MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Jim McLarty, Phoenix Connolly, Sian Davis, Stephen Butterworth, Karl Willetts, Ash Williams/ Runtime: 92 minutes
I feel it is a safe assumption to make that even though there are very few horror remakes which are given both creative input from, and blessed by, those who made the original such an iconic property that the 2013 soft reboot, remake, reimagining (something like that) of Evil Dead managed to become one of the lucky few. I say this because this take on the iconic horror film franchise that started in 1981 was both produced, and its director chosen, by the trio of Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert. This trio, in case you didn’t know is, is the star, director, and producer, respectively, of the original Evil Dead, the terrific follow-up that was Evil Dead 2, and the boom-stick and Medieval Times-promoting Army of Darkness. Indeed to say that is some powerhouse allies to have in their corner would be quite the…..groovy undead understatement. Yet even though helmer Fede Alvarez’s take on the property is lacking in a few areas, I still think this will be the kind of material that lovers of the Horror genre will take to like a chainsaw to some Deadites although in the process audiences will most likely find themselves tore up in regards to their thoughts on this film in general. That is because whilst some will see this as not necessary and outright slap in the face to what came before whilst others will be able to look past the inevitable comparisons and appreciate this movie for the ruthless sense of pacing, the hard to watch gruesome and quite bloody moments, terrific work behind the camera, and odes to the original whilst also going down its own blood-drenched route. Now from an objective perspective, I will say that this take on Evil Dead is somewhere in the middle, but leaning more towards “better” rather than “catastrophically devastating train wreck”. Indeed, when comparing it to other remakes from the past 20+ years, this one is very much like the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. By that I mean whilst this film can’t come close to how bold the original was and it may not be able to ensnare the distinct spirit that the original possessed, some of the same dilemmas that plagued Chainsaw, it still has a style and intensity all its own plus a wonderful excessive amount of blood and gore that if you are into that will be a delight, but otherwise will be as nightmarish as reading from the Necronomicon and then wondering why those tree branches seem to be looking at you with quite the creepily abnormal interest…
The plot is as follows: Evil Dead opens its nightmare as we see that a pair of siblings by the name of Mia and her brother David have decided to head out to their family’s old and located off the beaten path cabin. However this is not for some delightful weekend outing since that is sooo 1981; rather they are there for the 2013 way of beating Mia’s hardcore dependency on drugs in the most cold-turkey manner possible. Along with them for this “delightful outing” is David’s girlfriend Natalie, and David’s friends Eric and Olivia who also functions as Mia’s nurse whenever she starts having withdrawal symptoms. However even though all know it is going to be a grueling experience, due in no small part to this not exactly being Mia’s first time trying this, David still makes everyone swear to be there for her regardless of what happens. However things soon go from uneasy to terrifying when, in the midst of everything, Mia soon begins claiming that she is smelling something deceased from within the cabin. Yet while the others initially write it off, the dog soon alerts them to the fact that Mia is telling the truth, and soon this group of meddling kids is discovering a hidden basement filled to the brim with cats that have spent all nine lives, odd artifacts, and an ominous book. Naturally it isn’t long before one of the group opens the book and, despite common sense usually prevailing in these types of situations, decides to read the book aloud. Unfortunately rather than picking the section on how to make a delicious cheese cake, this particular passage deals with how to summon evil spirits that live in the woods, and which quickly take over Mia. However rather than accept that she has become a demon’s dorm room, everyone just simply attributes it to withdrawal symptoms and continues on with the plan. However it isn’t long before a horrific flood manages to wash out the only route in or out thus leaving this quintet of young adults no choice, but to engage in combat with these demonic forces who are ruthlessly determined to leave no flesh unscathed, no limbs safe from potential removal, and no soul to be amongst the land of the living.
