I doubt I’m alone in saying that EVIL DEAD turned me into a horror geek. Specifically, it was EVIL DEAD 2 that hit the right balance of humor and carnage to serve as my infection vector into the genre. Until that point, horror had been mostly inaccessible, a terrifying collection of VHS covers on shelves that prevented me from ever engaging. I’m not even sure why I tried EVIL DEAD 2 for the first time, but once I realized that horror could be more than just people cutting each other with knives – and oh God am I still terrified of knives – I was hooked.
Through the years I’ve remained hooked. True, my taste in horror – what frightens or excites me – has shifted and darkened, and yes, it’s been years since I revisited any of the EVIL DEAD trilogy, but the films have faded into a pleasant foundation of nostalgia that served as a shortcut to my love affair with the genre. Am I a horror fan? Why, you bet! EVIL DEAD is the best!
And somehow, after almost two decades of rumors and teasing, Campbell and Raimi are finally returning to the franchise that made their careers — in a new series for the Starz channel to be called ‘Ash Vs. Evil Dead‘ — and I couldn’t be more uncertain about how I feel. Tell a sixteen-year-old Matthew that he would have more EVIL DEAD and he probably would have thrown his plastic Necronomicon DVD case into the air in pure joy. Tell a thirty-something Matthew that EVIL DEAD is back and, well, there’s a lot of squinting. And frowning. I never really considered the 2013 EVIL DEAD reboot to be part of my version of the series – it felt a lot closer to Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN remake or the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET reboot – but Raimi and Campbell? Yep, that’s EVIL DEAD, alright.
Why the frowning? It is not as if Raimi is incapable of one last great run at the horror genre; quite the opposite, in fact. With 2009’s DRAG ME TO HELL, Raimi demonstrated that his particular brand of goofy horror was alive-and-well. The progression of the original EVIL DEAD trilogy demonstrated that Raimi would always prefer slapstick to gore, and many felt that DRAG ME TO HELL shifted the director’s tone back to that of EVIL DEAD 2, finding the right balance between horror and physical comedy. And while Raimi was putting in fine work as a director, Campbell found a true starring role in 2002’s BUBBA HO-TEP, playing an aging Elvis impersonator who just might actually be the King himself. For as much as fans might be wary of a return to the genre that built both of their careers, there’s no denying that both Raimi and Campbell have done some of their best horror work years after the trilogy was completed.
Taken together, these two films – DRAG ME TO HELL and BUBBA HO-TEP represent the blueprint for a new EVIL DEAD series. A career as a convention favorite has taught Campbell how to play the washed-up version of Bruce Campbell; Raimi has shown that the comedic excess of ARMY OF DARKNESS can be reined back to the genuine scares of his earlier work. And while both actor and director have had a string of good fortune, there is every chance that a return to the world of EVIL DEAD could bring back the edge to their work. Campbell could use a leading role to establish himself during the “old man” phase of his career; Raimi needs to assure everyone that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was a misstep and nothing more. While neither man has their back to the wall, they also are reaching a point in their respective careers where impressive gigs are harder to come by.
And let’s be honest here – the horror genre does not treat aging talents particularly well. Most directors are essentially done making quality horror films by their mid-fifties; most scream kings are relegated to a career of DTV titles at the same age. Bruce Campbell is a thoroughly charming actor, but on talent alone, he’s no Donald Pleasence or Vincent Price, and neither of those men have late-career arcs that actors should aspire to.
It might not matter if Raimi and Campbell make the best possible EVIL DEAD sequel they can; if their approach to the horror genre has effectively been absorbed and modified by the current state of the industry, then there’s little chance that they’ll remain relevant. It’s worth noting that 2009 – the same year that Raimi released DRAG ME TO HELL – also featured Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and Tom Six’s THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, both films that demonstrated the new potential of the horror industry. How can we settle for Campbell’s goofiness when we’ve gotten used to actors like AJ Bowen in our horror films? How can Raimi’s deadites remain scary when we’ve already collectively shrugged off the idea of being sewn up ass-to-mouth? If we assume that Raimi will revert to his old ways when in the director’s chair – and it’s hard to see a Bruce Campbell-led sequel continuing the nihilistic ways of the 2013 EVIL DEAD remake, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing – then we might find that the spark just isn’t there anymore.
And that’s the part that worries me most. I’ve had a creeping suspicion that ARMY OF DARKNESS – and to a lesser extent EVIL DEAD 2 – would play very differently to me now. That I wouldn’t have the patience for the slapstick and would want the darker edge of the original EVIL DEAD to be present in all three films. And as long as I kept my doubts buried in that foundation of nostalgia – and didn’t revisit the films anytime soon – I could keep that high school part of me alive. But more EVIL DEAD forces my hand, and I’m more than a little worried that my nostalgia isn’t up for the task. There are many films that were incredibly influential to my growth as a film fan, and each time I go back to that well, the best I can hope for is to maintain the status quo. Between more STAR WARS movies and the return of the EVIL DEAD, 2015 is shaping up to be quite a scary year for my inner child.
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