not to be confused with THE EVIL DEAD (1981). They take the ‘the’ out to streamline it, like FAST AND FURIOUS.
I’m an EVIL DEAD 2 man myself. But I love THE EVIL DEAD too. It’s a timeless classic that I dig out every couple of years and it keeps getting better. And I never wanted them to remake it. But the truth is, I’m afraid, that that first one is pretty forgotten in our culture. I know this by the overwhelming number of genuine horror fans, not just Johnny-come-latelys, who are confused why the remake looks so serious. You have to keep explaining to them, no, this is supposed to be a remake of the first EVIL DEAD. The one before EVIL DEAD 2? That sequel is just such a perfect do-over that it eclipses the first one in the popular consciousness.
This is in that rare category of horror remakes where instead of somebody (Platinum Dunes or whoever) buying the rights and cashing in on the name the original director decides to get it over with, picks out a director himself, produces it and is pretty hands on to try to make it worthwhile. The originator of this strategy might’ve been George Romero with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990). It was also used successfully by Wes Craven for THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009). Note that he had nothing to do with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010). That’s what they’re up against here.
Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell produced this through Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures company. To write and direct they chose Fede Alvarez, a young Uruguayan rookie known for a youtube short he did about a robot attack.
I think Alvarez made alot of good choices that aren’t what you’d expect:
1) He kept the tone of the original. There are plenty of laughs but they come from how out-of-control things get, not from jokes per se. It must’ve been tempting to make it more like part 2 or 3 since that’s what people want, but fuck people. What do people know? The number of movies that have balanced horror and comedy as well as EVIL DEAD 2 could be counted on one hand by the world’s worst shop teacher. That’s not something to be messed with, probly not even by Raimi himself. Going back to the roots was the only way to proceed.
2) He didn’t recast Ash or have an obvious Ash-replacement character. Angry one-star reviewers on IMDb are of course crying bloody murder over this, but I got a strong hunch they wouldn’t be any happier seeing some new guy pretend to be Ash. Alvarez was smart to stay out of that trap.
3) Although he clearly has more resources and technology than the Michigan boys had on the original he does almost entirely practical effects. There’s probly a little digital in there somewhere, but if so not much. This is a solid object movie, not a pixel one. It’s meaty and boney and wet.
Like most remakes they change some shit and they keep some shit. It surprised me that the entire opening sequence is an entirely different take on the material, threw me off balance, in a good way. Then they introduce the characters and they’re all different, they’re up to something different. But they’re young people who go out to stay in a cabin, accidentally unleash demons from an ancient book and then watch their friends become possessed and murderous. And sometimes giggly.
There are nods to many evil deadisms: a workshed, a chain saw, a possessed hand, a severed hand, a trap door to the basement, a broken stair, a lullaby, a few of those within-the-woods POV shots. Also I believe that’s Raimi and Campbell’s beloved original car that everybody sits on behind the cabin. But one of the few major scenes they directly remake is the only one that Sam Raimi has been saying for decades that he regrets putting in the movie. Whether you like this one or not you gotta admit it’s not one of these horror remakes that tries to water things down and make them more sanitary.
I don’t know how or why it happened, but this has gotta be by far the goriest movie to ever land an R-rating. Every main character gets fucked up six ways to Sunday. Probly seven. I was already sure it was the goriest well before it started literally raining blood from the sky. This is gonna ruin alot of slumber parties. Some poor girl thinks it’s gonna be like THE RING and neither she or her friends will ever sleep soundly again. Or it’s gonna change some lives. It’s gonna make a man out of those girls.
But what’s great is (I guess with the exception of the infamous botany related scene) it’s not this kind of ugly gorey we’ve gotten used to from SAW or the Rob Zombie movies, the “oh, you want to see violence? Well violence is no picnic. It’s like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. It’s fucked up,” approach to horror. I’m not saying that’s not valid but I like this return to pushing things so far that it’s okay to laugh at the audacity of it instead of so far you want to take a shower. In many ways it looks like the modern horror, but the spirit is more in tune with the horror movies of the ’80s that outraged the cultural watch dogs but actually were meant to be fun.
The major story change that I thought was really smart is that instead of just going out to a cabin for a vacation these kids are there to help their friend Mia (Jane Levy) go cold turkey. So when she starts seeing evil deadliness it seems like she’s just freaking out on withdrawal, when she begs to go home they won’t let her because they think it’s best for her to stay. Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) feels alot of guilt about not letting her be free to leave, but that will seem like a quaint problem later on when he starts thinking he may need to chop her up and set her on fire. Also, Mia knows from her first scene that she’s looking down the barrel of a harrowing weekend. She just doesn’t know how harrowing.
