“We were trying to make a very, very scary movie.”
Director Fede Alvarez had a tall order to fill when it was announced he’d be helming the re-imagining of EVIL DEAD, arguably one of the most influential horror films of all time. Upon hearing of such a reboot, many horror fans were outraged, myself included. That is, until it was reported that original deadite patriarchs Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert were going to produce the film. Then came news of a young cast that promised a mixed bag of characters. Then Alvarez proclaimed that the film does not employ CGI (save for a few touch-ups). And by Christmas of 2012, there weren’t many horror fans in the world NOT talking about this film.
There have been remakes done in the past that promise re-imaginings, and most have fallen short of that goal. Re-imagining something calls for creativity in the first place, and quite frankly, save for a handful of films over the years, there aren’t many good remakes out there. These films basically just mixed up the order of the original film or killed off Character One the way Character Two actually died in the original. It is a boring, expensive way to spend a Saturday evening at the theater if you’ve yet to do so. But Alvarez, from the beginning, assured fans that this would be a completely fresh take on the legend of the Naturom Demonto. Backed by Raimi and Campbell, deadite fans were quick to offer this reboot the benefit of the doubt that so many remakes before it (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and BLACK CHRISTMAS, to name a few) never got. Not as if they deserved it in the first place.
We all know the story – a group of friends head off to the stereotypical cabin in the woods for a weekend of R & R. By nightfall of the first night, all shit has broken loose and by the time the sun peaks, the body count has accumulated and the blood has flowed.
EVIL DEAD is no different. My God, how the blood flows.
In this film, we meet David (Shiloh Fernandez) and two long-time friends of his, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas). David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) is a newcomer to the quartet and this probably isn’t the weekend to introduce her to the crew.
Four long-time friends meet up at a run-down cabin in the middle of dense woods, a place David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his sister Mia (Jane Levy) used to create memories of times when things were easier and their mother was still alive. Now, Mia is a heroin addict who is making a last ditch attempt to kick her habit cold turkey. The rest of them are there to support Mia during her detox and agree to stay at the cabin come hell or high water, until Mia is clean for good.
In this film, we meet a nice medley of characters. David is the good looking older brother who was never around enough to support Mia earlier in life. Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a history teacher who pays homage to the good old days of horror by sporting a shaggy blonde ‘do and a kick ass beard. Olivia (Jessica Lucas) is a registered nurse who is most hellbent on seeing Mia get better. David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) is a newcomer to the quartet and, again, this probably isn’t the weekend to introduce her to the crew.
There’s clearly a division between David and his old friends that stems from his moving away from home and all but abandoning Mia while she struggled with addiction and the death of their mother. When David is finally made aware of just how dire this situation is, he agrees that keeping Mia at the cabin at all costs is the only way she will get better.
During their very first night there, Mia begins to suffer from withdrawal, screaming and cursing, howling about a stench that no one else seems to detect and this sets up the whole “demons versus individual” quite nicely. Surely whatever Mia says during her stay at the cabin is just junkie jabber, right?
After realizing that there is some sort of horrible witchcraft room gone awry down in the cellar, the group finds a book wrapped tightly in plastic and barbed wire. Of course they bring it upstairs and it doesn’t take long for Eric open it and read from it…even though script written in the book warns him not to do so. Hey, what’s a horror movie without a little ignorance, huh?
When day breaks and Mia goes for a paranoid walk in the rain, the terror really begins.
Yes, the infamous “tree rape” scene happens here. And yes, it is just a little more disturbing in this one, complete with an uncomfortable near strangulation and a visually upsetting evil transfer that puts the DREAMCATCHER shit weasels to shame.
There’s a scalding that will make you cringe, brutal beatings and dismemberment unlike any other film I’ve ever seen. It has been reported that 100,000 gallons of blood was used during production and let me tell you, you can almost count the drops to the ounce.
We see who the root of evil is in this film, unlike the old version, and we are treated to not only a horror film but also one that lends its hand more to the supernatural terror spectrum as well. The idea that this evil can transfer from person to person, the paranoia of being “next”, is a deliciously ugly thought that festers in our characters through the ninety-two minute running time of this film.
Horror visuals that we’ve seen in the past such as giggling possessed women and twitchy, crawling girls add an extra dash of skin-crawling goodness to the film.
The story is fleshed out considerably more than the 1981 version, and while some may hem and haw over that fact, the truth is it gives a nice spin to this re-imagining. We are given an entertaining back story to the cabin and the book of the dead before Mia and company arrive, and this is a good thing. This sets the foundation for director Alvarez to make this his movie, without restraining himself to even harsher criticism from prudes who insist on seeing an exact remake or mistake it for such.
If I had to pick a few bones, there are really only two.
The scream factor could have been more ear-splitting. When body parts are being ripped open or torn off, or a demented Candarian demon is crawling at you, I think a shriek should reach a certain decibel level. Some screams seemed a tad under-acted. This may sound like a petty qualm to some of you, but screams are important, damn it!
The back story that divulges the Naturom Demonto’s powers is a part of the film I’m torn over. Was it necessary? Not totally. But was it fun? Yes. Like I said earlier, it allowed Alvarez to drive this vehicle down his path and not that of the original, but at the same time, I wasn’t completely sure where the brief, twisted hillbilly angle came from. But let’s face it – dueling banjos is always creepy.
Yes, those are the only two issues I have with this film.
The atmosphere of the movie is spectacular – the light and shade contrast does wonders to the nerves. Alvarez does a fantastic job of building tension throughout, both leading up to terror AND just to ratchet up the paranoia. Alvarez doesn’t cheat the audience – you are on the edge of your seat from (almost) start-to-finish. Just the way it should be.
The cast, overall, excels. Levy and Pucci steal the show, which is to be expected considering they have the most experience working on a set. Their knack for capitalizing on every moment of screen time really shines. Fernandez, Lucas and Blackmore play relatively likeable characters that all have a chance to take over a key moment, and with the exception of one, I thought the group survived a satisfactory length of movie time.
Nods to the original (the cabin, the car rusting away beside the cabin, the necklace Mia is given) gives EVIL DEAD just enough of a taste of nostalgia, while keeping the audience rooted in the modern day splatter fest at hand.
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell love their baby and they weren’t about to watch it get bastardized in the Hollywood Remake Meat Grinder (back away from the film, Mr. Bay). They played the role of overseers and Alvarez was wise to use the magic they offered to his advantage. Alvarez just made himself a lot of money thanks to EVIL DEAD, his feature-length directorial debut and he succeeds in accomplishing everything he went after with this project. The end result is an excellent, fun film that may not be the most terrifying film experience of your life as the posters promised, but you will get every penny’s worth of your ticket price and then some.
This film is certainly over the top, but it stops plenty short enough to avoid being considered campy, something the original most definitely is. Of course, this is also why the original is so beloved and held in such high regard some thirty years later.
With reports of a sequel already rolling, EVIL DEAD certainly left room for one and if Alvarez, Raimi and Campbell are game, I’m certainly ready for another trip out to the woods. Bloody, vicious and unforgiving with a stab of black comedy, EVIL DEAD is a film that is simply groovy.