attractions here [Ed. note: including Netherworld, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Chambers of Horror, Dark Harvest and more].

L. Honey Boo Boo. I’m kidding, I love her!

M. All the Halloween parties at bars and clubs like Mary’s, The Goat Farm and Sauced.

N. Splatter Cinema.

O. The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

P. Corn Mazes.

Eddie Ray as MC Eat Yo Brains Out!

Q. Me, bitch!

R. Most of my close friends love Halloween and really get into it with me, and we begin planning for Halloween in June. They make me proud with their costumes.

S. Halloween kids are all ages!

T. We all love Halloween here!

Okay here are some things to do this Halloween in Atlanta.

1. Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse: I work in this one now, and I play a cop who helps you fight off zombies in an EVIL DEAD style horror movie, with clues, the occult and pretty ladies!!!! You are literally running for your life, and it’s exciting and scary as hell. Turns out I am really good at this shit. I have done it for two years in a row and this is my third year. Yes, we are the Zombie Capital of the world now. It’s a Zombie Hell in Atlanta, G.A. Baby!

2. Chambers of Horror: This was the first haunted attraction I worked in, and it’s adult-themed, scary, FUCKED UP, and amazing. Check this Rated X haunt out for a good time and maybe a turn on. (Read ATLRetro’s article on last year’s Chambers here)

3. Marys Hallo-Weenie Party – (Friday Oct. 26) For a good time on Halloween, call Mary’s; it’s a cool place to go. They make Halloween a big deal and have the most outlandish costumes at any club or bar I have ever seen. I always take my ass by there in October.

Atlanta's Scariest Halloween Kid Duet: John Wayne Gacy, aka Eddie Ray, takes a mugshot with Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, aka Shane Morton.

4. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade – (Sat. Oct. 20, 4 p.m.) – I have been in the Halloween parade for about four years now, and it’s so much fun to dress up and walk down the streets of Little 5 Points in a creepy costume. Not to be missed, and if you can be in it then get in it! Watch here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPnIaOSYERA

5. Halloween Party at The Goat Farm II  (Sat. Oct. 27, 8 p.m.) – It’s back from the dead, and more blood-curdling than ever. Join them for an evening of debauchery, spectacles and spooky surprises at every corner. It’ll be a night that’ll haunt your memories. You’ve been warned. For more info, check out Scout Mob here.

Eddie Ray goes old school as The Green Ghost from SCOOBY DOO.

6. Plaza Theatre/Spookshow: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925; starring Lon Chaney, Man of 1000 Faces)- Oct. 19, 20, 21; and full stage show by Professor Morte and his ghoulish gang for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN  (1935; starring Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster) – Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

7. Twin Peaks Prom Night (Sun. Oct. 28, 8 p.m. ) – People will be encouraged to come dressed as characters from TWIN PEAKS or other David Lynch movies, as well as prom attire. Come out to enjoy a swanky dinner, snacks and cocktails from the always stellar menu at Sauced, plus DJs will be spinning classic haunting music from the ‘50s & ‘60s to transport you to a different era.

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Days and Nights of the Dead: Zombies Walk and Stage an Apocalypse This Halloween Season in Atlanta

Posted on: Oct 8th, 2012 By:

Don't mess with Eddie Ray and these tough, battle-scarred babes of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

The rest of the nation thinks Atlanta is the zombie capital of America because THE WALKING DEAD is filmed here. But the undead walked here long before Hollywood arrived and the best local zombie activities are completely conceived by homegrown brains.

First off, mark your calendar and break out your creepiest make-up for not one, but two Zombie Walks. Organized by Luke Godfrey, one of the sick brains behind Splatter Cinema, Zombie Walk Atlanta 2012 is this Sunday Oct. 14. This seventh annual event is the city’s largest and starts at Wonderroot at 3 p.m., but show up much earlier if you need help with your make-up. After you’ve walked with the dead, head over to Luke’s other bloody creation, Chambers of Horrors. For more about Luke and the city’s most extreme adults-only horror attraction, read last year’s ATLRetro interview with Luke here.

The dead don’t just have their day inside the Perimeter. The 2012 Marietta Zombie Walk  is Saturday October 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. during the Carnival of Doom festival. Register and buy a T-shirt here.

Finally, every night is The Night of the Living Dead at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, now in its own third season and expanded to include two different walking attractions, Curse of the Undead and ZWar and a zombie shoot at Safety Wolf, the paintball combat complex off Moreland Avenue, just south of I-285 (open Thurs.-Sun. nights throughout October and on Oct. 31). Set in and around a two-story abandoned motel, this more-than-100,000-square-foot attraction was nightmared up by the maniacal minds of local horror Renaissance man/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream SpookshowGargantua, Dear God! No!, Dracula The Rock Opera, etc.) and Jonny Rej (Plaza Theatre). Much more than your traditional walk-through haunt with jump-out monsters, AZA delivers a total immersion “experience,” in which attendees interact along the way with a variety of colorful characters living and undead. It’s sometimes hard to know who to trust but if someone says “run,” let’s just say you can be sure zombies are around, and if you don’t, you may get bitten and infected yourself or worse – eaten for your brains!

In “Curse of the Undead,” the origins of the zombie apocalypse are cultists reanimating the dead with arcane incantations. If you’re an EVIL DEAD fan, this one’s for you which makes the most of the addition of four acres of woods and even includes a zombie-killing hero named Bruce! My group was fortunate to have the protection of a police officer, played by talented local blogger filmmaker Eddie Ray (SATANIC PANIC: BAND OUT OF HELL) who did a great job of making us aware of a certain missing person problem and even imbued a little Southern-fried humor. FYI, we also encountered a few other familiar faces from the Silver Scream Spookshow and the Atlanta music scene.

Classic horror fans also will enjoy nods to Lovecraft (apropos since The Necronomicon raises THE EVIL DEAD) and the whole subgenre of B-movies featuring robed Satanists from THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) to RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975). Wear comfortable shoes (open-toes are no-nos) and watch where you step in the woods to not trip on tree roots. The journey is well worth a travel, but after all the build-up, my group’s one disappointment was that we expected one more final big scare that we didn’t get. AZA is constantly evolving and tends to improve with every week, so perhaps that may change.

“ZWar” picks up where the last two AZAs left off with the sinister Center for Disease Development (CDD), now developing a high-tech mega-weaponized zombie. Last year introduced an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-like scenario with a seedy encampment of humans as potentially dangerous as the undead. ZWar begins outside in the back parking lot with a similar brutal gang of people who use zombies for sport and a redneck overlord demanding our group steal drugs from the CDD for them. Once indoors, zombies menace, a brawny commando protects us with a machine gun and there’s the prerequisite mad scientist, but things really heat up when the scientist’s nervous victim takes the lead to find a way out. Without giving away any spoilers, the actor in that role did a fantastic job of upping the tension (does he really know where the exit is?). Will you make it out without encountering the CDD’s Necro-Tech warriors? Let’s just say, there’s no climax disappointment here.

Tickets to the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse are $20 for each attraction, $30 for both ZWar and Curse, $30 for the zombie shoot or $55 for everything! Located just south of I-285, off Moreland Road; directions here.

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