ByJonathan Keogh, writer at
Film Buff who spends too much time making supercuts
Jonathan Keogh

“Horror” has been a dirty word in Hollywood for decades. When Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture, it was no longer considered a horror movie and graduated to “Thriller” status. Most of the popular horror franchises at that time were losing ticket sales. Jason was floating around space, Chucky got married and Freddy started dropping lines like “Have a knife day”. In 1996, Wes Craven reinvented the genre with Scream, which would become (as Roger Ebert used to classify) the ultimate "Dead Teenager Movie". However these doomed teens had seen all the horror movies we the audience have and were aware that they were within one of their own. Scream was such a success, up until Avatar in 2009, it held the record for the longest a movie had stayed in theaters.

Since then the genre has tried multiple different angles, from annual serials like Saw and Paranormal Activity, to a virtually bloodless category in the genre known simply as “PG-13 Horror”. From spoofs to spinoffs and back to the countless sequels, the genre was repeating itself and desperately looking for new angles to keep it alive. The only months they could survive in the box office were at the end of August, October and early April. We still only get about one major horror release in the summer and opposed to a feature with 5 comic book heroes in the same movie, a $25million opening weekend automatically makes room for a sequel in the Horror world.

In 2003, after putting two of the biggest horror icons together in Freddy Vs. Jason, New Line Cinema tried something that at the time was a fresh idea. They remade a horror classic in a dark, grisly and unforgiving fashion, souped up like the $6 Million Dollar Man, the Michael Bay produced reboot of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would start a horror remake ripple effect that a decade later, still hasn’t died. Most of these were failures. The idea seemed to be the nastier these pictures were remade, the more success they would have. Audiences found remakes like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes to be just shocking, brutal and ugly but nowhere was “scary” coming in the mix. The ultimate failures would be A Nightmare on Elm Street without Robert Englund in the striped sweater, or Jason Voorhees with a bag over his head. And hey! Lets not forget the family in Texas that DID NOT sit down to dinner! But failure or not, these remakes were pulling in the bucks and eventually, no matter what it is, things evolve.

Flash forward to 2013. Two of the most beloved horror films ever made were revisited this year. One was expertly crafted by a YouTube newbie and the other was tragically reinvented by a natural born auteur. Evil Dead and Carrie were resurrected and like all remakes prior to being released, there were eager fans, doubtful fans and fans that would take a blood oath never to see either one. Each one has already proven to be a box office success, and with that the studios are currently examining what worked so well for these two that didn’t work with other remakes. Since remakes are here to stay, whether that’s good news or bad, the positive side is that these two pictures may very well set a precedent for what we see in the future, and it’s a damn good thing it is these two.

Fede Alvarez was noticed by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for his epic YouTube video, Panic Attack! in which a Spanish city is overrun by gigantic CG robots, and for what then could potentially have been called an amateur project, the beasts look as good as what we pay $12 to see in theaters. There isn’t an Evil Dead Head in the world that doesn’t want Army of Darkness 2, or wasn’t curious how you would possibly revisit the franchise, especially with boots as big as Ash to fill. But it was Mr. Alvarez who had the idea of leaving Ash completely out of the mix, which was an automatic game changer for the success of the film and the doubting fans. It seems simple enough an idea to just leave someone out, but when they are that dramatically connected with a franchise you really take a risk. Not only that, you would replace the Ego-Tastic and testosterone fueled hero with a quiet, weak, fragile and drug addicted young woman.

The new Evil Dead is a loving companion piece for fans of the original series and was done so very carefully, even giving us a few props and winks from the first movies. But where this one succeeds greatly, as no other reboot has done before, it will have multiple sequels that then tie in with the original franchise making this literally, a first. Sure it was great to watch Colin Farrell eat Chris Sarandon’s neck in the Fright Night remake, or see Kevin McCarthy return as Dr. Miles in the first Body Snatchers reboot. But never before has a re-imagining been so successful that it literally joins forces with its predecessor.

