Remakes are far from uncommon in horror. In fact, they are more or less expected, with some of the most “classic” modern horror films actually being remakes, or at least reinventions of earlier genre experiments (take, for example, the 1986 version of The Fly or John Carpenter’s The Thing).
Not all horror remakes are successful, of course, with many being nothing more than unremarkable rehashes of beloved (read: bankable) properties, reminders that imitation isn’t actually the sincerest form of flattery after all. But when they do work, they can actually improve upon, and even expand, our understanding of their source material. This is absolutely the case with Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013).
“Mia literally goes to hell and back in Evil Dead […] resurrected in the film’s blood-soaked climax.”
The secret to remake success is respecting the fine art of the makeover. Think about all those teen movies that want us to believe that switching a girl from glasses to contacts is going to solve all her problems when in fact she just needed a good pep talk (and okay, maybe a budget to get some fresher specs). Superficial changes can only go so far, especially when the subject of them is resistant to them. To paraphrase another horror film that has been remade, the call to action needs to come from inside the house.
Take, for example, one of the most popular remakes of all time, Clueless (1995). When glamorous teen schemer Cher Horowitz finally realizes that giving a shy girl a bitchin’ new wardrobe isn’t the same as being a good friend, she astutely determines that she is the one who needs “a complete makeover”. “Except this time,” she goes on to explain,” I’d makeover my soul.”
At this point, you’re probably wondering how this all relates to the Evil Dead remake, a film that appears to be the brutalistic opposite of a movie like Clueless not only in plot but also in the overall aesthetic. But when you look a little closer, these two films actually have a lot in common. Not only are they both extremely effective remakes of texts that have passionate followings (Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead films, and Jane Austen’s Emma, respectively), their heroes are also both forced to take control of their own destinies, reaching into themselves to, effectively, save themselves. And all while wearing a dress.
Unlike Cher Horowitz, Mia Allen (played by the brilliant Jane Levy of Don’t Breathe and Castle Rock) is not a character who is known for her fashion sense. The first time we meet Mia, she is sitting atop a rusty Oldsmobile (the first of many subtle references to the Raimi films) looking like a pre-makeover Tai Fraser. Her ratty black hair lies limply atop her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, which is layered over a sleeveless red dress. To top it all off, costume designer Sarah Voon has Mia wearing battered brown combat boots, as if to suggest she’s ready to both fight and flee at a moment’s notice.
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“The first time we meet Mia […] costume designer Sarah Voon has Mia wearing battered brown combat boots, as if to suggest she’s ready to both fight and flee at a moment’s notice.”
It’s important to note that when Mia arrives to this film’s cabin the woods, she’s not looking to impress anyone. After all, this isn’t the problematic party weekend of the original films, where the younger sister is more or less seen as a pathetic punchline, a literal dead weight dragging down the otherwise freewheelin’ festivities with talk of tree rape and swallowing souls. This time around, the sister is not only a fully realized character with her own backstory but also the reason they are all at this dilapidated dump in the first place.
We learn that Mia has been brought to the cabin by her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez of 2008’s Deadgirl and 2011’s Red Riding Hood), who is hoping that he, along with a few other friends, can help his sister overcome her addiction to heroin. We really don’t really know how she looked or acted before now, but we do know that Mia’s drug use stems from grief, with her turning to substance abuse to cope with the loss of their mother for whom she was the sole caregiver.
On first watch, it’s easy to assume that David will be the triumphant hero of this Evil Dead. It’s not only because he positions himself as such in the film’s early scenes (see: when he gifts Mia a buckthorn necklace, which he says is supposed to help with healing). It’s also that he’s seen in a blue button-down shirt, which has to be a coy nod to original Evil Dead‘s final boy Ash Williams. There is a similar fake-out with Jessica Lucas’s kind-hearted character Olivia, who wears a white tank top (a.k.a. the unofficial uniform of horror heroines in the early 2000s) before becoming the film’s first fatality.
