A Response To Stephen Graham Jones’ Recent Commentary On EVIL DEAD (2013)

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“One of these things is not like the other
One of these things just doesn’t belong…”
A response to Stephen Graham Jones’ recent commentary on EVIL DEAD (2013)
by Pablo D’Stair

Slightly breaking with the esoteric blather I tend to offer my regular readership (if I, indeed, have a regular readership—my conceit makes it necessary to believe so, in any event) I want to here offer a directed blather in the form of a conversational (if rant-based) response to a recent piece by author (and I would hope he shares the sentiment, friend and colleague) Dr. Stephen Graham Jones. A horror-aficionado and peculiar opposite-side-of-the-coin from me thinker (‘peculiar’ because we run so similar in so many respects I would think to call him the opposite-side-of-a-double-headed-coin, but that just sounds weird) Jones is a known commentator, specifically on pop-cultural Horror Cinema of significance, and it is his piece HERE on the remake of The Evil Dead I am pulling my contentions from (please do read his piece, not just because it is excellent, but because otherwise my own piece might seem hopelessly ungrounded and bus-stop-drunkard in nature).

***

The Re-Make has, indeed, become a Genre (I would no longer even call it a Sub-Genre)—whatever one’s feelings on this, it is so. Some suggest (not Jones, or at least not to my knowledge—we’ll get to his points in a moment) that because of the cinema landscape so regularly being dotted with Re-Make Films, any cynical suggestion at their lack-of-respectful origins is a pointless remark—as though now that they are legitimized, to whatever extent, as a Thing, Re-Makes should, no peering at them to make sure, be looked at as artworks, the same as if they were originals (though not necessarily as though they were their originals—I could not resist that silly addendum). Some go as far as to suggest it makes just as much sense to Make A Film From A Film as it does to Make A Film From A Book—and, in purely artistic consideration, I agree with that.

To me, the Remake can be a Genre, but to take the title of Cinema or Art, to even have its films considered in reference to ‘their originals’ means investigation of tenet is required, all the more. The Hitcher (2007), for example, while titularly the same as The Hitcher (1986), is nothing the one to do with the other—the Re-Make is neither commentary, update, homage etc etc.—it is, hands down, a cash grab. But, everyone knows that. As they know it about so many of the others from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Thing.

As an observer of film (I am back stepping for context before finally hitting on Jones) I always principally wondered at adaptations, and especially wondered at Re-Makes. To wit: why not just make something similar to another film—be inspired and investigate…a style? I would not balk at a conversation that went “We should do a film like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “Yeah. Something like that, only not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “Exactly.” because to do a film, superficially like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (or like any other film) would not be difficult. Take the general idea, surface-level-change some elements, then write something and film something with original verve. Fine. People might say of the finished product, “Oh, this is just like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but if it’s an original film, this can be meant in a good way, just as much as it could be a disparagement were the film twaddle. HOWEVER: A conversation that goes “Let’s do a film like Texas Chainsaw.” “Yeah. Or how about we just, you know, do the same film, but in a kind of different way, and then how about we also just call it Texas Chainsaw!?” “Yeah!” is not acceptable, not the same as the first made-believe conversation, above, at all. Why? Because in the second case, the comparison between the finished films is forced—indeed, the consideration of the Re-Make, at all, is dependent and suckling from the original, wherein a titularly and superficially different film drawing genuine comparison (positive or negative) to the original (as would be the result of the first conversation) is organic. A film done in the SPIRIT of another film first has to stand on its own, no bolster—a film done with the same TITLE (fuck the spirit) of another first is propped up, maybe long enough to never have to test its own legs out at all.

Okay: So how to investigate the artistic integrity of a Re-Make? What is a cash-in and what is a commentary and what is homage and what is, even sharing title, close to being “new original”?

