Well, here it is. The remake of Sam Raimi’s seminal chainsaw-swinging directorial debut The Evil Dead. The fanboys didn’t want it, but as Hollywood’s sustained pillaging of 70s horror classics for remakes marched towards the movies of the 80s, it became inevitable. Now after years of debate and months of hype Fede Alvarez’s feature directorial debut Evil Dead is about to be splattered across screens. The good news is that it’s a pretty enjoyable bloody romp. The bad news is, it’s nowhere near as exciting, fun or, well-crafted as the original trilogy. The franchise is neither soiled nor rejuvenated, but at least the brand name could become popular enough to finally get Evil Dead 4 off the ground. That’s the movie the Evil Dead-heads want and while I’m sure many of them will hate this movie simply because it’s different and a little over-hyped, if you can find a way to walk into the theater without expecting a true Evil Dead experience, you’ll have a good time. If nothing else, this is the goriest horror movie to be granted an R-rating since the Saw series sputtered out of theaters and it’s nowhere as mean spirited. The film makes total body dismembered fun again and there’s no better franchise to attach to that minor achievement.
The weakest part of this Evil Dead remake is the tedious set up and bland central characters. Granted, that was true for the original movie as well, but at least those characters were being terrorized within 10-15 minutes. In the latest version we’re treated to an odd family possession prologue to make up for the fact that the next 30 minutes will be dedicated to a bunch of boring young folks whining. Jane Levy is a drug addict taken to a cabin in the woods by her brother Shiloh Fernandez and a few well-meaning friends to help her kick her habit. It’s all fairly dull and fortunately Alvarez seems to be just as disinterested in the material as the audience. He spends more time lingering on the art direction’s reference to the original movie (like the identical cabin and the rotted out Oldsmobile out front that suggests the remake might actually be a sequel) than he does establishing the characters. Fortunately, once the group’s requisite nerd Lou Taylor Pucci finds the book of the dead (now with a disappointing faceless cover, but then again they changed the book’s design in every other movie). Pucci has glasses, which means he’ll be reading the book soon enough and before you can say “join us” Levy is possessed and locked in the basement. That’s when the movie actually begins.
Raimi’s first two Evil Dead movies ramped up horror torment to the level of a demented cartoon. Even in the fairly straight-faced original, at a certain point all of the demon possession, vomiting, dismemberment, and disorienting camera angles become so relentless that the movie transforms into something surreally hilarious. Alvarez never quite reaches that level of wit or stabilization. In a way, that’s a good thing. The Evil Dead trilogy is so tied to Raimi’s sense of humor and in-jokes that anyone trying to copy it would fail. So once the horror starts up, Alvarez’s presses the gore and torment buttons and never releases them. Tongues are slashed, arms are carved off with bread knives, slimy tree branches slither into uncomfortable orifices, chainsaws are treated like breath mints…yeah, it gets frigging gross. An obvious lover of latex 80s horror, Alvarez pulls off all of his effects practically and the results are intensely visceral. See this with a packed audience and yelps, screams, squeals, and applause will occur en masse. He may not have supervised the most succinct or original screenplay in the history of the genre, but Alvarez choreographed a bloodbath on a scale that hasn’t been seen in mainstream Hollywood horror for years. It’s nasty, yet always entertaining. Despite the lack of knowing comedy, this Evil Dead does retain the funhouse horror tone of the original movie and there hasn’t been anything like this on wide release for far too long. The MPAA should be applauded granting this an R-rating without a fight and Alvarez will hopefully be allowed to try and top himself immediately.
The reaction you’ll have to Evil Dead 2013 will really come down to the expectations you bring to the theater. Are you expecting a movie that feels like the rest of the franchise? Look elsewhere. Are you hoping for a clever screenplay with characters as memorable as Bruce Campbell’s Ash? Try again. Are you looking for a fun and gory romp like Hollywood used to make? Now you’re on the right trolley. This remake is not a new classic by any stretch of the imagination or even an intriguing reinvention of an old classic like Rob Zombie’s metal take on Halloween. However, it is a perfectly enjoyable distraction that at least doesn’t embarrass itself or sully the memory of the original flick like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. In the world of remakes, that’s about as much as you can ask for. Hopefully seeing the blood splatter in this movie will point a new generation of fans towards the original film and Fede Alvarez will get a chance to show off what he can do with his own original idea as soon as possible. It’s a film that deserves to be enjoyed if not cherished and that’s enough for now. If you’re an Evil Dead purest frustrated that the film even exists and unwilling to indulge in the remake trend, look at is this way: this is as closest thing to an Evil Dead experience produced in decades and if it makes enough money, Raimi and Campbell will finally make Evil Dead 4 rather than just talking about it. How can you lose on that deal? The ticket price is practically a kickstarter donation. Groovy.