Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Return of the Evil Dead?

So, it seems we are getting another Evil Dead film, roughly twenty years after Bruce Campbell as Ash last battled the deadites. So its time to pull out the boomsticks, gas up the chainsaws, and start to celebrate, right?

Well, I wouldn’t be so fast, because from has been said, we are not getting a fourth entry in the Evil Dead series, but a full on remake, to be independently produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell. The film is to be directed by Fede Alvarez, and will be, in Campbell’s words, “[s]cary as hell.” The production will apparently based in Michigan, and will begin soon.

Now, allow me to be clear: I wish Fede Alvarez all the luck in the world. If Raimi, Tapert and Campbell believe in this man, I see no reason at this time not too trust them. But I honestly feel like I need to ask this question:

Does anybody honestly want this film?

When I ask that question, I don’t mean “does anyone want Evil Dead 4?” There are plenty of people who want to see that film, enough people that Raimi, Campbell and Tarpert are pestered with questions about it every time they are interviewed. But when that question is asked, I think it is more than fair to say that the person asking the question wants to know if-and-when Raimi is going to direct another entry in the series that stars Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, the bumbling idiot for a hero whose ongoing torture at the hands of the deadites has resulted in terror and laughter for over three films, several videogames, and numerous comics. I doubt that when the question has been asked of them, the interviewer has wanted to know if a remake was in the works that did not feature Campbell or Raimi in the key creative roles they have filled in the prior films.

The importance of the Raimi/Campbell partnership cannot be over estimated here, because when looking at the original Evil Dead, one thing that is clear is that the narrative of the film is not particularly compelling. The story, in which a group of college kids go out into the woods, inadvertently release demonic forces that proceed to possess and/or kill them one by one is a riff on the Night of the Living Dead, a film that has been drawn from time and again. More importantly, The Evil Dead is not a particularly well written riff either, with many paper thin characters delivering some questionable dialogue. This latter point is not helped by the questionable acting skills on the part of some cast members.

Yet the film works, and is a classic of the genre. Its success is primarily the result of the energetic direction of Raimi, who brings a sense of style and dread to the situation that a lesser director would never have captured, and from presence of star Campbell as Ash. While his performance is somewhat rough, Campbell manages to perfectly capture in the film just how much of an average guy Ash is, and more importantly, how much of a hero the character is not. While hardly the blowhard jackass of the films that would follow, Ash in the original film survives not because he is a hero, or smarter than any of the other characters, but through sheer dumb luck of being the most fun character to screw around with. It is Raimi's increasingly Loony Toons approach to torturing this character time and again that engaged audiences over three films, as he places Ash into increasingly horrific siutations, while at the same time encouraging audiences to feel less and less sympathy for the character.

So, without those two key elements, then what will make this impending Evil Dead remake a film of interest? There is no question that as a remake, it will have audiences curious to see it, but it is an audience whose reasons stem from their history with the prior films, who will come in with high expectations. Meeting those expectations will be uphill battle given the absence of the two people who made The Evil Dead, well, The Evil Dead. For some, this will be the breaking point for their acceptance of the film, regardless of whether or not the film turns out to be any good.

What makes the choice of the remake all the more baffling is that the people pushing this remake through are the very people behind the original film. This is not a remake we blame a greedy studio for, as the project appears to be the result of the cumulative efforts of Raimi, Campbell and Tapert This begs a simple question: just what does the trio hope to accomplish with this film? When George A. Romero wrote and produced a remake of The Night of the Living Dead in 1990, the reason was simple, if a little crass: to make back the money lost over the years due the copyright misunderstanding that put the original film in the public domain upon its original release. Raimi, Tapert and Campbell all appear to have maintained control over the rights to the series, though that does not rule out the financial motive altogether. Still, were that the case, selling off the rights to the studios who have been more than happy to remake everything under the sun would likely have been an easier way to make a buck rather than going the independent road.

Another hypothetical reason for the remake could be that with the trio being busy with other projects over the past decade, and/or they have all decided to move past Ash and the deadites, with hopes of ending the endless questions over further adventures of Ash through remaking the original film. Were this to be the case, it is a strategy that has ample amount of room to backfire, and worse, potentially tarnish the legacy of the original trilogy in the process. Again, a much simpler option would be to flat out tell fans that there will never be another Evil Dead film, because if the trio are tired of being asked about the series now, it will be nothing compared to wrathful complaints should the remake be rejected and hated.

As it stands, the remake seems to becoming regardless of whether or not anyone wants it. I hope for their own sakes, Raimi, Tapert and Campbell know what they are doing. More importantly, I hope Fede Alvarez knows what he is getting himself into. While Raimi and company might tarnish their past successes, a film that is anything less than great could kill Alvarez’s career before it even gets a chance to get going. Because if the film were to disappoint, even just slightly, he will likely be stuck with the unofficial title of being that guy who ruined the Evil Dead films, whether it is fair or not.

So good luck to the filmmakers of The New Evil Dead. You will need it.

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