It was a ballsy move to even contemplate a remake of Sam Raimi’s iconic 1980s horror film The Evil Dead. So much could go wrong, after all, and there would be no quarter for a sub-standard remake of Raimi’s shoe-string-budget shock and schlock masterpiece. Luckily for moviegoers, though (and those responsible for the remake), Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead re-imagining does not disappoint.
When news of this film came out, I tried to put aside the immediate and overwhelming sinking feeling. Not only was this going to be a remake of an iconic movie, but it could not possibly be as good as the original due to the fact that Bruce Campbell (a big part of what made The Evil Dead series successful) was simply too old to reprise his role in any capacity.
Then I heard that Raimi and Campbell had given the remake their blessings and were working closely with relatively unknown director Fede Alvarez on the new Evil Dead. That gave me hope. I also checked out Alvarez’s movie short Panic Attack!, which turned out to be pretty impressive. So it was with less trepidation than originally thought that I went into the screening of Evil Dead on Friday night, the opening of Austin’s SXSW film festival. Campbell was in the audience too, which gave me even more encouragement.
Then the movie started, and the first scene was incredible. Not just frightening in the normal sense, but disturbing, boundary-pushing, and full of old-school effects tempered with non-intrusive CGI. Luckily, the rest of the movie unfolds in about the same way.
The story takes from the original two Evil Dead movies, but it also begins to make its own mythology, and that is what works so well with this film. It understands its roots, stays true to the basic formula, and throws in enough novelties and twists that the audience is not fed a simple re-hash of the original.
Some scenes, in fact, feel like metaphors for the Evil Dead reboot itself. Here is Evil Dead again, resuscitated and given new life in a new age. There are some changes, but they reflect both the times and the culture, so they are not only welcomed, but smart.
The story is simple (as a good cabin-in-the-woods horror pic should be): A group of young adults meet at an isolated cabin for a few days in an attempt to “cold-turkey” their drug-addicted friend. They soon discover an ancient evil book, read an incantation from it, and the next thing they know they’ve unwittingly released a demon that can possess their bodies and eat their souls. Yikes.
And let’s not forget the horror element of this film. Evil Dead is definitely scary. So many horror movies that come out today just aren’t frightening. They try to be, but they aren’t. Evil Dead truly gets under your skin, just like a soul-eating demon would. It is not just about the specials effects and the gore either, or even about the jump scares (and there are a number of these); it is about the cabin and the isolation. That is how it should be, as this is what the sub-genre is all about. Of course, there is also the blood and violence, which comes in ample amounts and is upped to a level that only modern practical and CG effects can achieve. Seriously, I have no idea how this film got away with an R rating. It is gory beyond belief and Alvarez absolutely drenches the film in blood.
All that being said, as good as Evil Dead is, it is not a perfect movie. There are a few scenes that border on silly (and not in the “we’re-making-fun-of-ourselves” way that the first Evil Dead was). Also, at times, the mythology that the film created is left aside or muddled for the sake of the story (and where the creators wanted it to end up). In this instance though, and I rarely feel this way, I find it somewhat forgivable because the ending is one of the best horror movie endings I have ever seen, remake or not.
Another thing that is a bit upsetting is the lack of that humor that was so pervasive in the original Evil Dead movies. This film is a straight-up horror and lacks the instinctual humor that came naturally to the star of the original, Campbell. Without the humor he brought to the original movies, Alvarez’s version is not as fun. The story is great, the horror elements are spot on and on the whole, this is a very entertaining flick, but it probably won’t have the lasting power of the original because of this weakness.
Still, Alvarez is a talented director, bringing horror to the next level with exciting direction that never got boring or looked by-the-numbers. He co-wrote the script too, so his talents are officially across the board. The new cast of young’ens gets the job done as well, though there is no new Bruce Campbell among them. Shiloh Fernandez (Dead Girl) and Jane Levy (Suburgatory) lead the pack and are both quite good in their roles, playing a brother and sister bent on saving their relationship and the world. Supporting cast includes Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore, all of whom hand in decent performances.
Evil Dead is a remake that works (a true rarity). It probably has to do with the involvement of Raimi and Campbell a good deal, but the new version is just as scary as the original and has a clever update/twist too, making it well worth a watch for both fans of Raimi’s original film as well as newcomers to the series.