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Sometimes They Come Back is here to take a look at the horror genre and its love for remakes! We’ll be discussing both the original movie and its remake (sometimes multiple remakes) in detail before deciding who comes out on top! Are the originals always the best? Let’s find out!
‘The Evil Dead’ (1981)
In this instalment of Sometimes They Come Back we’re taking a look at another video nasty – Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead. Set to the now classic ‘cabin in the woods’ backdrop, this low budget gore fest gives us the first outing of horror icon Ashley (Ash) Williams, played by the brilliant Bruce Campbell. Bruce sadly recently announced that he would be officially retiring the character of Ash after the third season of Ash vs Evil Dead comes to an end, but The Evil Dead see his first real outing.
The set up for this movie is pretty typical by today’s standards, but at the time it was probably one of the first examples of a bunch of teenagers looking for a fun time in a hopelessly deserted cabin in the middle of nowhere, where should something go wrong, there would be no chance of rescue.
We’re introduced to a car full of university students – Ash, his girlfriend Linda, his sister Cheryl, and couple Scotty and Shelly, as they head out to a cabin in the middle of the forest for a relaxing Spring break. It could be easy to try and relax before those pesky evil dead guys show up, but Raimi makes use of a lot of zooming camera shots that quickly give us the impression something is following the group of friends in their car, even before anything scary happens.
“Why are we getting it so cheap?”, Linda asks as the group make their way to the cabin. It’s probably better we don’t tell her. The cabin is pretty terrifying, complete with a swing on the front porch that moves by itself, a clock that suddenly stops working, and a cellar hatch that likes to interrupt dinner by pushing itself open. Honestly, why anyone wants to holiday here is beyond me.
In a typically bad horror movie decision, Ash and Scotty not only explore the creepy cellar, but also bring up a bunch of stuff including a book with a face (never trust a book with a face if you ask me) and a tape recorder which is unfortunately loaded with the spell to wake the aforementioned evil dead.
Cheryl, the only semi-smart member of the entire group, insists they shut off the recording, but then, unfortunately, gets lured into the woods by a disembodied voice calling her. In perhaps one of the most famous scenes of the entire Evil Dead series, Cheryl is attacked by the forest itself, and wrapped in tree vines. Typically, the other members of the group are sceptical to believe Cheryl, even when they find the only bridge out of the woods destroyed when Ash tries to drive her to safety.
After her encounter in the woods, Cheryl is quickly possessed and turned into a Deadite, and she takes to her new role spectacularly by driving a pencil into Linda’s ankle. Ankle injuries are my top gross-out moment of horror films, and there is a surprisingly large amount of them once you start looking for them. This has to be one of the top ankle injuries on my list. Not only does she stab Linda, but she also drives the pencil round in circles causing a copious amount of blood to spill down her leg.
Cheryl is quickly locked in the basement, secure enough so she can’t get out, but not so secure that she can’t continue to taunt the remaining friends through the gap in the floor. Shelly is quickly recruited to the Deadites team as well, but Ash and Scotty take the smart decision to dispatch of her as soon as possible and swiftly chop her up with an axe. In fact, Shelly’s is the first in a long line of hands that will be removed over the course of the Evil Dead series.
As a result of her ankle attack, Linda also sadly joins the Deadites and chooses the appearance of creepy-ass, giggling doll, who sits and laughs at Ash until he realises he needs to kill her if he has any hopes of surviving. With Scotty dying from being attacked after trying to escape into the woods by himself, Ash realises he’ll have to take care of Linda himself. After trying to bury her alive, he ends up decapitating her with a shovel, though not before she scratches an excessive amount of flesh off his legs. That’s another ankle area injury already. Not cool The Evil Dead, not cool.
Cheryl manages to escape from the cellar, and Scotty is revived from death to become a Deadite, so they quickly decide to beat the shit out of Ash before they kill him. I’m still not entirely clear why Ash never turns into a Deadite himself. The rules of what brings you over to the evil side aren’t as cut and dry as zombie lore, but he somehow manages to avoid the evil dead curse until the end of the movie.
While his sister tries to murder him with a fire poker, Ash realises the incredibly evil looking book with the face is probably an essential element in all of this and manages to throw it into the fire where it starts to burn. This triggers Ash’s remaining friends to melt and decompose in front of him, in a final flourish of blood and gore.
