Evil Dead

Evil DeadSynopsis: A secluded cabin. An ancient curse. An unrelenting evil. The original producers reunite to present a genuinely terrifying re-imagining of their original horror masterpiece. Five young friends have found the mysterious and fiercely powerful Book of the Dead. Unable to resist its temptation, they release a violent demon on a bloodthirsty quest to possess them all. Who will be left to fight for their survival and defeat this unearthly force of murderous carnage?

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Evil Dead 8.0

eyelights: the reimagining of the first two films. the production quality.
eyesores: the grotesque violence. the so-so ending.

“Feast on this, motherfucker””

Remakes/reboots are a tricky thing. When one goes back to the well, the idea is to reel in a new audience without alienating the old one. Since the old and new crowds are usually from different generations altogether, and have completely divergent tastes and expectations, it can be nigh-impossible to satisfy both – hence the commercial and critical failure of most remakes.

Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert, the producers behind this reboot of ‘The Evil Dead’, faced the same problem. Given how popular the franchise is and how rabid the fans can be, they faced near certain backlash. In fact, in 2009 Campbell admitted that they had shelved the idea altogether because of the overwhelmingly negative response to the idea.

But they eventually forged ahead, backed by a solid script co-written by Rodo Sayagues and newbie director Fede Alvarez (with the able assistance of Diablo Cody to Americanize the dialogues). It was a moderate box office hit: the low-budget picture came in at number one at the box office and reaped nearly 100 million dollars worldwide by the end of its run.

There is now even a rumour of a sequel to this, a sequel to ‘Army of Darkness‘ and then a cross-over film of the two alternate storylines. That, would be awesome. Oh, sure, J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek‘ has already done this. But, at the hands of Raimi and company, I have no doubt that this would be so ferocious, witty and original that there would be a total stand out.

*crosses fingers*

In the meantime, though, there’s Alvarez’ vision to take in.

‘Evil Dead’ is not your momma’s ‘The Evil Dead’. No sirree. Alvarez’s ‘Evil Dead’ is an entirely different beast. A brutal one. But a clever one also. He took the meat of the first two pictures, ‘The Evil Dead‘ and ‘Evil Dead II‘, and hacked them up, kept the choices pieces, and ground up the rest into a bloody pulp – which he dutifully and gleefully sprayed all over the screen.

The story of ‘Evil Dead’ is as follows: Mia is a drug addict who decides to quit cold-turkey. She goes to hide out at her family’s cabin in the woods and asks her friends and her brother to join her for moral support. When they arrive, they discover that someone else has been there, using the basement for some sort of occult practices; there is an awful smell down there…

Upon inspection, one of them finds a strange book filled with all sorts of incantations – which he naturally decides to read out loud. To himself, granted – but, either way, he has unleashed some evil forces in the woods. Forces that will corrupt them one by one, turning what was to be a trying time in the cabin into a grisly struggle for survival. No one will come out of it intact.

Or at all.

Frankly, I was rather impressed with this take on the series. I had thought little of it upon its release, and had no plans to see it, but I was recently told by a friend of mine that it was handled adroitly. It intrigued me, especially since I was planning on watching the original series for my October slate. But my expectations started fairly low, especially in light of the failure of recent remakes.

What’s most impressive about the picture is how Alvarez didn’t so much modernize the original films as reimagine them, mash them up, making it his own in the process. I sat there transfixed by all the familiar elements that were given their own unique spins for this one – the way he did it was absolutely terrific, making it fresh to old and new audiences alike.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

For example:

  • Instead of listening to a tape recording, on which an incantation is read out, here they have Eric read it to himself. Amusingly, his “Kunda Astratta Montosse Canda” reminded me of “Klaatu barada nikto” from ‘Army of Darkness’. I checked around to see if this new set of words had any meaning, but couldn’t find a reference anywhere online.
  • Instead of the girl stupidly going out alone in the woods to investigate the scary noises, here they have Mia try to escape the cabin, which she already thinks is evil, by stealing one of the cars and driving off. Unfortunately, she crashes it and ends up wandering the woods in daytime.
  • The way the trees capture her is more credible here, at first making it seems like she’s just tangled up. Then it slowly dawns on her that they’re actually latching on to her.
  • The rape scene has been altered to something less violent but nonetheless sinister, with a dark slug-like thing crawling out of the mouth of a demonic version of herself and up between her legs. F-ing creepy.
  • When David tries to leave, instead of finding a collapsed bridge, he finds it flooded.
  • Instead of the guy getting his hand bitten by the possessed girl, here it’s David’s girlfriend who gets bitten. Her hand also gets infected, but the outcome is somewhat different. It’s certainly not as slapsticky.
  • David buries Mia in front of the cabin, echoing Ash burying Linda – except that he buries her alive in this version.
  • And then there’s the obvious: our “Ash” is a girl.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Alvarez not only served up a remake with a vengeance, he also fashioned a tribute to the series: he inserted all sorts of references to the original films for fans to pick out – not just in the plot, but also in the small touches, such as the brief use of the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, the way Mia’s pendant takes the shape of a skull on the ground, or the order in which the playing cards are laid out.

Heck, I’m not even such a devotee of the series that I noticed these details, but I had a blast watching this picture: the actors are solid, the pace is perfect, the story makes as much sense as it’s going to given the context, the production looks amazing, the effects are top-notch, and the action is extremely visceral. It’s as good as any cabin in the woods picture could ever get.

But I has its downsides:

  • It lacks the innovation of the original. Given the low budget of the first picture, Raimi had to invent all sorts of ways to get the shots he wanted into the picture. He injected more creativity into that one film than most directors do in a whole career. It was DIY on steroids. This one, however, is perfectly slick, but doesn’t awe with ingenuity.
  • It lacks humour. Whereas the original films gradually injected more and more humour into the mix, this one has no funny bone. This ‘Evil Dead’ takes itself totally seriously. It wants you to believe that, should these events transpire in real life, this is the way that they would. It can be emotionally devastating, and it is horrific in a nearly-traumatic way.
  • It is overly gruesome. I mean, seriously, I can handle quite a bit, but the amount of self-mutilation in this picture is stomach-churning. There’s some insanely graphic and brutal stuff going on in this picture; it’ll shock, but won’t thrill, its audience (at least, one hopes not). At least in ‘Evil Dead II’ Ash lopping off his hand was done with a wink at the audience.

Here, no one dares to wink for fear of getting gashed in the eye.

That was something that nagged at me while watching the picture: the characters are subject to grievous wounds that would fell any normal human being, but they keep getting back up. This one guy gets stabbed, shot and lacerated so many times you’d think he wouldn’t have an ounce of blood left in him. And yet he returns many times, including to save the day!

At one point it got so ridiculous that a possessed character returns unharmed despite all the wounds that she’s endured since the beginning: Nope. Now she’s pretty, unburned and her tongue is no longer split in two. It’s jarring to realize that once the evil leaves her so do the wounds; it just doesn’t make sense. Not that she will remain unharmed for long…

The thing with this ‘Evil Dead’ is that it tries so hard to be realistic but it doesn’t make sense on some levels. And that weakens our suspension of disbelief. When David makes a make-shift defibrillator, you can’t help but think “yeah sure!”. This takes us out of the picture. If Ash had done that, you’d laugh along because you’d know it’s meant as a joke. Not so here.

Still, all in all, ‘Evil Dead’ is a well-made reboot of -and tribute to- the original films. It’s absolutely not for the squeamish, however: it’s grotesque, brutal. It leaves one numb, traumatized even. But it won’t scare its audience. It might gross it out, horrify it, certainly, but it’s far too visceral to affect people on a psychological level in the way that the best horror films do.

If anything, one stumbles out of ‘Evil Dead’, stunned. Maybe even shaken. But certainly not scared.

Story: 7.5
Acting: 8.0
Production: 8.0

Chills: 4.0
Gore: 9.0
Violence: 8.0

Date of viewing: November 2, 2014

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