** 99.99% SPOILER-FREE **
Horror films coming out of the major studios nowadays tend to come in one of two flavors.
You either get a questionable scoop of grindhouse ‘torture porn’ popularized by Saw or Hostel, or there’s the teen-friendly PG-13 kinda-scary flicks like House At The End of The Street that tentatively dip a toe in the genre, but refrain from making too much of a splash in the murky waters as not to keep the mallrats from being admitted without the parental units in tow.
So it’s either punches pulled to keep the tickets selling and popcorn flowing, or no-holds-barred sadism, with few in-betweens that aren’t afraid to shine a trembling light in the dark corners of the basement and get their hands somewhat bloody in the process.
Enter director Fede Alvarez and his fantastic modern take on Evil Dead, officially sanctioned and produced by the creative team of the original — writer / director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell.
I’m not a huge fan of Hollywood’s obsession with re: remakes, reboots, and reimaginings. As far as I’m concerned, when the revolution comes, there’s going to be a generous sprinkling of lazy film industry marketing types up against the wall with the politicians and lawyers.
In this case, though, it’s not a rights holder deciding to dust off a neglected, but well-remembered brand to eke out a few easy bucks.
Those of us who have been fans of the franchise have been waiting an awfully long time — twenty-one years, to be precise, since 1992’s Army of Darkness — to see Bruce Campbell reprise his role as chainsaw-wielding, demon-fighting idiot savant Ash Williams and go tooth-and-chin against the Deadites in a fourth film.
That particular ship might have sailed by now. As much as I’m a fan and would love to see an Evil Dead IV pick up from the extended / original ending of Army of Darkness with Ash battling Deadites in a weird future because he couldn’t pay attention and get his time travel right, there’s a cynical little nugget at the center of my being that wonders by now, it such a thing might be more an awkward parody fueled almost totally by nostalgia than a fun, bloody new romp with a beloved character.
What works so well here in this new Evil Dead is that instead of going down the errant path so many remakes do, by altering the story to fit current sensibilities and finding out some concepts are locked to specific beats of the time they were made that ‘updating’ them ends up stretching disbelief a little too thin (pointing an AK-47 at you, Red Dawn), Alvarez and co-screenwriter Diablo Cody stick with a it-certainly-ain’t-broke, don’t-fix-it, and let the core idea completely intact.
A group of young co-eds gather in a dilapidated cabin secluded deep in the woods, accidentally read aloud a passage from a book of ancient, cursed incantations, and let malicious, otherwordly intruders loose to wreak immediate havoc. With escape routes cut off, they’re trapped and have no choice but to try to survive a hellish onslaught where demonic possession makes enemies out of their own.
That was my biggest fear with a remake, that the script would drag in all sorts of extra baggage it didn’t need. Alvarez and Cody do put a unique stamp on the reason why the kids are out in the middle of nowhere, which I’ll let a mystery to avoid spoilers, but it’s an interesting idea that takes it a little beyond just a drunken co-ed Bacchanalia.
They also refrain from breaking the low-fi code of the original, which was ‘don’t leave the woods’. Despite a budget that was probably exponentially the size of the 1981 one Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert had to work with, Alvarez’ Evil Dead doesn’t use that as an excuse to go off track and bring in plot threads or situations that for budget reasons alone wouldn’t have been possible in the original.
Some remakes, too, come with a cocky arrogance of ‘we can take this idea and do it better’, and Fede manages to skirt that by just doing it differently. He includes just the right amount of reverential nods to the original while throwing in slight twists and turns to fit the new set-up, making this feel more like a completely separate story that doesn’t at all invalidate the original — this could simply be the same set of circumstances that takes place to a different group of characters two decades later.
Best of all, though, was the decision to not try to recast Campbell’s iconic Ash as the lead protagonist. This would’ve been the exact point where any attempt to reboot this franchise would fall flat on its face, and you can almost see some smarmy studio exec sitting there, musing over which currently ‘hot’ young actor should get the part to maximize box office returns.
I have no proof such an exchange took place, but I’d love to imagine Raimi, Campbell and Tapert sitting and their shaking their heads in unison on the other side of the desk, ready to walk out and scrap the whole deal if the point was pushed.
Instead, the gore-stained lead torch is passed on to relative unknown Jane Levy. While not called upon to do the over-the-top ‘splatstick’ physicality Bruce pulled off so famously in the original, Levy does a great job with Mia, who unwittingly becomes the first of the group to succumb to the evil presence and spends her screen time battling demons, both supernatural and her own personal ones.