We’re left with what seems like a happy ending. The sun has come up, the music is light and hopeful, and Ash has escaped the cabin – but then we cut to the rushing camera angle as it whooshes through the woods, smashes open every door in the cabin, and descends on Ash. He screams, and the screen goes black. Of course, we know that everything turns out alright for Ash…well sort of…I mean The Evil Dead sort of gets wiped out by Evil Dead II. It’s confusing okay.
‘Evil Dead’ (2013)
Let’s move on to Evil Dead (2013) where things get a little more confusing, as this is technically a remake of the original movie but also a continuation of the wider The Evil Dead universe. There are loads of reference to the original movie in this remake/sequel, so if you like a bit of geeky horror trivia, it’s a fun watch!
Evil Dead dropped the ‘the’ from its title and was directed by Fede Alvarez, who went on to direct the ‘looked awesome from the trailer but had an awful second act’ Don’t Breathe. Coincidently, Jane Levy has also starred as the leading lady in both of these movies.
We open with a young girl being terrorised in the woods, which let’s face it, is a familiar scene in the Evil Dead series. However, all is not as it seems, and after the girl is tied up in a basement by a couple of creepy looking men, it is revealed she is possessed by a rather foul-mouthed demon who killed her mother. To save her soul from rotting in hell for eternity, her father is advised to burn her to death and then shoot her in the head, which he quickly does.
We then cut to present day, and the reason behind a group of friends hanging out in a creepy cabin makes a little more sense in this movie, as they have all banded together to help Mia (Jane Levy) overcome her drug addiction and go cold turkey. Helping her through are her brother David, his girlfriend Natalie, and friends Eric and Olivia. Mia makes reference to the fact they visited this cabin a lot in her childhood, so I’m not how that aspect fits into the broader Evil Dead universe, but we’ll let that slide for now. A very similar car to the one Ash and his friends pulled up in does sit abandoned in the grounds of the cabin though.
We get lots connections to the original The Evil Dead in the first few shots of the movie, and there are lots more peppered through the entire film. From Mia sitting drawing similarly to Cheryl, Mia receiving a necklace that looks incredibly like the one Ash gave to Linda, and the same eerie clock pendulum swinging away, it does feel like a very similar movie.
In a coinciding turn of events, the group of friends end up in the cabin’s basement, though this time there is no excuse for ignoring the creepy shit that’s all around them. The room is full of dead cats, visible blood stains, and a burnt patch on the floor which confirms that opening demon kill took place in this very cabin. Whoops.
Eric decides to take the barbed wire wrapped Necronomicon upstairs with him, and honestly cements himself as the worst character in the entire film (and yes I included the actual demons in that equation). Ash and Scotty get a pass in the original film because they simply play a tape recorder, with no real indication of what is on it. Eric cuts the book out of barbed wire, ignore the various warnings that are scrawled in what looks like blood, and even has to make imprints of the text which has been scribbled out to read the spell aloud. Genius move pal. If I’ve learned anything from Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy is it do not read from the book of the dead!
Unfortunately, Mia is out having a rage walk in the rain when Eric decides to doom them all, and so just like Cheryl before her, is the first character to be taken by the demons in the forest. To be honest, I could have done without a repeat of the forest attack in the same fashion as it happens in the original, but I do understand that it’s a pretty iconic scene, and it might have been challenging to leave it out.
Mia’s drug addiction and withdrawal reactions mean it’s very easy for the group to dismiss her initial weirdness and ignore it without feeling too bad about it. Mia decides to take things into her own hands and steals one of the group’s cars to make a run for it, though sadly crashes into the woods trying to avoid a demon manifestation of herself.
After Mia is brought back to the house, she decides to have a nice, boiling shower to calm herself down and quickly becomes fully possessed, which leads to her being locked in the basement like so many others before her. Though not before she vomits a river of blood into Olivia’s face. Much like the original (unless you’re Ash), any direct injury/fluid swap with a Deadite means you’re pretty much screwed. Olivia celebrates this fact by slicing half her face off with a massive chunk of glass.
Eric goes to see if Olivia is okay after all the blood vomit and is quickly dealt his first dose of justice for reading from a clearly evil book, though if you can watch Eric getting stabbed multiple times in the face with a needle without flinching, then you’re a better person than me.
Eric’s one redeeming quality is that he works out mercifully quickly that the book is behind all the bad things that are happening, and luckily the book spells out the various stages of doom with handy illustrations. After one horrible incident after another, the demon will collect five souls, and the Abomination will be released. The image of the Abomination in the book is essentially the poster art from the original film if you’re keeping track of those The Evil Dead easter eggs.