Jones, in his article at one point, makes comments which I think cut right to thick on this: he first brings up the danger of loose “remake” and too precise “remake” invoking the titles Halloween and Psycho, then to counter these he offers that there is something more innocuous or acceptable about the remakes of Sorority Row and My Bloody Valentine. Right there, for me, is the thing. Iconic Films, films that reach a level of being ubiquitous, known even to those who don’t know them, principally do not lend themselves to true artistic or even sincere Re-Make. Halloween is Halloween—anything not the first (or the first two, being fair) film is a sequel, a knock off, a nothing. But harmless and good-natured and fine—cards on the table, saying “I am Halloween V” is nothing near to saying “I am Halloween” cash-grab or not. To say “I am re-imagining Halloween” a la Rob Zombie, on the other hand, is shit, is nothing but shit. That entire film is dependent on the mythos and fan-base and good standing of the original. Zombie has made original films, but not with Halloween—and perhaps if he had decided to simply make a masked serial killer slasher film it would have drawn comparisons to Halloween and perhaps not, but that is not what he did, and instead his film was dry-humping the title, the idea, The Icon of the original. It was cynical and shitty, to be blunt. Why? Because Halloween is known, is Mythological. Michael Meyers is known, is Mythological. Dr. Loomis is known, is Mythological. Haddonfield is known, is Mythological. Nothing “original” can be done—the sequels to Halloween know this, know themselves derivatives. A Re-Make ignores this principia and, no matter how artful (which Zombie was not, by the way) is just leeching. One can write something like Beowulf or Hamlet—one cannot write Beowulf or Hamlet.


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Now: Sorority Row is not Iconic. The new filmmakers are hardly re-imagining or riffing off anything—and even if they are, the audience they seek and will find for the film are not, in any way, going to think they are being suckered in based on their communal love of the original. The Re-Make, indeed, will not even draw comparison to the original. The Re-Make, indeed, might as well be another film just coincidentally called the same thing. The original, indeed, might as well not exist to begin with. Of course, the question of “Then why not just make something like the original, without even the titular duplication?” is just as existent, but the thief-y stink is off of it. One can legitimately see my two imagined filmmakers, having watched My Bloody Valentine (original) saying, “That was pretty good. Let’s do something like that.” “Fuck, let’s just kind of redo it our way, you know? Who gives a shit?” It is no more of an update than is the retelling of a campfire story, campfire-to-campfire, childhood-to-childhood. That is (maybe to make a quotable)—If you tell a story that ends “The call is coming from inside the house!” you aren’t stealing, or remaking, you are retelling (you really, even, are just Telling, flat out), making a new scare off of an ethereal, permanent scare; but if you tell a story that ends “Get out! Michael Meyers in in your house!” you are stealing, bullshitting, and making an ass of yourself generally—if I am around the fire, you make me believe “a madman” is loose in the woods out there and that is great, but only a real loser really tries to convince me “The killer from that movie, literally, only real!” is out in the woods, breathing heavy to synth music.

brwc--Jones 4Particularly in Jones’ piece, I feel he allows that Evil Dead is not a cynical cash-in—that because of some quality, or in its avoidance of some other actor trying to emulate Bruce Campbell, it rises to something even close to the level of filmic commentary or sincerity that Raimi’s original did.

I cannot be so kind.

The Evil Dead (Raimi’s film, with the The) IS the simplest, by-the-numbers horror set up in existence—but is not a meta-film, referential, winky-wink. It’s a campfire story. Easiest thing to redo—it’s done all day, every day, by every filmmaker, student to auteur.  There is no need whatsoever to re-approach a fucking cabin in the woods, evil awakening storyline with reference to any other one of the sort, titular reference or otherwise. It is not respectful, it is cash-grab. To reuse the scenarios, the set-up, however tweaked, whatever gender the characters are made (The Hitcher Re-Make swapped the sexes too…doesn’t…comment on anything…doesn’t make fresh shit) is not homage, is not paying respect: it is bullshit to get a buck-for-nothing.