So what is it in fact that puts this one above the rest? The Evil Dead franchise is heavily effects driven. We can return to the originals over and over again because of the organic look in the stop motion animation or the creatures that were designed via manual labor, not an iMac. Granted there are very few digital effects in the new film, 90% of them are all practical. From raining blood, severed limbs and a chainsaw through the face, these actors are not playing off of tennis balls in the scenes, they’re doing what it looks like they’re doing, something we’ve grown so far apart from when it comes to the movies. The argument can be made by looking at the dwarf in a garbage can as R2-D2 in 1977, that looked better than the poor excuse for a screensaver in 1999. CG, unless it’s David Fincher’s San Francisco in Zodiac or Steven Spielberg’s T-Rex, always looks like CG. 2011’s remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing, got disastrous feedback due to the CG effects and how poor they were in comparison to Rob Bottin’s in 1982. With classics like Poltergeist and Gremlins on deck for reboots, something nobody can stop anyway, Mr. Alvarez’s Evil Dead is proof and an argument in its own existence, against the possibility of destroying future franchises with a keyboard opposed to a little elbow grease and for that reason alone it is of the most important horror remakes of all time. ( CG Gremlins please).

With one film franchise taking on the importance of visual effects, another is taking on something maybe more important, something that we usually only pay attention to around Oscar season. Acting and character development. What’s more impressive is this happening in a said “horror movie”. Kimberly Peirce’s vision of Stephen King’s Carrie is aggressively more cruel and believable in a realistic nature than any revisitation since Brian De Palma’s version in 1976. It should also be noted that this is the truest adaptation to the original novella.

With much love to the original that is now a definitive horror classic, Ms. Peirce’s vision is much more in tune with the sympathy for our title character. Chloe Grace Moretz adds such a genuine touch to this character, when she’s violated and teased, we are too. When Tommy Ross tells her that she’s beautiful it's impossible for her smile not to burrow into your heart. She adds such a believable dimension to Carrie that it’s traumatizing to fall in love with her. Whether we're familiar with the story or not, we know her happiness is short lived. I found myself trying not to feel excited for her, I tried to not fall in love and cheer for her temporary joy. I wasn’t upset because she would kill most of the prom attendees. I was upset because she was going to get hurt again. Whereas I'm rooting for Sissy Spacek to slaughter these cretons, I felt protective of Chloe.

This version transcends reality and horror, where the fear isn’t within Carrie’s telekinetic powers, it’s in her pain. This one meditates on Carrie’s inability to escape that pain from her peers to her teachers and even at the place she calls home where she is also tortured. There is in no way this vision of Carrie can be seen as “revenge fantasy”. We follow this person all the way through her breaking point, ending at a grave stone that has been crudely adjusted with spray paint to read “Burn In Hell”. It focuses on the horror of this tortured and abused soul who even when deceased, the people around her refuse to let her rest in peace.

Ms. Peirce comes from a very exclusive branch of the film industry, one being a hero of independent cinema with her landmark feature, Boys Don’t Cry, the other being that she is of the more respected female filmmakers on the scene. She gives as much depth and sympathy to Carrie White as she did with Brandon Teena, two subjects that when we remove the supernatural, are very much alike. She has an incredible ability to not only side with the outcast, but to put us in their shoes, no matter how different we the audience are from them.

After seeing Carrie, I had the honor of talking to Kimberly Peirce about this film and its bold new direction. We talked on the phone for about 45 minutes and while I was taking notes, it was hard to ignore the fact that this is a true filmmaker. There is a motive and a reason behind every tiny detail in this picture, which in this blasé day and age, is something to be recognized and noticed. I promise, whether you enjoy the movie or not, Carrie is a delicately pieced together film that was given the touch of a true director who cares about their work and is executed in such a fashion, even the snobbiest of cinephiles will admire the craft of this one.

JK: Virtually every article on Carrie makes mention of Boys Don't Cry. There is a major connection between the two main characters in both films of being an outcast, but for two very different reasons. Do you feel either film acts as a companion piece to the other, or is there an attraction to the socially (and physically) abused female lead?

