Remaking a film like Evil Dead should come with a health warning to all involved: You are remaking making a cult classic, a film that people have watched over and over and fallen in love with, deeply. But director Fede Alvarez, more than anything, is a fan of Sam Raimi’s original, he wants you to feel that maybe, perhaps, this new incarnation can rise up to sit alongside the original movie as a bastard cousin, someone you invite to screening parties if only to gawp at the genuine horrors on offer.
Sticking closely to the premise of the original film, Evil Dead sees a group of friends gather in a run-down old shack in the middle of a creepy forest. The difference this time round is they’re here to help Mia (Jane Levy) overcome her drug addiction. But as Mia’s withdrawals start to kick in, the gang finds the basement of the cabin is filled with dead animals. Amongst the detritus, friend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) finds a book, wrapped in plastic and barbed wire. Making the mistake of reading an incantation from it all hell soon breaks loose as Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) assumes Mia’s claims of “there was something in the woods” are all part of her comedown. If only.
Raimi’s original 1981 The Evil Dead (note how the new incarnation drops the ‘The’), was wrongly labeled as a video nasty in the 1980s. By comparison Evil Dead makes Raimi’s version look tame. Alvarez dips this Evil Dead in enough gore and blood to make those elevator doors opening in The Shining look like nothing more than a drippy faucet. For those of a squeamish nature Evil Dead may well prove too much. Once the blood-letting starts it is relentless, building evermore to a climax so drenched in claret it literally rains from on high. Horror fans will bask in the sheer over-the-top operatic madness of it all. Limbs are severed, vomit is spewed, skin is seared and needles find themselves in precarious places.
The nods to Raimi’s film, while always present, are more a careful homage to the fans than a desperate need to draw attention to what this film is not. Mia’s opening shot is dappled in sunshine as she perches on Raimi’s now iconic Oldsmobile. Chainsaws and shotguns loiter in the background of shots always making it clear that this film is made with the original in mind. Indeed, that both Raimi and The Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell act as producers, it’s clear that Alvarez has the blessing from on high, or hell depending on your perspective.
Alvarez isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun amidst the gooey stuff. As we get to know our intrepid gang, his camera tracks through the cabin quietly taking in an array of sharp objects, power tools and outright safety issues. Once the action revs-up you just know said objects are going to come into play. So much so that on re-watching the film there’s fun to be had in the “where’s weapon” of it all. Towards the end one character even gets a Pulp Fiction moment of getting to select their brutal weapon of choice.
But Evil Dead has one major drawback and that is the ‘Scream’ effect. Due to its popularity over the years, Evil Dead has been ripped-off, chewed-out and, crucially, sent-up. Not least of all in the case of Raimi’s sequel Evil Dead II. Coming so close off the back of last year’s utterly brilliant satire of all wood based horrors, The Cabin In The Woods, it’s hard, at various moments, not to wonder if we’re going to cut to an underground bunker to find Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins orchestrating the whole thing. As such there are far too many clichés which are ignored rather than highlighted, meaning some plot devices are unintentionally laughable. Eric casually choosing to read from The Book Of The Dead needs a wry smile rather than a look of horror as he graces the pages ignoring the scribbles of “Don’t Read This Book”, let alone the fact it was sealed with rusty metal.
Along with the thunderous orchestral score and Alvarez’s often jaw-dropping visuals Evil Dead has one trump card to fall back on. It comes in the form of diminutive star Jane Levy. Known to some as the star of TV’s Suburgatory, Levy is put through the grinder more than Campbell ever imagined in the original trilogy. Her early drug recovering histrionics soon make way to genuine panic before descending into devilish, Exorcist levels of foul-mouthed disgust and then finally capping it all off with a venomous rage in the final act that has you firmly rooting for her. The rest of the cast are mere window-dressing and stabbing fodder but Levy carries the film with an energy and determination that makes you hope that, if nothing else, Evil Dead gets a sequel to see her Mia kick some more Deadites.
As an out-and-out horror movie Evil Dead is a gory, scary if clichéd rollercoaster, as a remake of a cult horror it doesn’t quite live up but the spirit (or demon) of Raimi’s classic is still alive and dripping.