Retro Review: EVIL DEAD (2013){0}

One does not call their film “Evil Dead” without expecting some serious scrutiny from the old-school horror fans. It doesn’t matter if names like Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert are on board for your remake, and it makes no difference that you went for a “hard-R” rating and delivered a pretty kick-ass trailer. That’s all just conversation fodder. If you’re going to remake one of the finest indie horror films of the 1980s, you better be prepared to roll your sleeves up, do some heavy lifting, and get your hands dirty.

Fortunately for all involved, the creators of the new Evil Dead are more than willing to earn their own stripes with the horror fans, and the result is a fast-paced, gut-punch, splatter-fest of a remake that will almost certainly please the old fans, probably entice a bunch of new ones, and thoroughly disgust anyone who happens to think that Evil Dead is some sort of low-key supernatural thriller. In other words, Evil Dead (2013) is one of the goriest wide-release movies I’ve ever seen. Take that as either a warning or a selling point, but rare is the cinematic bloodbath that is this outrageously… well, bloody. So how’s the rest of the flick?

Shocking, disturbing, creepy, and actually pretty clever, all things considered. As for the poster that promises “the most terrifying film you will ever experience,” that’s some high-quality marketing, but no: the new Evil Dead isn’t even the most terrifying film I’ve seen in the past year. It IS however, stocked with more than enough gloom, doom, and carnage to keep a seasoned horror freak happy enough. If a few of the actors are sort of wooden and if some of the dialogue is a bit ripe, those are small stakes for a movie so irredeemably committed to big shocks, pitch-black humor, and enough audacious violence to fill three decent horror flicks.

Plot? Oh, yes. Five youthful adults visit an isolated cabin so that one of them can run through detox in isolation and with four loved ones around for physical / emotional support. One of the group discovers an ancient book and he (very stupidly) reads an incantation aloud, which summons a demon who promptly does all sorts of terrible things to poor young Mia and her pals. Cabin. Demon. People. Simple stuff. By the time the group of five has been whittled down to two, you’ll either be dazzled by the grisly intensity on display, or you’ll have given up and bailed on the flick entirely. Speaking only as one semi-old horror fan who adores The Evil Dead but also hopes for the best on each new horror remake, I was more than a little impressed with this one.

What works in the remake is a staunch commitment to practical special effects (because CGI gore stinks and we all know it), a fantastic lead performance by Jane Levy, a nifty score that’s ominous on its own and also borrows from the original’s themes, some frankly fantastic cinematography, and a tone that starts out downbeat and just keeps getting darker. It’s cool and creepy and unpredictable and precisely the sort of horror movie your mother would probably hate.

The humor of the piece lies mostly in the over-the-top nature of the graphic violence, but make no mistake: the new Evil Dead is admirably serious about getting under your skin. To this end it employs simple jump scares, elaborate attack sequences, some crazily creative carnage, and (best of all) a pace that dances around for about 25 minutes before getting down to the dirty stuff and never letting up. This is an intense, grotesque, and thoroughly enjoyable piece of horror cinema that pays due homage to its predecessor while also concocting some memorable insanity of its own. That’s what horror fans generally want from remakes: respect for the old mixed with an enthusiasm for something new.

So while I certainly do not agree that Evil Dead is all that terrifying (and it adds a little bit of emotional roughage that doesn’t help matters much), I will happily admit that it’s one of the better horror film remakes of the past few years. It may actually be one of the best horror remakes of the modern era, but let’s be fair: 80% of those movies are really, really awful. Simply put, Evil Dead is stark, dark, exciting, and thoroughly grim — and that’s more than good enough.  That a remake of the “original” cabin in the woods movie works so damn well even after Cabin in the Woods lampooned the concept so thoroughly, well, that’s sort of impressive in a highly geeky way.

And hey, big respect for keeping the gore “practical.” I know that sounds like a weird thing to praise, but when it comes to hardcore horror films, latex and fake blood will always win out over digital silliness.