SXSW Day 1: I Saw 'Evil Dead' So You Don't Have To

The original Evil Dead is the movie so cleverly and honorably mocked by the last year's Cabin in the Woods, and the 2013 Evil Dead is nothing more than a mindless remake.

Evil Dead

Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci
US Release Date: 2013-04-05

Day 1 of SXSW was simply fantastic. Film fans from across the world were just getting into Austin as the morning sun tried to force it's way past ominous storm clouds. The day's movies didn't actually start until night fell, so friends and coworkers spent the hours prior huddled in the eccentric city's cafes, bars, and spacious convention center. Visitors and locals alike sipped on lattes and craft beer, charging themselves for the first night of what was sure to be a wild festival--or they simply charged their gear in whatever spare outlet they could find.

When the sun shrank and the rain rolled in, the indoor entertainment more than made up for the inhospitable outdoors. Fans were treated to a cult icon and his new horror flick. Neither disappointed, and SXSW was off to a phenomenal start.

It's too bad that was SXSW 2012.

Now, don't get upset. I wasn't lying in the first two paragraphs. Everything other than the positive remarks regarding film is true. It was rainy. The people were calm and collected. But the movies left plenty to be desired.

Last year, we were treated to the cult icon Joss Whedon. His horror flick was admittedly more of a satire, but The Cabin In the Woods was nonetheless perversely engaging and absurdly entertaining. There were as many laughs as there were jumps, and applause drowned out some of the best moments.

This year we were unfortunately subjected to exactly what Whedon was spoofing in 2012. The original Evil Dead is the movie so cleverly and honorably mocked by the simply titled Cabin in the Woods. Meanwhile, Sam Raimi, the cult icon, was too busy hocking Oz to show up for a movie I can only imagine disappointed him.

The remake of Evil Dead built up expectations with two key characteristics: loyalty to the original and clever marketing. It showed its adherence to the cult classic by bringing on Sam Raimi to help with the script and as one of the film's producers. It also helped that fan favorite Bruce Campbell gave the film his blessing.

The marketing centered around depicting the movie as the scariest you'll ever see. One poster even made the claim in writing. No one seemed to care there was no accreditation to film critic, maker, or fan. After watching the red band trailer, no one was going to question how terrifying this film looked.

Well, we should have. The 2013 Evil Dead is nothing more than a mindless remake. It goes for the gusto with gross out gore catered to today's easy-to-please torture porn fans without so much as a clever wink to the more demanding audience members before the blood starts pouring.

The characters are as bland as the actors playing them, and I swear some of the lines said with complete sincerity here were word-for-word cliches made fun of in last year's Cabin. The beguiling Bruce Campbell's charm and screen presence are missing dearly in the modern version.

Fans packing the 1,200 seat Paramount Theater seemed split in what they thought the film was supposed to be: funny or fatal. Half the crowd laughed at stock horror lines meant to be taken seriously while the other half remained silent. There were a few gasps and groans, but the only scenes to truly unify the crowd were those when someone was getting carved up.

Now, I'm not a big fan of gore. In fact, I wasn't too keen on seeing Evil Dead in a theater because shots of blood and guts 40 feet wide in extreme close-up don't appeal to me. But I went in with the mindset to tell fans of that sort of thing whether this was worth their time.

I beg you, no. The five or six instances of grisly cutting, biting, and burning are unseemly for sure. Truly vile? No. Because there's a studio backing this wannabe revolutionary, it was doomed to be too tame from the start. Yes, the tree does its worst. Yes, the chainsaw revs to life. But...didn't we already see this?

Yes, in the original, which we admired for the originality it put into its story AND blood splatter. There's nothing new here and nothing scary. There's just a whole lot of blood, lazily caked on in a pathetic attempt to appear edgy.

The only other entertainment I sought out Friday evening was absolutely original, but ultimately disappointing as well. Upstream Color is a film I find impossible to summarize without ruining the film's few surprises as well as its credibility. The story is so incredibly bizarre, its slow unfolding is the film's main attribute.

Ultimately, it didn't prove enough for me to find relevant. Much of the character development was established by writer/director Shane Carruth's beautiful color palette, framing, and style. Once their predicament became clearer, what little feelings I had regarding their connection were lost.

Carruth wrote and directed the early aughts festival favorite Primer, and has more recently been given credit for developing aspects of Looper with friend Rian Johnson. The man clearly has talent. He also edited, scored, and played the second lead in Upstream Color. Sadly, he wasn't on hand to answer questions due to an unexpected travel delay.

If you're at all curious, I wouldn't say much to dissuade you from seeing his film. It will win over as many as it infuriates, while others like myself fall somewhere in the middle.

Evil Dead on the other hand, should be widely ignored. Please, feel free to skip this cheap ploy for money and keep your memories of the original intact. If not for that, do it for me. Don't let my suffering be for naught.

* * *

For regular updates on all of the SXSW Film 2013 happenings, follow PopMatters: @PopMatters

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