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Evil Dead

evil dead


So a few weeks ago I reviewed “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and spent a not-insignificant portion of the review complaning that it didn’t feel much like a Sam Raimi film.  Lo and behold, along comes a remake of Raimi’s seminal classic “Evil Dead,” and guess what?  It doesn’t feel much like a Sam Raimi film either (probably because it isn’t.)  What is, this, the Spring of Sam Raimi?  Enough already.

Word has it that Raimi has been wanting to remake “Evil Dead” for years, but the cult classic has such a rabid fanbase opposed to messing with it that it gave studios pause.  When Raimi finally tapped Uraguayan commercial director Fede Alvarez for the project, internet discussion boards nearly caught on fire.  This is a movie a lot of people (ok, maybe not a lot, but a few REALLY LOUD people) are fully expecting, even intending, to hate with a fiery, hellish passion.  But as long as they’re buying tickets to hate it, what does the studio care?  Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are both credited as producers, so chances are they’re both set to make bank even if this update on their beloved 1981 collaboration is universally hated.

Which it needn’t be. Let’s talk about what “Evil Dead” gets right.   It’s a gross-out horror flick almost completely devoid of subtext.  Generally I’m a fan of subtext,  but occasionally it’s refreshing to return to the source, and watch a genre flick that’s just a genre flick, not an ironic commentary on genre.  “Evil Dead” is that film.  Also, it’s plenty gory – even cartoonishly gory at times — without ever feeling mean-spirited, the way a lot of modern horror films feel.  It’s about witchcraft and demon possession without taking itself too seriously.  It doesn’t open with a Bible verse about the Apocalypse.

If you remember the original “Evil Dead” being campy and funny, probably what you’re really remembering are its sequels, “Evil Dead II” and “Army of Darkness” which take the inherent ridiculousness of gorefests and have with it.  The original was a little hokey, mostly due to its low budget, but played it pretty straight as a horror flick.  The new one does the same.

A group of friends gather at a cabin in the woods (where else, right?) in order to help one of them (Jane Levy) quit heroin cold turkey.  The film doesn’t spend much time exploring the relationships between the characters, and that’s just as well, because its attempts to establish a backstory are weak and underwritten.  And in the long run, unimportant.  After all, nobody’s going to survive the night in a place like this, not in a flick like this one.

The cabin has a basement.  The basement has a secret room.  The secret room has a dozen or so dead cats hanging from the ceiling.  And a book wrapped in barbed wire. In the book are words that should never be spoken, words that summon a demon from the netherworld whose quest to claim five souls in one night will cause the sky to rain blood and something icky to rise from the dead.  Guess what?  Somebody speaks the words. Here we go.

Levy’s addiction means her friends expect her to act all crazy and make stuff up, so when she gets raped by a demonic thornbush during an escape attempt, nobody believes her. They lock her in her room and tell her she’ll feel better about everything in the morning.  They seem awfully gullible, chalking it all up to withdrawal even when her eyes turn all weird, she levitates, commands the weather, and speaks with three voices at once.

Like the original, this “Evil Dead” is more interested in being gory than being scary.  And really, gore flicks are more similar to comedies than they are to truly scary movies.  A scary movie is psychological; it plays on our real fears, unsettles us, makes us wonder if the real world is as safe and comfortable as we assume.  A gore flick is different – its effects are almost scatological.  The point is to gross you out, not give you nightmares.  When you recall a scary movie (“The Shining,” for example,) you recall what you felt while watching it.  When you recall a gore flick, you recall what you saw.  In my mind, there’s not a ton of difference between a comedy filled with fart jokes and a gore flick filled with dismemberment scenes.  Both are operating on the same level, and neither have much to do with reality — nor do they intend to.  It’s all about the reaction.

Fede Alvarez wisely stayed away from using CGI in “Evil Dead.”  The effect aren’t as hokey as in the original (which was made for $385,000, a ridiculously small budget for a film even in ’81) but it’s still pretty clear that what we’re looking at is rubber masks, prosthetic limbs and buckets upon syrupy red stuff that only bears a passing resemblance to blood.  The look has been updated – the rubber masks are better than they used to be — but not to make anything look more realistic.   Realism is decidedly not the point here, and may even be counterproductive.

In the end, I think hardcore “Evil Dead” fans will find things to be unhappy about, but this film is a good deal better than a lot of stupid remakes that have come out in recent years.  Given the choice, I prefer the original, but that may have more to do with my age than with the inherent quality of the two films.  This is a new “Evil Dead” for a new generation, and it may become just as beloved by younger audiences as its predecessor is to us old folks.






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  1. Rick Chatham said

    OK, we saw the preview for this, and even the preview was disturbing. I remember a woman forking her tongue with a knife. Super gross. But I’m curious anyway.

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