Evil Dead (United States, 2013)

April 04, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Evil Dead Poster

It's tempting to look at the 2013 reincarnation of Evil Dead as yet another pointless remake of an '80s horror film. Haven't there been enough of these? One glance at the credit list reveals that both director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell (of the original The Evil Dead) are on board as producers. Surely that has to mean something, doesn't it? Apparently not. Evil Dead is a generic horror movie noteworthy only because it may be the most bloodsoaked motion picture to bamboozle the MPAA into getting an "R" rating. This isn't just a horror movie with gore - it's a gore movie, period. Blood is its raison d'etre. It's not scary. It's not shocking. It just wallows in viscera. Ho-hum. Pass the ketchup.

Of course, The Evil Dead was known in its day for copious amounts of blood. (When re-submitted for its video release, the originally "unrated" film was granted an "NC-17" by the MPAA, and it's tamer than the remake.) The thing is, Raimi was having fun with all that red dyed liquid. While it's true that The Evil Dead was more serious than its immediate successor, Evil Dead II, it wasn't meant to be taken entirely seriously. The over-the-top gore and cheesy acting were all part of what made the film work. And it was atmospheric and scary in ways that the remake utterly fails to capture. Fede Alvarez's take on Evil Dead is glum and almost entirely devoid of anything resembling humor. As a result, all that blood simply seems…excessive. The movie is all about the gore and the technical aptitude with which it has been produced (mostly without CGI). Everything is secondary. There's no heart, no soul, and not a lot of creativity. And the hole left by Bruce Campbell's absence is never effectively filled. (Although old-time fans of The Evil Dead are advised to stick around through the end credits.)

The core premise remains the same: five college-age men and women head off to a dilapidated cabin in the woods. They're staging an intervention designed to get Mia (Jane Levy) off the drugs that have consumed her life. Her four supporters are her estranged brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), and his personality-devoid girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), registered nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and bookish Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). In the cabin's dim, dank basement, they discover a bunch of dead cats and the Necronomicon, a grimoire made from human skin that contains dark magic spells. Eric, in an act of overt stupidity, starts reading things from the Necronomicon out loud and suddenly the five friends are being hunted by a demon.

The ending, which deviates significantly from that of Raimi's original, is easily the weakest aspect of the thinly-potted movie. It's confusing, contradictory, and downright dumb. In homage to Raimi, the shaky-cam makes an appearance. And there's a chainsaw. But no Ash - aspects of that character have been parceled out between two or three of the new cabin-mates. In 1981, we knew who to root for. That's not the case here. None of the five individuals who enter the cabin capture our sympathy. In the end, it's tough to care whether any of them makes it out alive. But Alvarez doesn't appear especially interested in directing actors. He's the gore-man.

Evil Dead feels a lot like a hybrid between last decade's so-called "torture porn" and a more conventional movie about demon possession. The biggest element absent from Evil Dead is the sense of inspiration in which Raimi's iteration marinated. So much effort was invested into making the blood and gore look "right" that all the other elements of good horror - particularly the sense of dread - are relegated to the background. Those who are calling Evil Dead the "scariest movie ever made" don't have a good understanding of the word "scary."

Evil Dead is another reminder of the folly of trying to remake genre classics while the originals retain their effectiveness. There's no debating that Alvarez's Evil Dead looks slicker than Raimi's. That comes with having a budget. But there are no other improvements. In fact, in almost every other aspect, Evil Dead is at least a step behind The Evil Dead and, while the storyline heads in a different direction during its third act making the ending a little unpredictable, it's hard to summon the energy to care. If the filmmakers don't want to invest much in the characters, why should the viewers? Evil Dead is like a child's bauble - shiny and sparkling on the outside but of inferior quality to something shaped by a master craftsman. I'll not claim that Raimi's version is anything close to perfection, but this pointless remake serves only to elevate it in my estimation.

Evil Dead (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 1:31
U.S. Release Date: 2013-04-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1