Diablo Cody did a polish on this script, I don’t think she was credited and she said she didn’t change much. The one part I guessed she might’ve written was the name of their dog. (spoiler: it’s “Grandpa.”) It would be interesting to know what she added. (bitches be all up on her jock since she made YOUNG ADULT. At least that’s my experience.)
There’s not a huge amount of time dedicated to these characters as humans before they start getting possessed and mutilated and slimed and slammed into things and what not. But in that time they do set up relationships and backstory that are built on through the mayhem and do pay off effectively. It’s a little bit like THE RAID in that sense. Trying to subtly fit a little characterization into the cracks of what seems like non-stop mayhem.
Still, I didn’t feel like these characters were much more fleshed out than the pretty generic ones in the original, and Fernandez (who sometimes seems like the lead) reminds me of the lunkheads that star in MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D and things like that, the type of cheesy mainstream horror that I enjoy despite myself, not because they’re amazing. He’s kinda bland, they coulda found somebody with more presence, and that holds the movie back a little.
So it did take me a little bit to warm up to it, but once it gets ripping it’s so relentless I couldn’t help but get my pantleg caught and get dragged out a bunch of windows and down a bunch of stairs. It’s the type of movie that the phrase “like a rollercoaster” was invented for, it’s all about hurtling you through this heightened experience, making your heart beat fast and not allowing you to take a breath until the sun breaks at the end. Despite the obvious debt to the energy of the original (it definitely borrows some trademark Raimi camera moves and edits) what it reminds me of most is staying up late watching gorey Italian movies at a horror marathon. It’s an endurance test, making you watch these kids suffer every body trauma imaginable, special emphasis on parts that cause sympathy pains: a bite on the web between the thumb and the forefinger, a needle near an eye, a razor splitting a tongue. Some of that self-inflicted.
Interesting note for you bodily discharges fans: they’re more reality based than in the original. Not just slime but spit and snot and pus and even some piss. There is some green vomit, but also bloody vomit. With chunks. It really goes out of its way to show you something disgusting and then show you something way worse and then something way worse than that. And when you think you know how disgusting it is it will surprise you with a little twist (spoiler: like when the girl saws her own arm off with an electric kitchen knife and then it’s just hanging there by a tiny thread before it drops).
And yet, just as they say, one of the most effective parts is something that happens off screen. You’ve probly seen that disgusting shot in the trailers of a girl with her cheek cut open so she looks like a skeleton. But the highlight is when she’s off screen, you’re not sure what she’s doing but you hear the sound of frantic sawing through something… mushy. And you see her from the back and she’s hunkered over doing… something… you’re not sure what, but you know it’s something terrible!
The mythology is different in little ways that I didn’t entirely follow. I missed some of the more straight up ghostly phenomena, the furniture coming to life and stuff. But maybe I’m old fashioned. I heard some people complain about the curse words written in the Book of the Dead – I thought those were things that some previous victim had written in there, not the Ancient Sumerians. It fits with the EXORCIST style filthy mouths some of those possessed people have.
At the climax there’s something that must be from a page we never turned to in the Necronomicon before, a prophecy that happens. Nothin too big, kinda simple actually, but pretty clever in the way it’s executed.
Like most modern horror remakes it’s got real nice cinematography (by Aaron Morton, who cut his teeth on Xena). It also has a particularly good score, sometimes reminiscent of the bombastic orchestral parts of Joseph LoDuca’s original but often going for the weird atmospheric shit. The composer is Roque Baños, a Spanish guy who did SEXY BEAST, THE MACHINIST and several of the Alex de la Iglesias movies.
I can already tell that alot of us older horror fans are just not open to this movie. I’m sure some of my buddies will hate it, and that’s too bad. If nothing else it’s a fun time at the movies, with an energy and unbridled relentlessness lacking from most horror today. It never even considers wimping out but it isn’t trying to bum you out either. Even my favorite modern horror movies like MARTYRS tend to be oppressively bleak. This is a reminder that you can make horror that’s not a comedy or 25 consecutive punches to your balls. It can make you suffer but then put its arm around you and laugh with you about it. It’s never gonna replace THE EVIL DEAD, but it’ll be an enjoyable companion piece to dig out every several years.
Then again I’m kinda itching to see it again already…
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.