The best compliment that you can pay the new Evil Dead is that we don’t want to destroy it for the audacity of using the name. It captures the same spirit as Sam Raimi‘s legendary original: that queasy mix of horror and humor that turned it and its sequels into genre masterpieces. This new version also doesn’t make the mistake of trying to “update” the scenario for a new millennium. With the exception of a few fashion choices and the odd bit of tech, this story could be set in the exact same era that the first one was. It even finds a sly way to slip series stalwart Bruce Campbell in there without overshadowing the proceedings. That’s no mean feat in these days of half-assed remakes, and the filmmakers deserve a big round of applause for it. Hit the jump for my full review.
Their biggest conceit is, frankly, a quiet piece of genius, framing the franchise’s basic scenario in an entirely new light. The quintet of young people who arrive in that lonely cabin aren’t there for relaxation or to party. They’re helping a friend through drug addiction. She wants to kick her habit cold turkey, which means her buddies get to strap her to a bed and help her sweat it out without anywhere to run. It also means that when some numbskull reads the book in the basement with “DO NOT READ THIS” practically scrawled on every page, the resulting evil spirits have a rational explanation to serve as cover. When the junkie shows up babbling about how a tree raped her, everybody says “sure it did” and gets on with their evening. Indeed, the whole film could be viewed as a fever dream experienced by its detoxing protagonist (Jane Levy), an alternate way of examining the plot that lets it handle multiple viewings quite well.
More importantly, it gives this Evil Dead a distinctiveness that sets it apart (though not above) its predecessors. With the first two films essentially repeating the same scenario, it’s up to this new version to find its own identity. That it does quite well, thanks mainly to the core conceit but with help the stalwart direction of Fede Alvarez. He succeeds at the very difficult task of making this film his own without losing sight of the franchise ethos, an assurance aided by Raimi as one of the producers but also reflecting a confidence that bodes well for his future in the genre.
Evil Dead carries the expected array of shocks and splats, but with more panache than one expects: keeping its goals firmly in mind and refusing to be undone by the pressure. As gore-fests go, it’s as heavy-duty as they come. If this one can’t pull the NC-17 rating then said rating truly doesn’t exist. It deliberately aims away from the broad slapstick of Evil Dead 2, with the scares coming first and the humor a distant second. That’s in keeping with our cynical times, but it never surrenders to pointless nihilism either. And with cheap remakes clogging every corner of the multiplex these days, it’s enough that it can do its job with a little self respect, never riding on the coattails of its predecessor and finding some interesting new ways to look at the property as a result. In a year as bleak for horror movies as this one, we’ll take what we can find. Evil Dead never betrays our trust and quietly adds to a very impressive legacy in the bargain.
The Blu-ray features impressive audio and video quality: a far cry from the original’s gritty drive-in look, but par for the course in this day and age. The special features are about average: a fun commentary with the director, writer and cast; a discussion of the original film; several short behind the scenes features and a bevy of previews. It’s not grand, but it does the job… kind of like the film itself.