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Evil Dead (2013)

April 8, 2013

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written by: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues

produced by: Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert G. Tapert

directed by: Fede Alvarez

rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language)

runtime: 91 min.

U.S. release date: April 5, 2013

 

No one was asking for a remake of  “The Evil Dead” the low-budget horror flick from 1981. The feature film debut of director Sam Raimi (who also produced it with Robert Tapert, also served as writer) became an instant classic among Fangoria fans, eventually received praise from critics as well. Still, no one was wondering when it would be remade. Just like there were no petitions to get “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Halloween or “Dawn of the Dead” remade. And yet all those were remade and maybe one of them was actually good. One could say that there’s a desire for a new generation to experience these classics, but it’s likely that the real reason involves dollar signs. Rarely do we ever see a remake that is different or better in any way, possibly even feeling like elements or approaches to the material have been successfully reworked – until now.

This new “Evil Dead” holds on to the same formula as the original, but what it does with it is much more intense, amping up the blood and gore, while grounding the story in both purpose and legitimate demonic terror. Loyal fans of the three “Evil Dead” films need not fret, since Raimi and Tapert produced this one as well, along with their pal, actor Bruce Campbell (who played Ash, the main protagonist – or pinata – in the three other movies), which gives it an air of familiarity in the best way possible. Raimi himself hand-picked Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez (who also co-wrote this “Evil Dead”) which should tell you that something about whether or not he’s a worthy candidate to bring this property back to the big-screen.

Five friends have congregated to a cabin in the woods – yes, you’ve heard that one before, but just hold on – in order to help one of them kick a drug addiction cold turkey. See? Already that’s quite different from a bunch of attractive twentysomethings looking to party in the middle of nowhere (Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard homaged that subgenre in an excellent fashion last year), this time around there’s a purpose for them not only to be there, but also to stay put.

 

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The junkie is Mia (Jane Levy) who is dragged to a cabin she once frequented with her family as a child.  She is surrounded by her nurse friend Olivia (Jessica Lucas), their English teacher friend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and her estranged brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who has brought along Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) his girlfriend. This kind of intervention has been attempted before, but Mia has always bailed before any kind of detox could settle in. None of them have any clue though what’s in store for them this time. There’s going to be more than crazy withdrawal symptoms to deal with once they open up a bloody cellar door in the cabin.

There they discover the stench of hanging animal carcasses and a mysterious book that catches the attention of Eric. Bound in human skin and barbed wire, it turns out to be the Book of the Dead, littered with gruesome illustrations and desperate scribbling that warns readers to stay away. Of course, that doesn’t happen and unbeknownst to the others, Eric sequesters himself to another room and begins translating the evil chants out loud, utterly clueless that he has summoned a demonic force that feeds on souls with a specific albeit brutal agenda.

Without a beat, the malevolent force begins to possess the unknowing twentysomethings, starting with Mia. The others aren’t entirely convinced that Mia’s strange behavior is anything other than crazy tantrums due to her feeling the burn. They don’t believe her when she tells them that “the forest came alive” when she ran out of the cabin, knowing something was definitely wrong, nor do they take her visions of a drenched girl with pale skin and yellow eyes seriously. Soon each of them experience by-the-book possessions that cuts a stomach-churning path of dismemberment, needle stabbing, projectile vomiting and frenzied panic, on the way to sadistic torment and death.  The only thing that can save the group and the world as they know it from succumbing to the evil is going back to the book and following its reverse recipe word for word.

 

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Back in the VHS days, Raimi’s “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn” was in heavy rental rotation with me and my pals. We’d rent that horror flick (which would go on to become a cult classic) all. the. time. It was always three movies and that Raimi flick was guaranteed to be one of them. It didn’t matter how many times we watched it, adding it to our line-up was a no-brainer. The first sequel was actually more of a remake and it was also much better than the first film. It had a bigger budget, more special effects (not excellent mind you, more like crude Harryhausen) and a heightened sense of humor coupled with glorious B-movie over-acting. It’s actually the better of the first two movies, the more memorable one, whereas 1992’s “Army of Darkness” thankfully dropped the film into some manic medieval times.

With that in mind, I approached this remake with understandable hesitation. But once it started receiving good word-of-mouth at its world premiere at the South by Southwest film festival last month, my interest was piqued. I’d give it a chance for the sake of curiosity, also because Raimi and company were involved and also to see just how different it would be.

Right away, the big difference with Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” is its serious approach, which jettisons the macabre comedy. Here we have horror that’s more Lovecraftian in tone than any of the other “Evil Dead” films. Some may think there’s humor present, but it’s nothing near the level of the other films and since the threat level seems much more serious, there’s no time to chuckle. While some of the same storyline beats and images from the first two movies are hit – complete with sawing off an arm (this time with an electric carving knife with a nail gun thrown to balance it out), a sawed-off shotgun, a certain automobile, and of course, there’s room for a chainsaw – they are used in different ways and only feel like nods for those die-hard fans.

 

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On that note though, Alvarez seems honored to be invited and shows it by limiting the use of CGI to update the already established horror world.  Like Raimi, he’s aware that putting your actor’s through the ringer translates to great horror on-screen.  But, taking in what transpires here had me shaking my head in disbelief that this qualifies as R-rated movie. I’m aware the MPAA rating system is a joke, but this is the hardest R I’ve been subjected to in any recent horror movie I can recall.

What viewers should appreciate most is the screenplay by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues with some doctoring by Oscar-winner Diablo Cody. Besides the inventive rehab angle, it provides a creepy backstory that gives history to both the cabin and the book. It’s also noteworthy to mention the mental and emotional familial scar tissue the script touches on between Mia and David. It borders on cliché, but it at least gives us an idea why they’re behaving certain ways. Also, as mentioned above, the kids here think there’s a reason to stay, but that quickly goes out the window once buckets of kayo syrup and red rain falls in the last half. The story also provides a more formidable, real demonic presence that is much more unsettling than what we’ve seen before. Each move Alvarez makes though feels less about upping the ante and more about providing a reason for what happens next. For example, this time around the tree rape scene is just as unnerving, but it also serves as the repulsive act that kicks off the evening of pain.

What may seem lacking in “Evil Dead” is a legitimate lead and maybe it’s just not the lead we expect, but that is another way in which is diverges from the source material. As David, Fernandez may seem like he’s the lead here (just because we expect a dude to take Campbell’s absence), but that’s not the case, which is actually a good thing since the actor has quite a bland and uninteresting presence here. It’s Levy’s Mia who comes front and center, as she goes back and forth from possessed to survivor, in demanding role in just about every sense.

There will assuredly be another sequel to “Evil Dead” and if you stay for the scene after all the end credits, you may wonder how in the world they are going to get to what they are teasing at. There’s no doubt that this is the rare horror remake that improves upon the original. Considering the have differing tones, there’s a separation that prevents comparing which of the two is better, while providing enough originality to leave you successfully bothered. It’s definitely a movie to see with a theatrical audience.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2013 6:32 pm

    Really good review here David. I am looking forward to seeing this next weekend!

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