Watch with friends, hold on tight, and enjoy what is a cinematic rarity—a worthy remake. Just remember to bring a puke bag.
Evil Dead (2013)
As I watched a demon-possessed girl split her own tongue in half with a rusty boxcutter, and then proceed to partake in the most disgusting French kiss I’ve ever seen, I was so overwhelmed with disgust that I forgot I was watching a remake of one of my favorite indie horror films ever. That’s the sign of a good remake. Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez’ take on Sam Raimi’s cult horror classic, captures the essence of the original while finding its own blood-curdling voice. Alvarez tones down the silliness, turns up the gore, adds some new plot elements and dumps about 10 tons of blood and guts over everything for good measure—we’re talking truly vomit-inducing stuff here. While it doesn’t possess the same DIY charm as the original, Alvarez’ Evil Dead impressively stands on its own, even with the absence of a certain zinger-slinging, boomstick-wielding protagonist.
Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, and Diablo Cody (who provided an uncredited last-minute touchup) provide a deftly constructed screenplay that distances itself from the original just enough. In a last ditch attempt to save their friend Mia (Jane Levy) from the grip of drug addiction, three friends and Mia’s brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) drive her to a remote cabin in the woods to stage an intervention. It’s five kids in a cabin—you know the drill. When one of the kids unleashes a demonic creature by reciting passages from a cursed ancient book (the Necronomicon), the group finds themselves battling something much more sinister and demonic than Mia’s addiction. The evil spirit they’ve unleashed proceeds to massacre them by possessing their bodies and orchestrating a bloody symphony of disfiguration and self-mutilation.
The biggest change made to the original Evil Dead recipe is shown early on, as the role of main protagonist—originally played by the legendary Bruce Campbell—is split between the two siblings. This was a wise choice, as Campbell’s torch is virtually un-passable—his original performance as Ash is simply inimitable. There is a respectably engaging story of abandonment and forgiveness being told between David and Mia, which goes a long way in helping set Evil Dead apart from its predecessor. Smart, smart move. There are unfortunately a couple of new one-liners thrown in to please fans of the original, but they pale in comparison to Campbell’s legendary quotables.
The supernatural elements of the original film are toned down here, somewhat regrettably. Alvarez takes a more modern, grounded approach to the story, which is frankly less entertaining than Raimi’s camp-fest. The demonic presence symbolizes drug addiction here, which is quite clever, but I ultimately prefer Raimi’s otherworldly silliness. However, the fact that this film feels different than the original is certainly a good thing. Something that I found incredibly impressive about the film is how un-sexualized it is. There are no gratuitous sex scenes, little to no nudity, the women aren’t objectified, and in fact, there is virtually zero romance to speak of. It’s a surprisingly refreshing approach for a modern horror film that helps us focus on the core of the movie—the bloodbath.
Alvarez plucks several scenes straight from Raimi’s film—the tree rape, the basement—but ratchets up the intensity and violence to new levels. Watching a thorny tree branch slide up a girl’s skirt is even more revolting in this version. There are plenty of new acts of dismemberment and torture to chew on as well—skin gets boiled, limbs get severed, faces get ripped off, and there’s a nail gun…and, um…yeah, the nail gun. Evil Dead’s tone is dark and twisted, though not so dark that you can’t still have fun. The violence is so inventive and over-the-top that it’s almost dazzling to watch. It’s like a fireworks show, except the explosions are made of body parts. It’s hugely entertaining to see just how far Evil Dead pushes the envelope, and watching the surprising ways in which you and the people around you react is what horror cinema is all about.
Levy and Fernandez do a serviceable job as the siblings, though their performances are largely forgettable. You could insert any decent, good-looking young actors into their roles and come up with the same end result. The standout performance comes from Lou Taylor Pucci, who is one of my favorite up-and-coming young actors (he was fantastic in The Story of Luke, which I loved). He plays the smarmy intellectual of the group and does a good job of instilling a sense of fear while simultaneously handling exposition duties. He takes arguably the most physical punishment of anyone in the cast, and his physicality when being brutalized is excellent. You feel his pain. You feel his pain hard.
While Evil Dead doesn’t surpass the original, it comes about as close as you can get. There is a lot of new, effective material here, more than I was expecting. What makes the film work is that it’s not completely consumed with hitting every single beat from the original. It paves its own gory path, though the spirit of Raimi and Campbell can be felt throughout (them being producers might have something to do with that). Watch with friends, hold on tight, and enjoy what is a cinematic rarity—a worthy remake. Just remember to bring a puke bag.