A few things are certain in this world of ours. Death and taxes, as the saying goes, are a given – as is the irrefutable fact that all 80’s horror movies will get a snazzy, jazzy remake whether it requires one or not – and sooner or later it was always going to be the turn of Sam Raimi’s seminal The Evil Dead.
On paper this seems like a double edged blade: the original movie, while exceedingly influential and mischievously fun, is VERY much a product of it’s time made with little more than the pure, arrogant energy of youth and a can-do attitude. It’s positively prehistoric by today’s standards with visible blood tubes and crude yet effective prosthetic and stop motion work so an injection of a modern take with state of the art effects really sounded like it could be something special. However the twin driving forces of the truly madcap classic were the deranged visuals of wacky auteur Sam Raimi and the extraordinary physical performance of B-List demi God Bruce Campbell, but even with both on board in a producing capacity could a new modern take hope to capture the manic lunacy of the original Evil Dead?
Yes, thanks to newbie director Fede Alvarez, but in a far harder edged sort of way. And isn’t that what remakes are supposed to do?
Mia, her brother and her friends have traveled to a remote cabin in order to support her as she tries to kick her persistent drug habit (an utterly genius example of deft storytelling) but when the kids find a trap door hidden under a rug they find weird artifacts and a creepy-ass book wrapped in black plastic and barbed wire. Obviously seeing this as a welcoming invitation, the most obnoxious of the group decides to unwrap it (despite it having a fucking belly button sewn in the back) and reads the incantations within which awakens dark forces in the wood which set their malevolent sights on the emotionally fragile junkie. Of course Mia’s friends think that her stories of an evil force in the woods violating her are merely hallucinations or, worse yet, lies in order to escape the cabin to score more drugs, but soon her friends start falling foul of the same force which turn them into lethal, self mutilating victims of demonic possession.
Fede Alcarez thankfully decides not to ape Raimi’s destinctive style and also elects not to have someone awkwardly try to duplicate Cambell’s iconic performance as the bumbling hero Ash, but instead make his Evil Dead relentless, grim and very, very nasty. The rate of winces per minute of this movie is impressive with a brutal act of violence or self harm seemingly occuring every 3 minutes. Watch in exhilarating horror as limbs are cut or torn off, a character slices their own mouth to ribbons and in the most extreme moment someone cleaves their tongue in half with a box cutter. In fact in true Evil Dead style EVERYone goes through the ringer but none more than Lou Taylor Pucci’s weasely Eric – who undergoes many gruesome indignities such as being repeatedly stabbed in the face and hands with a hypodermic needle – and Jane Levy’s luckless Mia.
Levy – who also went on to play the lead in Alcarez’s fantastic Don’t Breathe – is somewhat remarkable here, playing both the vulnerable and flawed heroine AND the receptacle to a chattering demon, her wide eyes alternating between haunted and haunting while absorbing a truly insane amount of punishment. Also, despite changing the basic characters and the reson they come to the cabin in the first place, the film utilizes a lot of familiar imagery from the first two movies but in different ways in order to maintain a familiar, yet unpredictable vibe. Yes there’s a cabin with a trap door, yes there’s a shotgun and Chainsaw and yes, a character has their hand possessed; but how it all plays out is subtly different right up to the anything-goes, impressively apocalyptic finale.
You could complain that once the possessions start, the plot stops but no one sees an Evil Dead movie for a rich story, hell no, they see an Evil Dead movie for a relentless and impish procession of ghoulish visuals and jaw dropping gore and in this respect, this 2013 reboot pays off in spades (in fact the infamous and out of place “tree rape” scene plays far “better” in this non campy environment than it ever did in the original).
A rare reboot that captures the essence of the original, if maybe not the unique humor, I’ve always had the feeling that it never got the outpouring of love I feel it deserved and I’m still holding out for sequel that’s long overdue, but for having the requisite guts needed to do it’s predecessors proud, Evil Dead 2013 thankfully proves that the gore, the merrier.