by Steve Habrat
I think that most horror fans would agree that Sam Raimi’s 1981 ultra-low budget horror film The Evil Dead stands as one of the scariest and most influential efforts within the horror genre. The very idea of trying to remake the film for modern audiences was absolutely blasphemous. For years, Hollywood threatened to dig out the Book of the Dead and even Raimi himself hinted that he might return to that dingy cabin in the woods for more groovy mayhem, but it seemed like just a bunch of fluff. After years of rumors, horror fans finally have director Fede Alvarez’s ultra-gruesome reimagining Evil Dead, and it arrives in theaters with an overwhelming amount of hype, a giddy blessing from the makers of the original film (Raimi, original star Bruce Campbell, and original producer Robert G. Tapert all serve as producers here), and a tagline proudly declaring it as “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” That is a pretty bold claim! Well folks, this reimagining (the filmmakers are adamant that it ISN’T a remake) is far from the scariest film you will ever experience. Hell, it doesn’t even come close to reaching the levels of terror that Raimi reached back in ‘81. However, you should be warned that Alvarez’s Evil Dead is without question the most brutal, violent, shocking, and repulsive mainstream movie you will see. Once that howling demon charged out of the woods and the blood started flowing out of that cabin, I absolutely could not believe that this film earned an R-rating. Get your barf bags ready!
Evil Dead introduces us to Mia (Played by Jane Levy), a drug addict trying to go cold-turkey with the help of her estranged brother, David (Played by Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Played by Elizabeth Blackmore), nurse Olivia (Played by Jessica Lucas), and childhood friend Eric (Played by Lou Taylor Pucci). Desperate to make sure that Mia doesn’t fall back into her nasty habit, the group decides to take her to an isolated cabin in the woods, a place where the friends spent much of their childhood. Shortly after arriving at the dilapidated cabin, Mia begins complaining of a horrible odor coming from somewhere within the cabin. After a bit of searching and snooping, the group stumbles upon the macabre basement, where they find a slew of dead cats and a strange book wrapped in a trash bag and barbed wire. Naturally, curiosity gets the best of the group and they decide to read a couple of passages despite the countless warnings scribbled on the pages. Soon, Mia begins suffering from bizarre hallucinations that the group waves off as just another symptom of withdraw. However, after a violent attack with a shot gun and a hair-raising warning that they are all going to die, the group begins to suspect that there may be supernatural forces emerging from the woods.
Alvarez certainly scores points with attempting something new with a familiar formula. He could have easily just served up a bunch of dimwitted teenagers retreating to a cabin for a weekend of drinking and hooking up, but he opts for something more mature and that certainly toys with the audience, at least early on. During the early hallucinations, you can’t help but suspect that maybe this is all just in Mia’s head, but Alvarez hits the breaks on this when Eric mumbles passages from that dreaded book. From that point on, all the emphasis is put on the blood, guts, and gore and Evil Dead delivers it all while wielding an assortment of power tools and, yes, that legendary boomstick. Your stomach will do a somersault as one character slices off her own face, you’ll cringe as nails are shot from a nail gun into another characters arm (and face and leg), you’ll cover your eyes as one character yaks bloody vomit all over another character’s face, and then, in the ultimate gross-out moment, a character pulls a syringe needle from just underneath their eyeball. Just when you are convinced Evil Dead can’t get anymore gruesome, the grand finale finds the lone hero facing off against a yellow-eyed demon with nothing but a chainsaw, all while gooey blood rains from the blackened sky. It is the blood-dipped cherry on the top of this gore sundae.
While Evil Dead excels in the effects department, it takes a dip when it comes to the acting. Alvarez appears to be under the impression that audiences will be flocking to his Evil Dead simply for the extreme gore, but he forgets that what made the original film so memorable was the acting, especially from Bruce Campbell. None of the actors or actresses in this Evil Dead come close to giving the performance that Campbell did, but two of the five really stand out. Levy does a fine job as the drug-addict Mia, and she does make you chew on your nails when she is overtaken by the growling poltergeist. She snaps her head around and goes wild-eyed while howling, “you’re all going to die tonight!” In between Levy’s frenzied blasts, Pucci is busy with being hilariously terrified and appalled the entire time. In this humorless and heavy affair, his Eric manages to make us chuckle (his reaction to the self-mutilation in front of him is absolutely priceless). While Levy and Pucci are busy stealing the show, Fernandez and Lucas look like they are trying way too hard to be serious, but there is a nifty little fake out with Fernandez’s character near the end of the film. Blackmore’s Olivia is completely underdeveloped and almost forgotten until Alvarez needs her to start hacking, chopping, and shooting both herself and her chums.
It may be hard to believe, but Alvarez’s Evil Dead is absolutely dazzling to look at. Some scenes look washed out while others are plunged into complete darkness. The film is thick with a grimy and grungy atmosphere that is made all the more surreal through peculiar camera angles and an oddly beautiful score from Roque Banos. When things erupt, Banos cues what sounds like a toxic alarm to announce the snarling ghouls and I must say, it is an effective and icky tool. For a film with so much going for it, it is frustrating to find Alvarez falling back on the same old jump scares and loud music blasts to nab a jolt. As much as I hate to say it, this tactic just seemed cheap and lazy when layered over the rich production. Overall, even though it isn’t as scary as it promised and at times feels completely unnecessary, Evil Dead gets the job done when it comes to nauseating its audience and it does it style. It is an absolutely blast spotting references to the original film and there are more than a few moments that will go down in the horror history books. Make sure you stick around through the end credits for a surprise that will have horror fans everywhere erupting in applause.