ZZN RePrint: The Evil Dead

I’ve been doing Wednesday Reprints of my old Zombie Zone News articles since they can no longer be seen on the site. Taking a break from interviews this week to reshare my article detailing why I hate The Evil Dead–especially when everyone assumes I must love it.

I hate The Evil Dead: Explained, because you asked for it.

As a life-long zombie fan from the great state of Michigan, I am met with varying degrees of surprise when new friends learn that I loathe The Evil Dead movies—and indeed, all of Sam Raimi’s horror. “Even Army of Darkness?!?” they say in feigned hipster shock. Yes, ‘fraid so. People have been asking me to explain (read: justify) this for at least 20 years now. I wanted to explain it, but I honestly didn’t know—until now. This might end up being more about me than the film itself, but hey, you asked. See, I don’t just “dislike” Evil Dead. I loathe it. I’ve reached a point where I’m pissed that people praise it so highly, love it so much—especially when the most gung-ho people aren’t even zombie fans. “The Evil Dead” is kind of a silly title if you think about it—akin to The Mean Murderer or Bad Men We Don’t Like.

Until my preparation for this article, I hadn’t seen the original Evil Dead in over 15 years. I remembered it as tritely scripted, horribly acted, rife with ridiculously bad dialogue, and generally shitty overall. It was also advertised as a zombie movie, which it really isn’t. On the off chance that I asserted this, I would typically be met by—let’s say vigorous disapproval. Eventually I became perplexed, suspicious that there must be something I was missing. The disagreement was SO strong that I doubted the veracity of my hatred—even Stephen King has admitted liking The Evil Dead.

“But…it’s terrible,” I’d say, referring to the aspects of the films which are…you know…terrible. And here’s the thing—no one disagrees that Evil Dead has horrible acting, is poorly written, has amateurish special effects and makeups that are lit far too brightly, and is generally stupid. Everyone concedes these points. “But, you don’t understand–they had so little and did so much,” they bray. What I gather from that is that I’m supposed to love the movie because they took the time to make it, and it was hard. It’s probably hard for Uwe Boll to make movies, but the fact that he did so isn’t enough to make me go. I’m not falling for THAT again. Now that YouTube exists, we now know that movie making is not some elusive skill that only Kubrick, Fincher, and Hitchcock were ever good at. Simply making a film with a small budget is not a good enough reason to like it.

Side note: I once paid to see Drag me to Hell in the hopes that there would be ONE Sam Raimi horror movie that I could enjoy. No dice. I love Spiderman, but all of Raimi’s horror watches like he’s enjoying a private joke that I just don’t get. The talking goat was enough to make me want to walk out in a huff; and I spotted the **spoiler alert** button switch from a mile away. Sad, because like Evil Dead, Drag me to Hell has a promising beginning.
It’s even been suggested that I don’t like Evil Dead because I’m a girl. And apparently, Girls don’t know anything about zombies. Pish tosh, I say. If you don’t think chicks know zombies, I’d implore you to check out Z Magazine, and its proprietess Eloise Knapp. Hell, you can read my own zombie book, The Finster Effect, which is a damn sight more interesting than any horror Raimi has ever directed. AND it’s set in the great state of Michigan.

The Evil Dead starts out fine. There is some great footage of a swampy, wooded area (that isn’t in Michigan, for some reason) where scary shit is no doubt brewing. These swooping opening shots are fun and visually appealing—setting us up to think the movie will have a certain artistry that just doesn’t develop. By the time Ashley et al have a near-miss car collision, it’s clear to the viewer that not a single one of them can act. An abundance of 20/20 hindsight tells us that only one of these people went on to do any actual acting—if indeed, Old Spice commercials and Bubba Ho Tep can be counted as “acting.” 😉

