Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is a failed iteration of a far superior film; number 9,263 on the list of unnecessary horror movie remakes. I can think of countless titles that could stand to be remade. For example, Humongous from 1982 — one of my favorite slasher flicks, but not that great a film. Or, how about He Knows You’re Alone from 1980? Same thing. Not to impugn the memory and skills of the late Italian horror maestro, Lucio Fulci, but why aren’t directors lining up to take a shot at “re-imagining” The Beyond or The New York Ripper? Hell, I’d be happy if someone thought to update Friday the 13th again!
These are movies I rolled off the top of my head just in the past thirty seconds, which means there are countless more I haven’t even thought of yet. Instead drawing from a deep well of dubious cinematic distinction, Alvarez chose to set his sights on a movie that has become a sterling example of how a horror movie should be made; a shining beacon in the night; a legendary batshit crazy opus to demons and other undead things that maintains a rabid fanbase more than thirty years after its release. And then he managed to muck it up. Far in the future, Sam Raimi, who made the original The Evil Dead, will be remembered as a pioneer; Alvarez, on the other hand, will likely be remembered as that guy who remade The Evil Dead.
That’s not to say that Evil Dead (without the The, a distinction I suppose was important to someone) is a bad movie. On the contrary, it’s well-made and expertly acted. I said it’s a failed remake. The story is nearly the same as the original — a demon released from an ancient Book of the Dead terrorizes five friends at a mountain cabin — with the exception of a new and unnecessary subplot: this time around, the friends have gathered to help one of their own, Mia (Jane Levy), kick a heroin habit. Mia’s brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), reluctantly agrees to this unorthodox intervention and locks her in a room to detox. Mia escapes, crashes her car, is raped by a tree branch (a lovely homage to the original film’s most controversial scene) and gets possessed by the spirit in the woods. That’s pretty much it. There’s not much more to tell, save for some extra mumbo-jumbo about prophesies and the demons needing to capture five souls to break free from hell. If you’ve seen the source material, then you know that body parts get ripped and shredded, and maybe there’s a survivor to limp into the inevitable sequel.
I really don’t have a problem with any of this. I love movies like Evil Dead. The cabin is suitably dilapidated, the forest dark and ominous. The movie’s entire visual palette is awash in gothic doom. This is normally great stuff. What I do have a problem with, however, is that Alvarez felt it necessary to strip all the fun out of his version (something the original and its sequel had in abundance) rendering it down to a deeply serious and cynical bloodbath that made me cringe instead of grin at the absurd over-the-top gore. The movie is completely devoid of any humor. How am I supposed to have any fun when a demon uses a box cutter to slice open its own tongue and the director presents this information direct and serious with absolutely no levity on the horizon?
I don’t know. I suppose if I were giving out stars, Evil Dead would get two-and-a-half, if only for its craftsmanship and the dedication of its actors. Should you see the movie? That depends on you. If you want to see a woman cut off her own arm with an electric knife, or another slice open her own face, then by all means, watch away. If you want to see a lunatic horror movie about a group of kids possessed by demons that’s as much fun as it is ridiculously gory, then save yourself the time and money and just watch the original The Evil Dead.
2013; starring Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy; directed by Fede Alvarez; 91 min; R (also available Unrated)