Now, if you HAVE to do a completely unnecessary remake of a classic low-budget horror flick…THIS is (mostly) THE way to go! Holy shit! This version of ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981) goes for the friggin jugular (at times, literally)…and doesn’t let go! I’m a big Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell fan, and the original Evil Dead series has a special place in my horror movie-loving heart. So there was a certain amount of trepidation when I heard that creatively-bankrupt Hollywood was gonna add this title to the current remake ‘gravy train’. Upon closer inspection, I was pleased to see that both Raimi and Campbell were fully ‘backing’ this version as ‘Producers’. Right there…fan-boy/girl street cred…in advance. As the advertising campaign moved forward, I took some good looks at the ‘leaked’ behind-the-scenes footage and images. Then…the first trailer. Yowza!!! That’s where my expectations shot up noticeably. So…now that I’ve seen ‘Evil Dead’…did it work out the way I was expecting? Yep! Almost entirely. This is about THE best version that we could expect…as long as you understand that they’re playing ‘it’ totally straight. The quirky, comic-book sense of humor that coated at least 75% of the source franchise is entirely absent. Some folks out there felt that this was a serious miscalculation on the part of all involved…but I don’t. I see where they (the fans) are coming from with THAT critique, but I don’t see it THAT way. I think that if they had tried to inject this version with the trademark ‘Goofy Ash’ (without Ash) flavor, and it hadn’t worked…they’d be attacked by fan-boy trolls at every turn. Even if it had worked, they could then be accused of not having the balls to branch out in some new ‘edgy’ direction, to add a lil spice. Either way, they’d be screwed. What they did concoct however, is worth discussing. So…
First off, for those who don’t know: ‘Evil Dead’ follows a group of pretty 20somethings as they band together to help ween a friend/sibling off her worsening drug addiction. They choose to use the forest cabin that belongs to the addict and her estranged brothers family. Upon arrival, evidence of first, a break-in, then a violent pagan-style ritual emerges. In among the grim evidence a skin-bound book, wrapped in garbage bags and barbed wire, is found. In one of those ‘face-palm’-worthy moments, the irritating hipster in the group opts to read a certain incantation aloud, while ALSO reading all the bleak WARNINGS frantically scribbled in red all over the damn book!!! And cue the possession/self-mutilation horror!!! Yay!!
I swear, the Walmart in New Zealand (where this was shot…New Zealand, not Walmart) must’ve been having a damn good sale on fake blood…cuz this crew HAD to have cleaned them out! The red stuff flows quite liberally here, and I was impressed with how little of it appeared to be CG. Actually, a very generous portion of the effects seem to have been ‘practical’; actual make-up and prosthetic effects….some of which are chilling and stomach-churning. A couple times, I actually caught myself physically recoiling from the screen…it was fun!
I have to give some props to the director here, a guy named Fede’ Alvarez, whom I’ve never heard of before. He does a very capable job of straddling the line between: A) paying service to the die-hard fans of the original flicks (which he does with some perfectly placed visual references and ‘stylings’) and B) setting up his own ‘stamp’ on what COULD become, if handled right, a new horror franchise with a rather diverse and expansive (not to mention gruesome) canvas to work with. Style-wise, Alvarez does a very commendable job, especially scenes that took place in ‘daylight’. Using smoke, lights and lens, he gives the area around the haunted cabin a cold and bleak feel, as to suggest that the murky, choking forest is more threatening that the grimy and run-down house. At least…that’s how I saw it. I bet Rob Zombie secretly wishes he’d directed this, just to give you an idea of ‘tone’.
Another note-worthy (technical) element was the sound design. The simplest of sounds (creaking of the woods, rain on a rooftop, etc) went the distance in helping to ‘flesh out’ the scenes, particularly in moments of growing tension. There was also a good number of spine-tingling sounds on audio display whenever the demons attacked. Slices and stabs sounded vicious and grim…as did the accompanying ”drip…drip…drip…’of the leaking bodily fluids.
While the characters ARE thin, they serve the plot exactly as they need to. The handsome cast does a committed job in trying to add substance to the gruesome, nihilistic proceedings. To be fair, to compare them to the 70s-riffic cast of passionate amateurs from the ’81 version, (including ‘The Man’ Bruce Campbell), is ridiculous given how robotic they all were with their cheap ‘dated’ caricatures of ‘real’ people. Granted, that’s also part of the originals charm. ‘Evil Dead 2013’ doesn’t give a shit about ‘charm’, it wants to get under your skin (at times, literally) and chill your blood. In THAT…they DO succeed, at times surprisingly.
As remakes go, I would have ZERO issue with putting this one on the same shelf as ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004), ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ (2005) and ‘The Crazies’ (2010), all remakes that I feel made the extra effort to go beyond merely capitalizing on a known title and a pre-written plot-line to offer up a fresh ‘version’ that would entertain the audience; as opposed to straight-up robbing them of their movie fare at the box office with yet another soulless ‘money-magnet’ title.
As a ‘love-letter’/updating to/of the original film, this version should go over nicely with both (level-headed) fans (of The Evil Dead flicks and Sam Raimi) and non-discerning horror movie-goers. For those of you with weak stomachs, or a tendency to spend more time with your face buried in your hands than with your eyeballs fixed on the bloody screen, I’m sure there’s some Jennifer Aniston/Katherine Heigl RomCom out there with your name all over it. “I’ll swallow your soul!!!”
*For fans of the original series, make sure to watch the ‘hidden’ post credit shot.”Goovy.”