In 1981, director Sam Raimi made a small splash with a cultish horror movie called The Evil Dead. Raimi followed with a 1987 sequel that added more humor to what had become a landmark mix of shock, gore and murderous invention.
I’m not sure that The Evil Dead deserves to be enshrined in anyone’s horror hall of fame, but it clearly demonstrated that Raimi — who reportedly made the movie for a meager $50,000 — had serious chops.
Raimi, of course, went on to enlarge his sphere of influence with several Spider Man movies and most recently with the commercially successful Oz the Great and Powerful.
R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Now comes another rendition of The Evil Dead with Raimi serving as one of the movie’s producers. Directed by Fede Alvarez and written by Alvarez and Diablo Cody of Juno fame, this edition follows the basic arc of the original.
You know the drill: Five young people travel to a secluded but rundown cabin in the woods, where they begin to confront an unseen evil force that turns them into hideous zombies.
The special effects have been updated for the kind of maximum impact that technological advance and a larger budget allow. In an odd (and perhaps telling) way, this version of The Evil Dead isn’t better than original: it’s only louder, more amplified in every regard.
The unsuspecting need to know that The Evil Dead movies are designed to flood the screen with gore, which means they’re not for the squeamish.
In the case of the new movie, we’re talking about severed limbs, severed heads, geysers of spewed blood and copious projectile vomiting. There’s more, of course, but I think I’ve given you “taste” enough to get the idea.
And let’s be real here. Audiences who enjoy this kind of entertainment are prone to evaluating the level of gory creativity that the filmmakers are able to bring to their efforts. And when a chainsaw appears, the presumption is that you know the jagged history that links chainsaws to big-screen horror, that you’ll smile to yourself about the way the movie is connecting to its big-screen horror lineage.
In general, the acting in this installment surpasses that of the original, although it should be noted that we’re not talking about a high bar. It’s worth a passing mention that Bruce Campbell, who starred in the original, joins Raimi in serving as one of the new movie’s producers.
In this outing, Jane Levy plays Mia, the character whose drug addiction prompts her cohorts to gather at the cabin in the first place. They’ve all pledged to help Mia kick a long-time heroin habit.
Mia’s brother (Shiloh Fernandez) emerges as the main character in this gruesome ensemble with Lou Taylor Pucci portraying Eric, the young man who discovers the book that contains the incantation that jump starts the gory proceedings. It’s often said that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. An exception might well be made in this case: The cover of this eerie book of the dead is made out of human skin.
Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore round out the cast, mostly in the role of victims.
The 2013 edition of The Evil Dead contains a fair sampling of the kind of obviously dumb behavior that allows audiences to feel superior to every character. An example: Everyone who has ever seen a horror movie knows that exposure to risk increases exponentially if one stupidly ventures into a basement. You don’t necessarily want to be wandering around a fog-shrouded forest, either.
For the most part, Alvarez directs with more seriousness than humor, although certain parts of his gore fest drew laughter at a preview screening.
With some updating, a few alterations of plot and a modest bow to the Exorcist movies, the new Evil Dead resists becoming a precise rehash of the original, and its final encounter with evil is so luridly bloody, it demands to be watched with a certain stunned amazement.
Was there any reason to make another Evil Dead movie? Not really.
And that’s the rub: This one’s been amped-up, revamped and super-charged for contemporary tastes, but it can’t possibly replicate the giddy (if certifiably guilty) sense of discovery created by its 1981 predecessor.
Put another way, The Evil Dead is unredeemed and unashamed trash. One presumes its audience wouldn’t want it any other way, but that may not be enough to kick it onto the plus side of the ledger.