Evil Dead played at my bachelor party. Evil Dead stars my favorite actor of all time, Bruce Campbell (I call him Brucey). Evil Dead inspired me to direct and star in my own horror film in college. What I'm trying to get across to you is that Evil Dead is an extremely important film to me. The simplicity of the plot did away with needless twists and boiled down to the essence of horror. The villain, both seen and yet useable, takes either the twisted forms of the dwindling protagonists or an invisible, possessing force rushing through the woods. The budget, ($350,000) bare-bones even in today's currency, forced the then mostly untested director (Sam Raimi of Spider-Man fame) to improvise, invent, and go back to basics on what makes a horror film scary. With such a strong base, the crew was able to craft the ONLY good remake ever made by mankind, Evil Dead 2, and then continued with the perfect B-movie, Army of Darkness.
Fans identify themselves as "Deadites" named after the army of the dead that is released in the film. Film makers from Wes Craven to Joss Whedon have stuck homages in their films to this masterpiece. In an industry where modern technology could easily and cheaply be used on every horror film as a crutch, films like Evil Dead remind new directors to stick with simplicity if they want quality. And every so often a filmmaker tries to recreate the magic that is this horror film.
How dare they?
It's ok to sacrifice virgins to the elder gods, but you think you can create a tentacle-faced Great One of your own? Judgment is coming and judgment will be swift and complete! I, who has watched everything Bruce Campbell has ever done, including Maniac Cop and the 10 second cameo in Darkman...I, who almost invented my own religious sect for how strongly I proselytized the Evil Dead franchise to uninitiated in college...I will judge these six attempts at walking in the shadow of greatness.
To be fair, these six movies are great, but they ain't no Evil Dead.
1. Cabin Fever
I'm going to start with the film farthest away from the mark first. Cabin Fever is a horror film where the villain is a flesh-eating virus...and stupidity. Tell me if you've heard this one before: A group of college kids go to a remote cabin to swim, bone, and die. Maybe that last part wasn't planned, but it sure as hell happens. Director Eli Roth thought that as long as he had teenage girls having sex, bloody corpses, and a spooky cabin, he'd get a sip of that sweet, sweet Evil Dead magic juice. NO JUICE FOR YOU, ELI!
First of all, the "Villain" isn't evil. A flesh-eating virus doesn't care if you just had sex, it doesn't wait in the shadows and pounce out to create jump-scares. Hell, it doesn't even chase after you! The only way this film even lasts past minute 10 is that everyone shoves the "idiot-stick" right up their butts. You've got college-age teens who, when discovering various bloody rashes, hides it from their peers. No person in college is going to do that, they'd demand everyone bend over backwards to attend to their needs and take them to the hospital. A hobo gets accidentally set on fire, and I just want you to re-read that sentence again. Once girl, who already knows there's a flesh-eating virus going around, has unprotected sex. That's like if the camp counselors started doing it AFTER they were stabbed by Jason Voorhees! They try to get the sheriff to help, but when the sheriff's son bites one of the teens for literally no reason, the sheriff blames the teens and starts trying to kill them. Because Eli Roth has no idea what he's doing, and this film should be ashamed of itself. No Evil Dead here.
A lot of people got excited about this film, me included. Sam Raimi, the original director of Evil Dead, returning to horror after his long bout of Spider-man success! The dream was that he would meld the horror that he'd always been known to deliver with the comedy that appeared in latter Evil Dead installments. What we got was a talking, possessed goat. Dammit Sam.
First of all, Evil Dead was great because the villain was released by the protagonist. It was Bruce Campbell's fault for reading from the Necronomicon, even though he couldn't have known what he was doing. Because it was his fault, all the destruction and murder that happens afterwards weighs heavy on his shoulders. Likewise, us as the audience on some level feel he deserves it. In Drag Me to Hell, the main protagonist is a loan officer who is doing her job. The Gypsy woman who eventually curses her legitimately shouldn't have been given a loan extension, and even so we see the protagonist emotionally grapple with the decision. There's no empathy or guilt on the part of the audience, so barring any psychopaths in the theater, nothing that happens to the main character feels earned. It's just torture for the sake of torture; the protagonist did the right thing, then gets punished for it. Also, someone at some point thought that a talking goat would be a good thing to totally not ruin the flow of the film. They were wrong.
3. Dead Alive
Many of you might not have heard of the little known director of this film, Peter Jackson, but this was one of his earliest films and boy does it try to match Evil Dead in terms of over-the-top gore, comedy, and schlock. Initially a commercial flop but earning a cult following, this film was known as Braindead outside of North America. The setting is a house in the suburbs instead of the woods, but the house full of scary monsters motif is the same. Jackson actually stole from several films to put this together, starting with a "Sumatran rat-monkey bite" as the genesis of the monsters which brings to mind both Gremlins and any zombie film.
From there, we have a meek main hero who is driven to the point of madness, choosing to rise to the occasion and become a monster killing hero...pretty much the exact plot of Evil Dead. Where Bruce Campbell famously attached a chainsaw to the wrist that his hand used to occupy, this guy picks up a lawnmower and uses it as a monster-shredder. Where Evil Dead featured an infamous "Tree-rape" scene, [i]Dead Alive has the protagonist forcefully shoved back into the womb of his repulsive, oozing, monstrous mother. Beat for beat the two films are similar, but where[i]Evil Dead moves with tact and restraint, this film says "What if we had one monster bone the other monster, and then have a monster baby?" Less is more, Jackson, less is more.