KP: The truth is they're absolute companion pieces. Both characters, Carrie and Brandon are searching for love and acceptance. Frank Pierson (writer of Dog Day Afternoon) who was an extraordinary talent and I was heartbroken when he passed away, was my advisor at Sundance when I was just a kid and went there with Boys Don't Cry. He compared Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon to Brandon in that they both had the same need for love and acceptance and they're both willing to put themselves in danger to get it. Pacino should not take those women to the bathroom and Brandon wrecklessly loves women in small town America. Carrie is always bullied. She feels like she is on the verge of gaining acceptance during the accident in the volleyball game, but the girls laugh at her. Her mother is abusive but Carrie still comes home with, "mama! mama!". Home is now safe. Mama loves me. A desire for love and acceptance. Carrie has superpowers and ventures into the world but shouldn't. Brandon lives as a man in a place that he shouldn't. Each have something that is a secret, and that secret ultimately destroys them.

JK: I feel like I saw two births in this picture. A literal one and one much more metaphoric, when Mrs. White emerges from the prison she locks her daughter in. How many different dimensions did Julianne Moore bring to this character? Though I love Piper Laurie in the original, Julianne's portrayal seems to have as many developments as the film has acts, keeping her from being easily labeled as "crazy". She believes she is really doing the right thing, doesn't she?

KP: There is a longer version of that scene where she broke all of the way out and it did look like she was coming out of the womb, but we didn't want anyone to know she was actually out. Julianne said from the beginning, in the 70's you could whack your kid in public and it was fine, but today Social Services will come. Margaret loves her deeply. She's a loving mother that is mentally ill and terrified of the world, which is why it's so painful for her to go get Carrie at school, or why she abuses herself physically, even in public. Carrie knows going in the house she's going to be physically hit. I have the utmost respect when it comes to religion, I was raised both Catholic and Jewish. It was very important that Margaret be religious but it be her own religion. There's even the scene where Carrie corrects her and says "Mama, that's not in the bible anywhere." Margaret seems crazy but she was grounded in reality and is right at the end.

JK: Of the most shocking adaptations in film history, Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner's screenplay of "American Psycho" was commended for being a story about a murderous misogynist, that two women found humor and sympathy in, and were able to execute it as such. Do you see this film having an advantage of it being a woman telling Carrie's story opposed to it having been written and directed by men up until this point?

KP: Though I happen to be a woman director anyone can be a good director - being a good director is not based your on gender, sexual preference, sexual identity or the Color of your skin - however ones life experiences, for example me being a woman, may help give a director details to draw from. A good director will tell you, your own life experiences are what you draw from. I am female bodied and had an intense close relationship with my mother like many mother/daughter relationships. I've been in a locker room with gorgeous women wanting to be their friend. I truly understand Carrie's story. The opening scene with mother and daughter-that's the center of this movie. Margaret fears her at first, she doesn't know what it even is, but falls in love with that child. She reveals that she had sex and enjoyed it and saves Carrie instead of killing her. When I read that part I said this has to be the opening of our movie and Julianne said "Oh my God, we have to do this scene!".

JK: But when I watch Sissy Spacek, who I love, I just feel like she's even keeping me, the audience refrained from connecting with her more- or sympathizing maybe. I just felt so much more emotion and concern for Chloe's Carrie.

KP: People feel close to Carrie and often don't know why. I fell in love with Carrie. My version we walked in her shoes at all points, we got to be insider her, her desire for love. We can all dole out meanness but we all want family or people at our jobs or school to like us more, we do want acceptance. We're all Carrie. Casting Chloe who was 15 and having a much more experienced actress like Julianne as her elder, by virtue is going to be more vulnerable. I want her to be the girl that you can identify with emotionally. That's what I want you to feel. His [Brian De Palma] movie is brilliant, but I don't know if that was his goal, but that was mine.

JK: I often hear Carrie referred to as a story of revenge, but I personally don't think that's fair. Revenge fantasy to the likes of Kill Bill or Last House on the Left start with the wrong doing then spend the remainder of the films finishing off the wrong doers. Carrie's "revenge" is very brief and not the entire story to where I feel it's just her breaking point. Plus, the women in the other two stories survive. Carrie's story is unforgiving and tragic. Whereas the other two drive off to a happy ending, Carrie's headstone crudely reads "Burn In Hell", keeping her from even resting in peace. Do you consider her actions those of literal "revenge"?

