Evil Dead (2013)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/04/13 18:01:54

"The Hellhole Beyond The Pines"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Considering that virtually every other horror film of note produced from the late Seventies through the mid-Eighties has been given the remake treatment in the last few years, I suppose it was only a matter of time before "The Evil Dead," the infamously gory terror tale that served as Sam Raimi's directorial debut, was given the business as well before long. That said, it still seems like an odd choice because neither the 1983 original nor its two sequels (1987's "Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn" and 1993's "Army of Darkness") were particularly successful at the box-office and the hard-core horror fans that made them into cult favorites are the very same people likely to be most aghast at the notion of someone redoing it in the name of a quick buck, even if Raimi himself is one of those behind the revival.

You will recall that the original "Evil Dead" told the story of five young friends who go out to spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods and, largely due to their own stupidity, run afoul of some supernatural force that causes them no end of gruesome torment--demonic possession, dismemberment and even some icky stuff. This time around, the visit is on behalf of Mia (Jane Levy), who has enlisted friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) to help her in her latest attempt to clean up after a near-fatal drug overdose. The plan is simple--they are all going to stay there for as long as it takes until she finally kicks the habit and ignore all of her pleas otherwise.

Before the screaming and vomiting can begin in earnest, at least of the regularly scheduled variety, a poke through the basement uncovers a strange object that turns out to be a book bound in human flesh, written in human blood and wrapped up in barbed wire to warn the curious away. As it still seems more appealing than "Fifty Shades of Grey," Eric begins reading it and it turns out to be an ancient Sumerian text filled with incantations designed to raise a supernatural force that gruesomely possesses anyone it comes contact with and which can only be gotten rid of via total body dismemberment. Despite all the warnings, the book continues to get read and before long, so does everything and everyone else in the immediate vicinity as the gang falls victim to the force they have unleashed almost entirely because of their own stupidity. To make matters worse, if the force claims all five of their souls. . .well, let us just say that in terms of the future of the human race, it would not be a good thing.

Although the original "Evil Dead" is now duly enshrined as a genre classic, it is one of those films that is never quite as good as you remember it being. The story is dumb, the characters are practically non-existent (outside of Ash, the lone survivor played by Bruce Campbell in the first of many collaborations with Raimi, even fans of the film have a hard time recalling who any of them are) and some of the shocks are so over-the-top in their desire to shock (such as the infamous moment where one of the women is raped by the woods and not in the geographical sense) that they cross the line into sheer unpleasantness. What the film did have going for it that set it apart from most low-budget horror junk was the genuine sense of style that Raimi and his crew (which included an assistant editor by the name of Joel Cohen) brought to the familiar proceedings. It may have been a standard Spam-in-a-cabin tale (to steal a phrase from the great drive-in critic Joe Bob Briggs) but it was infused with such heedless energy and visual panache that even those not partial to gorefests could appreciate its accomplishments.

One of the main problems with this version of "The Evil Dead" is that debuting director Fede Alvarez never finds a particularly distinct stylistic approach for his take on the material. He certainly doesn't skimp on the gore--although it somehow got away with a simple R rating, this is easily one of the bloodiest movies of any type ever released by a major studio--and deserves some praise for the decision to emphasize practical visual and makeup effects over the CGI enhancements. Beyond that, however, Alvarez doesn't really do anything with the material to make it his own. He keeps things moving quickly enough but his approach is of the efficiently anonymous variety utilized by filmmakers who have gotten their big break and who don't want to jeopardize the gig by letting things get too weird. The only moments of real style are those in which Alvarez is frankly paying homage to Raimi's most memorable visual cues--in this respect, he is an effective enough magpie but his reproductions can't hold a candle to the originals.

Another problem that anyone attempting to redo "The Evil Dead" has to face is the fact that the entire conceit of the film has been so thoroughly spoofed, skewered and turned inside-out over the years--by Raimi himself in "Evil Dead II" by revamping the material as a hilarious horror-comedy hybrid featuring delirious splatstick comedy and a performance by Bruce Campbell that transformed him from just another big-chinned actor into the holy symbol of dumbass cool that he continues to be today and then last year in the brilliant meta-horror movie "The Cabin in the Woods"--that just sending a bunch of idiotic ciphers to the woods to follow all the usual cliches before being torn apart like fresh bread will simply no longer do. And yet, that is essentially what Alvarez and co-writer Roda Sayagues have done here. Once again, we get to bear witness to a horror film featuring characters who have evidently never seen horror films and who once again say and do all the usual stupid things while the audience waits patiently for the gross stuff to kick in.

Sure, they have tried to gussy things up by adding a more dramatic reason for why our heroes are out in the woods in the first place and they even provide a bunch of backstory meant to more fully explain the once-mysterious horrors. The idea that everyone thinks that Mia is going through the horrors of withdrawal as she desperately tries to convince them to leave is admittedly clever but by constantly having the characters remark about the reasons why they can't leave even after common sense would dictate otherwise, all it does is call attention to the fact that these idiots aren't even trying to leave. Likewise, the backstory element, mostly contained in a nasty prologue, is totally unnecessary to the proceedings and probably should have been dumped. It seems as though Diablo Cody did an uncredited rewrite of the screenplay at some point during the proceedings but anyone hoping for more of her wit and willingness to subvert genre conventions will be hard-pressed to find any evidence of her contributions in the final film.

As pointless remakes of perfectly good horror movies go, the new "Evil Dead" is nowhere near as bad as the abysmally unnecessary likes of the retreads of "The Stepfather," "The Thing" or "Halloween" and until she goes fully ghoulish, Jane Levy, whom you have seen on the sitcom "Suburgatory" and the slightly more terrifying film "Fun Size," once again shows a lot of personality and arguably the greatest ginger-tressed pout to hit the big screen since the heyday of Molly Ringwald. Unfortunately, the film is nowhere near as good as the original and there is never a single moment when it ever threatens to justify its existence as anything other than a soulless cash-in on a once-proud title. This is a piece of product pure and simple--the kind of destined to win a weekend or two at the box-office based on name recognition alone but which will no doubt disappear from memory as quickly and completely as the long-forgotten reduxes as "When a Stranger Calls" or "Sorority Row."

P.S. If you are a fan of the original films and plan to see this anyway, be sure to stay through all of the end credits for the brief bonus afterwards. Trust me, it will be worth it.

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