Remake Retake: Comparing “The Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead” (2013)

As a society, we like feeling comfortable; we don’t like to stray from what we know. That is likely why so many film remakes continue to be produced, instead of brand new stories being concocted. In my new series “Remake Retake,” I will be taking a look at classic horror films and comparing them to their remakes.

This inaugural “Remake Retake” pits The Evil Dead (1981) vs. Evil Dead (2013).

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day directly after I had watched back-to-back the 1981 classic The Evil Dead, and its 2013 remake, simply called Evil Dead. As she is an experienced and long-time fan of horror films, I hesitantly began the conversation by asking if it’s crazy to say that I perhaps actually like the Evil Dead remake better than the original. Of course, I was scorned for this remark.

Upon re-watching both films again — for the first time side-by-side — it was already apparent that I love both films. What was made clear, however, in this experience, was which I liked better by the end.

The 1981 original is regarded as one of the most important independent horror films ever made, and is lauded a classic of the genre. It made careers of director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, and was the starting point to one of the best and most beloved series of horror films with Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) following. It’s one of the few horror films that really does deserve all of the praise it gets.

The remake was well-received upon release, but in the time since has sort of fallen into the ether and forgotten. It’s a film that is structured similarly to the original, and features many homages, but it also carries a completely different tone. I believe this is why a lot of fans have come to hate the film. Opposite to the original, I think it is a film that deserves more praise.

In terms of plot, the original film is extremely straightforward. Five friends drive up to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. There’s Scott and his girlfriend Shelly, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda, and finally Ash’s sister Cheryl. Upon entering the cabin, the group finds the place rundown and desolate, but are able to make a home of it anyways. Soon thereafter, Cheryl has an episode where she loses control of her hand whilst she’s alone drawing and seems to be possessed, but she ultimately dismisses the event.

At dinner that night, as everyone sits around the dinner table, laughing and enjoying their time, a formerly unbeknownst cellar door bursts open across the cabin. Ash and Scott venture into the darkened cellar only to find a terribly old book and tape recorder. Ash plays the tape, and the voice describes that the book is the Naturom Demonto (otherwise known as the Book of the Dead), which is bound in flesh and written in blood. As the tape plays, the voice begins to recite incantations, and this unleashes a terrible evil in the woods.

It’s a great, simple set-up that’s bolstered by a fun cast of characters. Simple as that.

The remake has a bit more going for it plot-wise. It’s still a film about five people who shack up in a cabin, but the characters don’t come to the cabin as one ensemble, as it seems that the group has decidedly fallen apart in recent years. There’s brother and sister duo David and Mia, David’s new girlfriend Natalie, and also David and Mia’s longtime friends Eric and Olivia. Oh, and there’s also the incredibly lovable family dog, Grandpa, whose presence again differs from the original. The reason for the group staying in the cabin is changed here as well, as it isn’t simply treated as a fun getaway retreat, but instead as a way to help Mia recover her dwindling life as she slips into a terrible heroin addiction.

Just like the original, the characters discover a cellar door, this time covered in a trail of blood. David and Eric of course explore the cellar and, just like in the original, find the Naturom Demonto. This time, however, Eric is the one to read the incantations and releases the demons upon the cabin.

Again, it’s a simple setup — this time with a few more plot points — but it still works.

The original film was made on a $375,000 budget according to Imdb, and in case you’re unaware of the amount of money it usually takes to make a film, $375,000 is close to nothing. I’d love to tell you that the minuscule budget doesn’t shine through, but that’s just not the case here. Even with the tiny budget, there’s actually some truly impressive special effects, especially in the ending that sees the use of some awesome claymation. It’s also likely that 95% of the budget went to blood effects, as the film ends with the cabin drenched in gooey red-black sludge. It’s pretty awesome.

As for the 2013 film, the budget almost reaches $20 million. A substantially higher budget than the original, and it shows. The film is tightly edited, the effects are exceptionally better, and the acting, while not great, is still better than the performances in the original.

Whereas the original film is rooted in black humor and is purposefully goofy, the remake is as serious and dark as it can be. For me, this is the biggest problem about the remake. While I think that the serious nature of the remake works well, it simply doesn’t feel like an Evil Dead film because of it. The Evil Dead franchise always had terrible, gory happenings on screen but it was always juxtaposed by cartoony effects and loony acting. I never laughed once during the remake, but I give credit to it as I found myself in awe for a majority of the film at the incredibly brutal and convincing violence.

Though it’s no family-friendly romp, the original film is a much more fun and lighthearted film when compared to the grisly remake. It features a cast of characters that are more likable than the ones presented in the remake, and I’m actually on the fence about if the terrible acting helps in this situation or not. There’s still a lot of blood and guts, but it is so over-the-top that it can be sort of funny. There’s definitely a charm to the original film that the remake is lacking in.

The remake is basically The Evil Dead as if it were reimagined by Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever), though don’t let that stray you, as it is substantially better than any of Eli Roth’s films. The violence, while it was already dialed up to 11 in the original, has been multiplied for the remake. Characters are repeatedly tortured by the possessed in increasingly dire ways. Here’s some of the highlights: whole arms are sliced off, faces are sawed in half, eyes are gouged, there’s removal of limbs by chainsaw, etc., etc. The film really never lets up. If you can sit through it all, that’s a personal feat right there.

Before I wrap up, I do want to mention the finales of both films, as they are the best part of either film. The original goes absolutely bonkers in its end and is a ton of fun to watch, while the remake has a remarkably tense and thrilling duel in a beautifully realized scene. Also, the direction in both is great, especially by Raimi in the 1981 version. The ending scene — where the camera quickly travels through the cabin — is still incredible.

In the end, I really do love both films, but I have to pick one winner as that’s the entire point of this feature. I know I’ll get hate for this, but I actually prefer the remake to the original. I do wholly respect the original, but it just doesn’t hold up as well today, especially with its sequel, Evil Dead II, upstaging it ten-fold.

The remake isn’t necessarily a “fun” watch, nor is it funny, but it’s an effective and well-made horror film. It has incredible production, a wonderful ending, and is genuinely terrifying in its relentless violence. The original is B-movie schlock, and of course I love it. But it’s also almost too simple a film, and it’s hard to look past some of the faults that came with the film’s budgetary restrictions.

This was a tough decision, but the remake barely manages to win this time.

Winner: Remake

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

P.S. Truth is, I probably should have just watched Evil Dead II twice instead.

2 thoughts on “Remake Retake: Comparing “The Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead” (2013)

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