The remainder of the cast, likewise comprised of unfamiliar and lesser-known faces, does well as an ensemble, particularly Lou Taylor Pucci as 70s-throwback high-school teacher turned spur-of-the-moment demonologist Eric. None of the characters really get much beyond simple caricatures, but the actors and actresses do the best with what they have, and I’m not complaining: more time fleshing out the supporting cast meant less time with Levy and her transformation into host to ancient, unspeakable evil.
I’ve seen a few things written online that Evil Dead’s level of gore and gross-out moments went a bit too far for some, particularly journalists, prompting a few mid-movie walk-outs, but I feel Alvarez hit just the exact perfect point with it.
Some of it might certainly be that Fede and his editors don’t suffer from ADD and use seizure-inducing smash cut collages like so many modern films do, leaving you questioning exactly what it was you thought you saw on-screen but unable to actually follow the action. Kudos to someone who didn’t learn cinematography from Swedish death metal music videos and actually knows how to direct a film.
No bones about it: there’s questionable fluids and blood aplenty here, but it doesn’t go anywhere near the more oppressive torture porn end of the scale where you feel a little dirty just for having watching it. Evil Dead’s gore is, in special-effects quality, done well and not so obviously fake as the original B-movie variety’s was, but it isn’t portrayed in the sort of “Hey kids, look: autopsy!” vibe of stuff like Saw, either, which made all the difference to me.
For those who think Paranormal Activity is the pinnacle of cinematic terror, though, I can see where this reaction might come from — I know from the Saturday afternoon audience I saw the film with, there were a few moviegoers who were old enough to get in but not quite old enough to order a beer that probably regretted shoveling a tub of popcorn and a couple gallons of Diet Coke down their gullets before the second half of the film kicks in and all sorts of viscera was splattering everywhere.
Two matinée tickets: $11.
Watching an entire row of boys who noisily swaggered into the auditorium — probably taking the afternoon off from Call of Duty to attend the show — wince, groan, and look away from the screen: priceless.
As a big fan of the franchise — who was very skeptical that a redo of a film that had such a personalized stamp on it could even be pulled off as even a so-so, not bad venture — I couldn’t be happier with this new Evil Dead.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy tackle the unholy grail of Evil Dead II’s more humorous splatstick — let alone, if rumors are to be believed, a potential revival of the original branch of the franchise.
I believe I have made a significant find in the Kryptonian ruins, a blog of ancient nerd practices and observations.
It is entitled ” Territorium De Populus”.
Roughly translated: Public Domain.
The blog is bound in pale flesh, rarely touched by natural sunlight, and inked in what appears to be Code Red Mountain Dew. It deals with nerds and obsessive compulsions and those strange forces which roam the comics shops and dark bowers of Gamestop.
No, I would not like to pre-order Grand Theft Auto V, nor do I need a 200-page limited edition hardcover strategy guide for Angry Birds, but thank you.
The first few posts warn that these enduring, odd creatures may lie dormant but are never truly quiet. They may be recalled to active life through the incantations presented in this blog, as well as the announcement of a new Star Wars film.
It is through the Googling of these passages that these nerds are given license to possess the internet.
I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the blog is through the act of turning off the iPads and computers and . . . going outside.
BONUS: About a decade ago, in my past life as a semi-professional gaming journalist, I got to interview Bruce Campbell very briefly as a tie-in to a preview of the Xbox / PS2 videogame Evil Dead: A Fist Full of Boomstick. I was instructed very clearly by the PR folks not to ask Bruce about a new Evil Dead film, and despite my fanboy drooling and burning desire to do so, managed to not to.
AllXbox.com is no longer, but thanks to the magic of The Wayback Machine’s archives, you can read the piece by going here.
Bruce was . . . well, exactly how you’d expect. In other words, AWESOME.
Mike Leonard: Was it strange going getting back into the role of Ash after being away from it for so long?
Bruce Campbell: Yes, it always is – it’s kind of like putting on a wet bathing suit. You know that the suit is yours, but it doesn’t feel right until you warm it up a little.
ML: What’s your all-time favorite video game?
BC: I have two: Asteroids and Berserk. Sure, they’re both old-school, low-tech games, but I’d kick your little butt any day.
Zinged by the King, baby. Humblebrag and +10 to nerd cred.
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