The 2013 Evil Dead has a couple of things in common with Sam Raimi’s 1982 original: the title, the basic premise, the ground-level POV tracking shots, and of course, the exuberant amount of blood and gore. But while Raimi’s film utilized filmmaking creativity, dark wit and a cartoonish performance from Bruce Campbell to earn its reputation as a horror classic, this 2013 iteration, slickly directed by first-time filmmaker Fede Alvarez, takes the horror movie fast pass, eliminating the comic-undertones completely and resorting to extremely gruesome violence to bully reactions from its audience.
Like the premise last April’s The Cabin in the Woods so accurately poked fun at and paid homage to, Evil Dead follows five 20-somethings–charisma vacuum David (Shiloh Fernandez), his waifish girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), their friend Olivia (Jessica Lucas), her nerdy boyfriend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and David’s junkie sister Mia (Jane Levy)–as they head out to spend a quite weekend at a cabin in the woods. But instead of being your average “let’s get drunk and have sex” weekend getaway, this field trip to BFE turns out to be, in the film’s only clever concoction, an intervention to get Mia to kick her drug habit, brought on by years of neglect and family dysfunction.
Before you can say “Necronomicon,” some idiot starts reading aloud verses from the Book of the Dead, and releases all sorts of demonic spirits into the surrounding woods. Predictably, Jane is the first one possessed but her screams and antics are quickly written off by the rest of the group as “crazy withdrawal talk.” But when she starts going all Linda Blair on them, projecting red bile and obscenities, the group realizes that something’s not kosher. That’s when Alvarez brings out the blood and gore, and as Jurassic Park’s John Hammond would say, he spares no expense. Soon people are scalping their faces off, getting stabbed in the eyes by needles, shot by nail guns, sawing their arms off with electric meat cleavers, and worst of all, splitting their tongues in half with box cutters. It all leads up to a blood bath (literally) so insane, you’ll have no alternative but to shake your head in bemusement.
But blood baths and explicit gore only work as additives to a recipe, not as the primary ingredient! Even if the screenplay by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (with rewrites by Diablo Cody) deserves points for the drug intervention angle (the whole film works as a blatant allegory for kicking the habit), they get zero points for writing such witless, charmless characters. It doesn’t help one bit that the cast (save for Levy who delivers fine work) are nothing but pretty faces. And while Alvarez’s penchant for over-the-top gore, and his gift for composing visceral sequences hint at a budding talent, the fact that his movie lacks solid thrills or jump scares leads me to believe he still has ways to go.
As far as horror remakes/re-imaginings go, Evil Dead is in the upper echelon. There’s stuff here to be respected, but as a piece of inspired horror filmmaking, it leaves much to be desired. If graphic depictions of mutilations, dismemberments, and close-up shots of nerve endings ripped to shreds consort to your idea of what constitutes great horror, then Evil Dead should do the trick. But if its genuine tension, thrills and dark wit, elements that made the original such an enduring classic, is what you seek, you could do better by staying at home.