Much like the opening scene of the movie, Eric quickly works out that the only way to save Mia and stop that whole horrible process is to kill her, which understandably her brother is not particularly down with. In the meantime, Mia manages to lure Natalie down into the basement with her and bites her arm in the process. This leads to yet another hand injury when Natalie hacks her arm off with an electric knife in a bid to stop the infection, but ultimately dies from her wound and joins the Deadites.
You would think the demons would be happy with Eric for waking them up, but he gets the worst of it throughout the entire movie. Not only does he get filled with nails when Natalie rocks up with with a nail gun but he also gets his hand split open (ding ding ding – another hand injury) with a crowbar. Eric mercifully dies after helping David subdue Mia, though David pays no attention to the fact he will definitely come back to life at some point! Your girlfriend just came back to life dude, pay attention!
David works out that if Mia dies, and then he brings her back to life, it should be enough to save her soul and turn her back to normal. After burying her alive, he shocks her back to life, and it seems like everything is fine. Let’s fetch the car keys and head home from this terrible nightmare…and enter Eric. Eric who’s sole role in this movie is to screw over his friends as many times as possible. Eric who stabs David in a way where he will undoubtedly bleed to death very quickly. Honestly, fuck you, Eric.
David blows up the cabin to kill himself and Eric and save Mia from any further horrors. Unfortunately, David dying marks the fifth soul that has been taken, and it starts raining blood as the Abomination crawls out of the ground in front of Mia. Mia has just been rescued from being tortured in hell while a demon used her body to lick a Stanley knife, and now she has to deal with this.
The final chase sequence between the Abomination and Mia is terrifying, as Mia wedges herself into a number of claustrophobic spaces to try and avoid being brutally murdered. After picking up a trusty chainsaw in the garden shed, she hides under a car in the garden and swipes the legs of the approaching Abomination. Unfortunately, the demon then flips the car on to Mia and traps her hand. Appreciating she either has to fight back or die, Mia rips her hand off to escape. That’s yet another removed hand, and a scene so gross than I actually gave myself foot cramp from curling my toes so much, even though I’ve seen it a few times before. It’s impressively disgusting.
In a scene Ash himself would be proud off, Mia slams her freshly ripped stump into the chainsaw handle and dismantles the demon with a chainsaw to the face. Honestly, the fake blood budget on this movie must have been insane, as it’s still raining blood as well!
This time it’s really over, not even Eric can ruin it for Mia now, and she walks off as the sun rises to what we hope is a happier ending.
‘The Evil Dead’ (1981) vs. ‘Evil Dead’ (2013) – The Final Verdict
Let me start by saying that both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead are great movies. The Evil Dead has an incredibly low budget, but you wouldn’t know it from the level of special effects. From the tree branches wrapping themselves around Cheryl, to the scenes of cutting off body parts without any cutaways, and Shelly getting her eyes gouged out, the practical effects are brilliant. Evil Dead stayed in a similar vein to the original and reportedly used no CGI, which is impressive when we see things like Mia’s skin blistering before our eyes under the boiling shower, or her kneecap being sliced open with a machete, or you know, her hand being ripped off! Mia does not have a fun time in this movie.
While Ash goes on to be a cult character in the later movies, I feel he’s lacking in the first movie. He such a nice guy, and you can’t imagine him turning into the groovy womaniser he becomes. I was rooting for him to survive because he’s the all-round good guy – he loves his sister, he’s a romantic boyfriend, and he tries to do his best for the group when stuff starts going wrong, but he’s not as cool as Army of Darkness Ash.
Mia on the other hand (no pun intended), is a great heroine, and it’s even more interesting that she spends most of the movie as the main antagonist before she rocks back to the good side and saves humanity. She starts the film as a quite pathetic character and manages to overcome her personal demons (both the drugs and the literal demons who have her face) to become a kickass heroine.
I like that the remake thought of a more logical reason why a bunch of friends would head of to a creepy cabin in the woods, and why they would continue to stay there when things start to get weird.
Finally, I found the remake actually scary compared to The Evil Dead. While both movies are equal on levels of cringe-inducing gore, the final chase scene in the remake pushes it over the edge for me. I’m not always a massive fan of gross-out horror, so I appreciate actual creepy scenes mixed in there.
So even though my husband, aka a massive Bruce Campbell fanboy, will hate me, I liked Evil Dead (2013) much better.
Winner: ‘Evil Dead’ (2013)