Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending MondoCon 5 at the Palmer Events Center in Austin, Texas. One of the highlights for me was going to the world premiere of The Evil Dead: Reimagined (2019) with composer Joseph LoDuca in attendance. Prior to the film, Joe conducted approximately thirty minutes of new music inspired by the movie. The ensemble was comprised of six musicians (two violins, viola, cello, contrabass, and keyboard) and the performance was sensational. The sold-out crowd was absolutely captivated by LoDuca’s raucous and creepy music!
The new 4K restoration of The Evil Dead (1981), directed by Sam Raimi, features a new score which LoDuca composed, recorded, and released on vinyl (Death Waltz Recording Co. DW-112) during the last two years. When LoDuca approached Raimi about the possibility of releasing a version of the film with his new score attached, Raimi gave his blessing and used the opportunity to go back and create a 5.1 surround sound mix.
Connoisseurs of cinema are not ignorant to filmmakers exhibiting tendencies to tinker with their earlier films. As technology improves, more tools and resources become available tempting filmmakers to “fix” nagging issues that have long plagued their consciousness. This often leads to unfavorable results for those who already have an established relationship with these films (Star Wars: Special Editions are dead to me). Once a film has found its audience, those who revere and relive these movies through repeat viewings, accept each film for what they are, warts and all. Audiences are extremely forgiving of dated visual effects, lost scenes, or subpar sound if that was the condition of the movie when they first experienced it. It’s what gives these films their character (remember the disaster of colorizing black-and-white films in the 1980s?).
When you’re the creator of these films, however, unrefined blemishes gnaw at your inner soul until they’re magnified to the point where it’s impossible to enjoy your own work. Therefore, you can’t really blame filmmakers for attempting to oil that squeaky wheel once and for all. Most of the time the retread does not improve the film for the audience. Film fans generally don’t want anybody messing with the movies they love!
I certainly include myself in this camp. While I was looking forward to seeing The Evil Dead: Reimagined on the big screen, I have to admit that what I was hoping for, at best, was an interesting take on a classic film that would be filed away into my consciousness as an interesting experiment. I’ve had the music now for a couple of years and even wrote an article recently about how important it is to support composers who revisit their past to inspire their future. As for applying this new music to the older film? I was colored skeptical.
About a third of the way through the screening, the notion started to sink in, “This is really good.” It wasn’t just the new music either. The sound was absolutely incredible! I’m not used to experiencing The Evil Dead with such superb sound, in fact, its shitty sound is part of what gave the original film some of its character. The Evil Dead always looked and sounded endearingly amateurish which is part of the reason why fans love it so much. With the new 4K restoration, now these images look cleaner and crisper, the colors more vibrant, and the sound is voluminous and visceral. Neither of these improvements compromise the amateurish quality of the overall film. That aspect remains curiously intact.
Furthermore, LoDuca’s new score is phenomenal. It replaces one particular layer of the film that reeked of amateurism (which LoDuca admits, it was his first film score and he was only 19 at the time he composed it) and replaces it with something that isn’t far removed from what was originally there. It’s not as if LoDuca replaced his aging score with full orchestral music recorded by the London Symphony packed with cutting-edge synthesizers. He composed and recorded his new music very much the same way he did in 1980.
This is the glaring difference between what directors like Lucas or Spielberg have done when experimenting with their past films. They’ve employed modern technology to fix perceived problems that couldn’t have been implemented by the technology at the time when it was originally created. This is why these experiments have failed in the eyes of their audiences. What LoDuca has done is simply use a lifetime of experience, knowledge, and growth as a composer to go back and let the film inspire him all over again in very much the same manner he was inspired all those years ago.
I know it may be blasphemous to a lot of horror fans, but when I sit down to watch The Evil Dead, this is now the version I want to watch. The score and sound were so vibrant and capacious that it added tremendously to my experience watching the movie. The subpar sound I thought had my loyalty, immediately surrendered to what my ears were experiencing. As a film composer, I know that it’s more difficult to fool our eyes than it is our ears. You don’t have to be loyal to shitty sound in order to maintain your allegiance to a film you love. Change an outdated visual effect and the wrath of a thousand audiences will rain fire upon your soul; however, improve inferior sound and it lights up your spirit with euphoria.
I had very much the same reaction when I acquired the remastered Beatles catalog back in 2009. I’m a lifelong die-hard Beatles fan. I know every song and all the behind-the-scenes tales, and even impressed one of my college professors once when I boasted I could name any Beatles song in one note (He picked out a song, played a C# on the piano, and I said “In My Life.” I was right.). I was not expecting to prefer the remastered Beatles tracks because I had already lived so long with the original masters that I couldn’t imagine that I’d be comfortable hearing anything different. I was wrong. I couldn’t deny what my ears were telling me. To hear The Beatles’ entire catalog of music with such pristine quality was a revelation and a miracle (for the record, I also love the original mono mixes that were released).
My experience with The Evil Dead: Reimagined is similar. It’s still the same Evil Dead we’re familiar with and love, except now it sounds incredible! The score is fantastic (dare I say, even better in certain spots), the sound effects are intense, and the new 5.1 surround sound mix is astonishing (although the music could still be hotter in a few scenes).
The restored film is scheduled for release in limited theaters across the country, but as of this writing, no plans have been made to make it available for home viewing (streaming, Blu-ray, 4K, etc.) I’m hoping audiences embrace this restoration and change those plans. It’s the version we should want to see.
Tickets for upcoming Evil Dead screenings can be found here.