While Hollywood will happily remake just about anything, the one type of film that they seem to like to remake the most are horror/slasher films from the 70s and 80s. In fact, such remakes have been a staple of middle-budget genre film making ever since 2003 when a medium budget remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became a surprise hit. We’ve seen remakes of bona fied classics like Dawn of the Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street, we’ve seen remakes of relatively obscure movies like The Crazies and I Spit on Your Grave, and we’ve seen remakes of pretty much everything in between. And yet I was still surprised when I heard they were remaking Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead if only because that movie isn’t all that well known by the general public even though it had a cult fanbase which would be almost impossible to please and who would surround the project with negativity. And yet, somehow, this film is rolling out with incredible support from the horror community. It has the full support of Sam Raimi (who has, along with Bruce Campbell, taken a producer credit) and it’s gory red band trailers have gotten a lot of people looking for something truly “out there.”
Like the original film, this remake is set almost entirely in an isolated cabin in a Michigan forest. The character of Ash that actor Bruce Campbell made famous is not present here and the film instead focuses primarily on a brother and sister named Mia (Jane Levy) and David (Shiloh Fernandez). These siblings have been somewhat estranged and Mia has become a drug addict in David’s absence and this trip to the woods is meant to be a chance for her to detox. They’re accompanied by David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), a nurse named Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and a high school teacher with an interest in the occult named Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). The cabin itself is really run down and when they check the basement they find both the remnants of bizarre pagan rituals and a strange book wrapped in barbed wire and covered in warnings written in blood begging those who find it not to read its contents. Of course this would be a very short movie if they were to heed those warnings.
This might be heresy, but I’ve got to say that the original version of The Evil Dead is not really a favorite of mine. For what it is, it’s fairly impressive. God knows that every year there are hundreds of people trying to make similar micro-budget horror films that end up amounting to nothing and the fact that Raimi was actually able to make one that anyone cares about three decades later is something to be celebrated. Still, I find a lot of that film’s quirks to be charming rather than scary, and that’s probably why its sequels focused more on comedy than horror. In a sense, this remake seems to be trying to correct this by bringing the franchise back to its horror roots and remaking the original film in a more straightforward way and with higher production values.
One of the biggest changes this time around is that the character of Ash is not here, and on its face that’s probably a good decision. While he may not be a household name, Bruce Campbell is a big star in the world of B-horror films, and forcing someone to fill his shoes would not have worked. The problem is that instead of trying to create some new and interesting character to take his place they’ve instead opted to populate the film with a bunch of stock slasher-film characters. They at least try to give some backstory to Mia and David, but the other three are completely undeveloped and all five of them are played by nobodies who seem to have been chosen from the set of some teen drama series on The CW. The characters are also prone to making all the usual formulaic slasher movie mistakes like taking way too long to figure out the rules behind the supernatural happenings around them and being far to hesitant to just kill people after they’ve been possessed by demons. In fact, a lot of what’s in this film is awfully reminiscent of last year’s horror spoof The Cabin in the Woods, and it’s a little hard to take it all seriously after having seen a parallel situation get skewered like that so recently.
All that said, Evil Dead still sort of works in spite of itself, and that’s directly attributable to the skill with which first time director Fede Alvarez manages to bring this material to life. Alvarez gives the film a really balanced tone: it largely plays things straight but it doesn’t lose its sense of fun in doing so. This isn’t really a “scary” movie per se, it’s more like the world’s most aggressive carnival haunted house. It employs some extreme gore effects that will likely shock those who are unaccustomed to such material, but hardened horror fans likely won’t be grossed out so much as impressed by the film’s chutzpah. It’s a film that re-invents nothing, but executes on familiar material very effectively.
*** out of Four