KP: It's not a "revenge tale". I'm a huge fan of Kill Bill, Tarantino is great. The revenge in Carrie is potent it is something you wait for, because of the adrenaline. You want to see her succeed. It's important that you feel that, especially when Tommy gets hit and she reverses direction to come back like a queen by her king as she kneels down. She is broken hearted. She loves him and says "no"! She's angry they took away this person she loves. I believe that is the mechanism you need in place to get in support of the revenge. We get behind it but I give you the come down.

JK: Manhola Darghis, who really liked the film said that it isn't a horror movie, it's a tragedy. I must say this picture took a serious hold on me. There is about 20 minutes of this film where I am so happy for Carrie and could almost cry when she's told she is beautiful. Carrie's smile is so sincere I feel like we're watching this girl receive the first compliment she's ever had. However, my emotions are reluctant because I know what's going to happen to her. Is this something you were able to play with more because it is a remake and fans already know the fate of the evening, whether they're familiar with the story or not?

KP: Really good storytelling began with King. Most people go into the movie knowing something is going to happen at prom. They go for that. You know that things are gonna go badly but you want them to. You want to fall in love with a girl who deals with mean girls that give her a hard time. You want to go to Prom with her and have that beautiful night. You go to Carrie because you know it's all going to be taken away, wind up and strike back. It's an underdog story. Somebody takes something precious away from the underdog, it makes us want him to get back at that somebody. We are all Carrie White and I don't use that lightly. Her revenge does live out a particular fantasy. It's a Cinderella story turned on its head. And that's all about pleasing the audience, identifying with her, giving her power and waiting for it. It's a roller coaster ride. When you're going up on the roller coaster, you know it's going to go down.

JK: Finally, I would like to compliment you outside the form of a question with a scene that I don't think most viewers will cherish as much as I did. Your characters are of the extreme in this film. I absolutely love the kind ones and absolutely despise the cruel ones. Ms. Desjardin is brilliantly cast here with Judy Greer. She is the warmest, most sincere and gentle support, maybe in Carrie's entire life. You have a scene with these two exquisite actors about half way through the film, in the locker room when Carrie tells her she's been asked to prom. It's the delivery and the performances that suggest this woman has volunteered to be a mother to Carrie, reserves her doubts and aids the young girls happiness. There is just a remarkable force present between these two at this moment and the words that aren't said by one, are still understood by the other. I guess if I had to ask (especially with a new touch concerning both characters at the prom) how important is that particular scene to you as the filmmaker?

KP: I had lunch with Judy Greer, and if you want to fall in love with someone, have lunch with Judy Greer. She's incredible, she's also a comedian. She said to me, "Kim I got it all worked out. My character hates her job, but I get through it. I don't even bother wearing gym clothes to work, I have cigarettes I hide in my desk that I smoke between class, I'm saving all my money to go to Mexico, I don't even like Carrie, but despite myself, what those girls do to her make me care". It's why she slaps her, kind of disgusted by her, but Carrie makes her care. She's resisting Carrie, her attitude is that "You're going to try to be adults, you don't know what you're doing", like an older sister to those girls. When she surrenders and comforts Carrie in that scene, it's not a double beat. Judy Greer is crying. While shooting she turned to me in tears and said "It's so heartbreaking, Kim". She's a comedian outside of a comic space. Judy went so deep and felt so much love on the screen, she was crying. She has to show her heart is broken. But then you have the other layer, the adult in her that thinks "oh shit it's a joke, I bet that's all it is", but comfort her with "he loves you, you're beautiful". That's amazing. That's Judy.

Before we parted, I did ask Kim about a particular decision she made for this version of Carrie between Judy Greer and Chloe Grace Moretz, that I will not spoil, and leave you with only the response.

KP: That was a big deal! If you love Carrie, which was my goal, and she didn't make that choice, you would detach from her and I couldn't afford to lose that in Carrie. It was important to always escalate, always progress, but never repeat a beat. Carrie is part protagonist and part antagonist. There is the constant love story and feud between mother and daughter. Carrie tries to break free. She comes home most vulnerable from the prom and approaches the mother in a way that suggests "I be the preacher, you be the congregation", but rests her head on her shoulder and we see a revisitation of the opening scene. What happens is power. A mother willing to kill her daughter to save herself.

Carrie is now playing in theaters nationwide.

Evil Dead is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray


Latest from our Creators