Why the EVIL DEAD Remake Should Keep Its NC-17 Rating
If there’s one thing most movie buffs can agree on, it’s that the MPAA sucks. It’s a woefully outdated, embarrassing organization that holds entirely too much sway in this day and age, and given the proliferation of “unrated” cuts released on home video, its existence is eminently pointless. Every year, filmmakers have to contend with whatever the MPAA arbitrarily decides to condemn; it’s happened so often it starts to feel like the same story over and over again. But nothing frustrates me more than when an adult film with adult subject matter intended for adults must be compromised to appease what is essentially a secret censorship society. Not even a universally revered genius like Stanley Kubrick was safe from their bullshit.
The latest film to be slapped with an NC-17 was the upcoming remake of The Evil Dead, which isn’t too surprising given the amazingly grisly red-band trailer that was recently released. On Twitter, director Fede Alvarez gleefully admitted he was proud of the rating, although he was quick to note that his film needed to be cut and resubmitted for the contractually obligated R rating. This is even less surprising, as Evil Dead is a potential blockbuster in the making and an NC-17 rating would restrict horror’s most reliable patrons – teenagers – from attending. In a way, it doesn’t matter, since the full cut will inevitably see the light of day (just not in theaters). Everybody wins, right?
Not exactly. I am aware that this could be a political move, as /Film’s Germain Lussier suggested, since filmmakers will often submit an outrageous first cut to desensitize the MPAA for the toned-down yet extreme cut they actually desire. But – especially if that’s the case here – then why don’t we just cut out the middleman? Since uncut versions end up released anyway, the MPAA’s power is significant but temporary. What are they accomplishing, really, besides providing an annoying and ultimately momentary roadblock to artistic freedom?
Of course, the NC-17 rating wasn’t supposed to be a commercial kiss of death. Created in 1990 to differentiate films with graphic adult content from pornography, it nonetheless became associated with porn just as the X rating did. Rather than provide a viable alternative to the tainted X, it simply replaced it. The handful of films released into theaters with an NC-17 are doomed to financial failure, even when they happen to be acclaimed art-house fare like Steve McQueen’s Shame and William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. Callow chains like Carmike and Cinemark pat themselves on the back by refusing to book movies with NC-17 ratings, filmmakers continually face pressure to alter their art, and this senseless charade perpetuates itself.
This doesn’t even touch on the troubling evolution of the PG-13 rating, which stretches closer and closer to the R rating every day, or the baffling lenience shown to explicit violence versus the puritanical severity that too often greets sexuality (i.e. Blue Valentine, Bad Education, The Dreamers, and plenty more). In fact, the MPAA actually coming down on a movie for its violence is almost something to celebrate.
The aforementioned Shame and Killer Joe – both of which I’d consider to be among the better films released in the past few years – were intended to disturb. They were defiantly anti-mainstream films from daring directors that wanted to create challenging art, not forgettable swill that would make money.
That is to say, movies like Shame and Killer Joe were never intended or destined to become commercial hits. They performed respectably, thanks to the presence of high profile leading men like Michael Fassbender and Matthew McConaughey, but I don’t think watered down edits of these films would have performed that much better. These were difficult films for a niche audience, for better or worse. I sincerely doubt there were teenagers clamoring to watch a stone-cold serious film exploring sex addiction (not to mention the most shocking drumstick-related moment in cinema history).
This is where Evil Dead comes in. Unlike the glut of glossy, horseshit remakes of horror classics (Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and so on), this is based on a cult property that gained notoriety for initially receiving the X rating upon its release in 1981. Part of the original’s appeal was its disregard for restraint in its gore and its classification as a “video nasty.” The Evil Dead pushed boundaries and influenced the genre and the industry. One of the most respectful things a remake could do is honor its progenitor’s legacy by going above and beyond everything else that’s out there.
Now, I believe that Evil Dead – regardless of its rating – will be one distressing humdinger of a horror movie. As Alvarez has noted, everything from that insane red-band trailer will be featured in the R-rated cut. But if Evil Dead is released with an NC-17 rating, it has an opportunity to put a nail in the MPAA’s coffin because tons of people are going to see it regardless. Adult fans of the original will respect it even more and turn out in droves, and barred teenagers will find a way to get in. By the time it’s released on home video, those teens that didn’t sneak in at the multiplex will seek it out feverishly, because it will be regarded as forbidden fruit. Hell, adults who might not necessarily be gorehounds or typical horror aficionados will dare each other to see it out of curiosity. The filmmakers and producers will more than make their money back; the only ones that might be hurting will be the cowardly exhibitors who continue to mindlessly associate the NC-17 rating with pornography. If Evil Dead were released with an NC-17 rating, it would illuminate what a shallow façade the MPAA has become and rake in the cash. That is a scenario where we all win.
It would be naïve of me to expect this to happen, as market pressures are weightier than ever at this time in the industry. Purposefully limiting your audience is extremely counterintuitive, but I believe Evil Dead could strengthen its brand by differentiating itself from the norm. Ideally, it wouldn’t just kill two birds with one stone; it would destroy them with flamboyantly bloody panache. Again, this will certainly not happen – but if anything were to destroy the MPAA, would there be anything more appropriate than a respectful remake of The Evil Dead?
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