Because this film is so well-known among fans, I’m not going to do a play by play of character or plot. If you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t need the information. That said, I do feel compelled to mention the following:
–How am I supposed to like a character who thinks it’s funny to point a loaded gun at his buddy? Unless the setup is “they’re a bunch of douchebags and you shouldn’t care if they die,” I don’t see the point.
–Some of the props are really cool—the book and the skull in particular.
–A chick is raped by a tree. I’m gonna say that again in case you aren’t getting that. A Chick. Is Raped. By a Tree. Evil Dead is considered to be an American classic, and a shining example of great filmmaking on a tiny budget. And in this zombie opus and source of American pride—a chick is raped by a tree. Women have come a long way in horror since then, but c’mon.
–Scott: Huge Asshat, or the Hugest Asshat? In fact, for being such close friends, all of these people are serious dicks to each other.
–Um, is that gerbil supposed to be a wild animal? If so, really?
–The clouds going past the moon shot is an affront to all things lunar. If you can’t just shoot the actual moon, please don’t bother.
–“Zombism.” Personally, I believe in a relaxed and inclusive definition of “zombie” which can include infected, voudon, bite-based, chemical, viral, etc. But being possessed by a Demon is not really zombism. Evil Dead “zombies” don’t seem to want to actually eat anyone, not as a primary goal anyway. What really bugs me about this is how many zombie aficionados will scream for days that 28 Days Later is not zombie movie because infection isn’t dying blah blah blah, but have no issue with this? I guess later in the film it’s a little more zombie-like, but really? Evil Dead is a zombie movie like Pet Sematary is a zombie movie—which is to say: kinda, but not really. In fact, it isn’t even marketed as a zombie movie anymore.
–Bruce Campbell. I know he has legions of fans, and is purportedly a really nice guy. He’s handsome. Ridiculously, absurdly, chiseled-out-of-stone handsome. No disrespect, but Bruce looks like he could be Mitt Romney’s brother. He’s so handsome, I’m suspicious and want to dislike him on general principle.
–Claymation. I gotta admit, I like it.
–Zombies don’t talk. And you can posthumously tell that prick Dan O’Bannon I said so.

Lets agree for the time being that The Evil Dead is a zombie movie. Zombies are part of the horror genre, and will be until they sparkle and make the romance with teenage girls. But The Evil Dead isn’t scary. It’s gross and silly and ridiculous. It doesn’t take horror seriously. And I do. Horror is serious business, and if you’re going to piss on it with your foolish FX and shittier than shitty dialogue (which is free, BTW. Good dialogue costs nothing, and the only thing you need to get it is talent) it needs to be at least as funny as say, Fido. Evil Dead isn’t, not in MY humble opinion. It isn’t even as funny as Saturday the 14th and how many of you have even seen that little gem of a film? ** insert horsehead bookends joke here **

There’s one more thing that keeps me from digging The Evil Dead. And I didn’t put it together for the longest time. And it begins with the Fake Shemp. A “Fake Shemp” is a delightfully nerdy expression derived from when the Three Stooges had to complete a few shorts after Shemp Howard’s sudden death. They worked around him with (what we now call) some Ed Wood-style body doubling. They had to shoot around Bruce Campbell to finish the film. Since Ted Raimi was far too adorable to stand in for Mitt jr, they used a series of these Fake Shemps.

Hmmm…a Three Stooges joke. Even with that knowledge, it still took someone actually telling me that one reason I don’t appreciate Evil Dead movies is that I don’t like the Three Stooges. Once I looked for it, Evil Dead was rife with references, parodies, a veritable cornucopia of Three Stooges humor. That’s the ongoing joke that I just don’t get. And let me assure you, that running gag is holding that movie together more than some of you realize. Without it, the whole thing turns to an unfunny crapshack.
Even more eye-opening was the realization that I don’t know a single chick who likes Three Stooges. Not one. I mean, I’ve seen a few of their shorts and don’t wish them any specific harm. A lot of fingers in eyes and pies in rich dowager’s faces. Hardee har har. But aside from thinking that recent movie was an affront against the gods of cinema, I know fuckall about the Three Stooges, and am quite comfortable with that. But I was pissed to realize that my dislike of Evil Dead had more to do with me being a chick than I’d care to admit.

In the end, I can forgive lame special effects, bad makeups under too bright lighting, suspiciously handsome actors, and can even learn to tolerate poorly written dialogue. But if I’m not scared, I need to be laughing, intrigued, or care even the tiniest bit about these characters. I wasn’t, and I couldn’t, and I still can’t. And that, ultimately, is what keeps me from enjoying The Evil Dead.
Aren’t you glad you know?

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