Thankfully, this isn’t a film about submitting to conventions or meeting expectations — it’s about ripping them to fucking shreds. And so, David turns out to be far from a hero, often teaming up with the film’s only other male character, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci from 2014’s Spring) to thwart Mia‘s attempts to take control of her spiraling situation (which, as we see, was actually brought on by Eric‘s morbid curiosity about the Naturom Demonto). These two men actually have a higher body count than Mia does when she’s possessed, and their crimes are done while their humanity is seemingly intact.
As I’ve discussed in many previous columns, the Final Girl is often a character who actively eschews gender norms, with either her name or her clothing rejecting overt femininity (think characters like Sidney Prescott, or the sensible pants seen on Laurie Strode). Of course, there are notable subversions of this like the bad and beautiful Buffy Summers, or her predecessor Sam Belmont from Night of the Comet (1984). In my mind, Mia Allen is part of this latter club.
“Covered in blood just like Carrie was after that pesky prank at the prom, Mia emerges from her satanic slumber in a long-sleeved babydoll dress.”
Mia literally goes to hell and back in Evil Dead (2013), her soul being borrowed by the very same demons that took poor Cheryl Williams in the 1981 film before being resurrected in the film’s blood-soaked climax. But aside from the typical jaundiced eyes and skin lesions that come with becoming a Deadite, not much about Mia changes externally in the film. From the start to the finale, Mia is always seen in some sort of dress, alternating between day shifts to nightgowns as what seems like the early stages of withdrawal reveal themselves to be the beginning of a full-on demonic takeover. There’s no suggestion that she loses or gains strength from wearing these traditional markers of femininity either — they are simply an essential part of who she is.
The climax of the film has Mia channeling two other women who have been through similarly hellish journeys: Courtney Love and Carrie White. Covered in blood just like Carrie was after that pesky prank at the prom, Mia emerges from her satanic slumber in a long-sleeved babydoll dress. Paired with her signature combat boots, the look screams poster girl for Hole’s Live Thru This. A perfect mix of soft femme and riot grrrl, it’s an outfit begging to be recreated at conventions and Halloween parties for years to come (seriously, let’s trade some of these sexy Ash costumes for Mia cosplay).
Similar to Courtney Love in the ’90s, Mia is forced to take on her demons — literal and figurative — in front of her prying eyes of her peers before being left to finish the fight on her own. The final moments of Evil Dead (2013) do not consist of a bitter battle between Mia and a faceless evil (or even a Deadite version of her friends of family), but a face-off between Real Mia and Evil Mia (a.k.a. “The Abomination“), with the former, luckily, winning out with the help of a handy chainsaw. The last shot of the film sees Mia standing alone looking out at the woods as a new day dawns.
While I do get a genuine kick watching strong-willed girls go up against masked men (hey, that’s why I started this column!), watching the ending of Evil Dead (2013) gives me a whole other level of satisfaction as a woman who lives and breathes horror. I will never forget watching it for the first time in the theatre on opening day in 2013, going in expecting to see a rehash of Ash and being delighted to see myself splattered across the screen. I still get emotional watching Mia transform herself from victim to villain to, finally, victor.
“Mia [transforms] herself from victim to villain to, finally, victor.”
It feels fitting that Diablo Cody was brought on to do rewrites on Evil Dead (2013), as she is known to centre “challenging” (read: real) women in her screenplays. I’m not an addict and never have been, but as a) woman and b) a person living with mental illness, I certainly understand what it means to battle with yourself, to want to “makeover [your] soul” to suit both your and other’s needs. In that sense, I feel as represented by this film as I do by Juno (2007), Young Adult (2011), Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Tully (2018).
ADS ARE SCARY
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While Evil Dead (2013) certainly has its fans, I don’t always feel it (or its hero) is as celebrated as much as the films that came before it. It’s a shame because it really is its own beautifully brash beast, a macabre makeover montage done right. Retaining the sadistic soul of the franchise it inspired, it manages to carve out its own space in horror history.
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