Now I am going to just come out and say this before I go any further: this version of Evil Dead, from a modern perspective, looks absolutely fantastic. Indeed there is no denying the technical shine that the film has nor the skill behind the camera which is able to conjure up both a horrific vibe of both peril and unease that is constructed not on some grainy 16 mm film stock, but rather on smooth as silk HD video as well as phenomenal and nearly seamless work in the gore department from the expulsion of huge amounts of bile all the way to the ruthless removal of certain appendages to say nothing of removing things directly from the skin. Ultimately all of this makes for a largely positive experience even when one takes into account the frustrating lack of character development, though that was also present back in ’81, and the sheen from the HD that just makes everything a little less vibrant. Beyond those few irks of mine however lies a film that at its undead heart is one that feels more like an “inspired by the original” film instead of a shot for shot remake (like the 1998 Gus Van Sant take on Psycho….don’t ask). Yes, in all fairness, a fair amount of the more iconic moments are still here including, but not limited to the cellar hatch and the moment where nature goes….wild for lack of a better word. Yet there are just as many which have been altered, character fates are mixed up, and some new ideas, gasp, are also inserted into the film in order to give it that distinct breath of minty fresh air. Colgate jokes aside, this Evil Dead in many respects finds itself able to triumph over the undesirable task of managing to be its own thing through the utilization of older concepts and iconic moments whilst also bringing something novel to the table. Nevertheless the film’s helmer Fede Alvarez manages to triumph for the most part in not only making the property his own, but in also finding that delicate balancing act of showing respect to what came before, but also moving things forward so that we may potentially see a new era for this truly iconic horror franchise.
Alas for every positive, there has to be a negative; it’s just an inevitable facet in the world around us I’m afraid. For this film that negative takes the form of what is known as the “teens in mortal danger” trope that is absolutely done to the point of overkill nowadays plus it even comes complete with the other trope dealing with a cast of characters that you will only know by what they look like rather than anything to deal with who they are as human beings. Indeed it really does seem that the horror genre more than anything is able to reap the unexpected benefit of not needing a large amount of character work done when they are all either going to be covered in blood or dead by the end of film. Yet even with that in mind, it still would be considerate to know just who these people are beyond such basic labels as “female with drug problem” or “jerk with glasses” for example. That and it also becomes complicated to tell these individuals, with particular regard to the females, apart when they transition from flawed yet decent people into demonically possessed fiends who are drenched in blood and other items as well as having skin and appendages vanish from their bodies. Indeed it really seems like Evil Dead seems to operate more on kinetic energy in those moments and chooses to abandon any semblance of a narrative and trades it for a merciless sense of pace and plenty of slimy, bloody, and quite icky and gooey gore. Also, just like in the original, this film’s particular narrative is wafer-thin and only manages to provide just enough in order to provide the characters with some kind of reason, logic or validity not being active participants, both to go to the cabin and then not leave until they, horrifically, find that they can’t. Finally I guess I should also point out that when it comes to how frightening this film is, this rendition of Evil Dead honestly isn’t scary. Indeed whilst there are most assuredly a few “jump scares” to be found, this is a horror film that is dependent more so on excessive blood and fore than any sort of spine-tingling, skin-crawling dread and/or horror. To be fair this film does choose to, in large amounts, leave the narrative open which then increases the audience’s fear and the intensity of what happens due to just how much is left unknown beyond whenever someone reads from the horror-inducing tome. Yet if the lack of either specifics in the narrative or three-dimensional characters is not an issue for you then what you are left with is a merciless, seemingly non-stop attack upon your senses of unyielding horror of a fine caliber. That and mainstream horror films honestly don’t get a whole lot gorier than this one does so I think that if you are the kind of person who loves these kinds of things in your horror films that you watch then you are going to immediately treasure this.
All in all it should be said that the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead will not leave those of you who are fans of this series so wowed that you completely forget the original (although I definitely also think that such a task would have been extremely unlikely to begin with). However with that disclaimer out of the way, I still feel it should be noted that this is a quality movie that whilst not for those with a weak stomach, will most certainly appeal to those fans of this genre who enjoy a good blood and gore-drenched and straightforward horror film every now and then. In fact, when watching the final product I do have to say that it is kind of a miracle that Evil Dead managed to come out of its, purported, second go-around on the MPAA Carousel and manage to acquire an R rating with all of this blood and gore still intact with particular regard to the end scene which for some could be quite potent. Be that as it may be however, the finished product is still a quite strong and surprisingly decent re-imagining that may not be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but that manages to merge together the undead heart of the original with a vibe that feels new. Indeed the characters, with the exception perhaps of Jane Levy as Mia, might not be the most three-dimensional, but they are cleverly shielded by absolutely terrific work in the special effects department as well as a pace that is absolutely merciless. Yes this film will most certainly have those who despise it, but in all fairness that is ok. I say that not only because everyone deserves to have their own opinions, but also because the original movies are still out there for you to find and watch should this one either rub you the wrong way or invite you to engage in a good ol’ fashion compare/contrast. Be that as it may though I definitely think this film is worth at least a watch. It may not be as timeless as the originals, but in its own way it sure is…..groovy. On a scale of 1-5 I give Evil Dead “2013” a solid 3.5 out of 5.