The Evil Dead WAS a commentary film, but in the realm of David Lynch, not in the neo-commentary of Scream or Cabin In The Woods or the “face value” faux-commentary of Re-Make-as-Genre.  It was the cinematic language of Raimi’s film that made it work—not plot, not scares-versus-humor ratio etc. It played out like twenty different horror films to EVOKE twenty different “things horror films are” while still being its own film. Even the title speaks to this in its B-Movie simplicity, it’s generic as generic can be blandness (in the same way the original act of titling The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in exactly that way was a statement—it was almost camp, almost daring it to be looked at As A Film—a title that sounded like so much schlocky garbage forced the consideration “Why would a serious piece of filmmaking go that route?”). The Evil Dead presented itself as the store brand Captain Crunch particularly to showcase the beauty of breakfast cereal in general—pomp and circumstance not needed, “There is a communal beauty in this sort of cinema,” it said.

This Re-Make, even in the act of being Re-Make, already misses the primary beauty and lesson of Raimi and those filmmakers of his ilk over the decades. When we think of the team behind this new widget Evil Dead saying “Why not just make a horror-in-the-woods film that, sure, is kind of like The Evil Dead, but go another way with it?” what answer can we imagine that lead to a film actually called Evil Dead and built liberally from the original but “Because nobody would go see that, they’d just think it’s another movie set in the woods. If we call it Evil Dead, people will have to compare ours to the original. It’ll get more asses in seats if we just call it Evil Dead. We can say we’re paying Homage, updating the sensibility. I mean, if we just did our own kind of similar movie, nobody would right away give a shit.” I see none—no other conversation could have happened. Or at least none that isn’t absolute horseshit, trying to say something nice for no other reason than semantic politeness.

Also, to the tone of Jones’ whole article, I need point out: the “head-nods” in the Re-Make to the original film, the homage and then break from source—those, to me, are not signs of respect, but a raised middle finger right at the original piece. The new generation of actual filmmaker who would come to a Re-Make, were a Re-Make purporting itself as genuine emulation (or respectful investigation at all) of its origin source, would take pains to separate their film, as much as possible, from cutesy-cute inside-joke bullshit. These moments of “admitting remakeness” suggest a collaboration between Original and Re-Make it is not for the remaking filmmakers to suggest. As though something is shared, in the soul of both films, because certain moments appear and are referenced in both—as though the films are genetic siblings, one not a clone-brother/sister cooked up in a test tube someplace, if you dig.  I cringe to think of someone who would never have had any reason to have seen the original The Evil Dead (due to age or what have you) seeing first the Re-Make and only then the original and thinking about any moment “Oh, that’s like the moment in Evil Dead, cool. I like how They did that in both.” I am, perhaps, too philosophical a purist in this, perhaps that is no-harm-no-foul to most, but to me it is a sick-making thought, ever coupling the filmmakers’ aesthetics in with each other just because the films share a title and script base..

Yes, I suppose what Jones’ article (and the above loosely-associated-with-it rant) has got me to realize is how deep rooted my actual distrust of Re-Make as Genre is. Sequels, after all, at least had the decency to be Sequels—some good, some bad, but their connection to the original were always, face value, known to be second-hand, clinging on, bilking for a buck no matter the quality. Re-Makes—the genre-fication of the term even—no, no…it is trying to avoid, to obfuscate the perfectly evident swindling with high talk of “love” and “homage” and “commentary”. The television series Nowhere Man was homage, was commentary, never would the series have called itself The Prisoner—House was commentary, homage, never would it have called itself Dr. Sherlock. And moving it back to single-shot cinema: Frontier(s) is commentary, homage—it was not Texas Chainsaw Massacre (in francaise). High Tension is commentary, homage, not a remake of shit—its allusions are cinematic, artistic, speak to a genre, a style, a mindset, are not simply limp riffs on a single source purporting to be applicable across the board.

Evil Dead?

Bullshit that deserves to be called it. Like the film or not, there’s no crime in it either way, but one does not need to say something isn’t a cash-in knockoff to say “Hey, I liked that cash-in knockoff.” Things are what they are. And if Evil Dead made any pertinent commentary at all, it was in leaving off the The, because it certainly isn’t that.

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<p>Pablo D’Stair is a novelist, essayist, and interviewer. Co-founder of the art house press KUBOA, he is also a filmmaker.</p>