Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult indie-horror classic “The Evil Dead” and its smarter, cooler follow-up, “Evil Dead II” from 1987, are the Rosetta Stone for the hack-and-splatter crowd.
If you want to know how to make a movie about a bunch of young idiots who think it’s a good idea to camp out in a creepy cabin in an even creepier part of the woods and release some soul-swallowing spirit – and do it all with a biting (pun intended) sense of humor – these are your go-to guides. On top of that, these movies – along with the third film in the series, “Army of Darkness” – acted as blood-drenched calling cards for a director who would go on to make the first three “Spider-Man” films.
But, except for those just looking at the bottom line, there was no need for a remake. Yet that’s exactly what we get in “Evil Dead,” a bigger-budget “re-imagining” with Raimi as producer and upstart Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez (whose short, “Panic Attack,” became something of an underground sensation) directing and co-writing. (Diablo Cody of “Juno” fame also is listed as a writer.)
The result is far from an embarrassment, unlike, say, Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of “Psycho.” “Evil Dead” is an efficient, exceedingly grisly horror film that goes places Raimi could only dream of in the ’80s when he was working with $5 and a bottle of ketchup. And there are some clever nods to the original that probably will sail right over the heads of anyone not familiar with it.
Yet without the low-rent cheesiness and the hint of horseplay that made the originals so enjoyable, “Evil Dead” becomes a numbing exercise in overkill. Literally.
The setup this time is that five friends have gotten together in this remote location to help one of them, Mia (Jane Levy), kick her substance-abuse problem. She’s doing it cold turkey, and what better way than in a place with no distractions? The friends include her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and even someone with medical training, Olivia (Jessica Lucas).
But it’s Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) who finds the dusty Book of the Dead in the cabin and – despite the explicit warnings that nothing from it should be read aloud without dire consequences – proceeds to read from it. (Certainly, the IQ levels of the characters haven’t improved since 1981.)
Faster than you can say, “Have you guys never seen a horror movie before?” a demon is unleashed that initially takes possession of Mia before moving on to others.
It’s all delivered with the requisite scares as Alvarez often effectively ramps up the tension.
Yet, after awhile, it’s hard to care too much about what’s going on as the bloodletting escalates into bloodbath and “Evil Dead” becomes less a film and more of an exercise in shock tactics.
No doubt, “Evil Dead” will please the hardcore gore fans. But anyone who prefers their jolts with tongues firmly in cheek instead of bloodily on the outside should stick with “Evil Dead 1.0.”