I first watched the original Evil Dead movie earlier this year, at which point I instantly added it to my favorite horror movies of all time list. As a result, I shared a lot of the same concerns many of the movie-going public have voiced with the idea of any sort of remake of the film. As time moved along, the assurances of Bruce Campell and Sam Raimi’s involvement in the production along with some downright chilling trailers brought a glimmer of hope to our hearts, hope that in a decade filled with needless remakes of classic 80’s movies Hollywood might choose this occasion to stumble on a rare remake that equals if not exceeds the original. Luckily, I got the chance to see an advanced screening of the film tonight and without spoiling anything, I can at least assure you that Evil Dead is exactly that. Its lack of Bruce Campbell is disappointing, but chilling effects, competent direction and a few interesting twists make Evil Dead a completely admirable remake of the 1981 classic.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Apparently there is a short post-credit sequence which does contain a much-needed albeit brief cameo appearance by Mr. Campbell. I am now kicking myself for not sticking around, don’t make my mistake!
Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.
One of the things that made the original Evil Dead movie so scary is how isolated its small cast was. This is also the case here, and as a result you will have to look hard to find a shorter cast list this than Evil Dead. The setup of five twenty-somethings heading up to a cabin in the woods is preserved here, but the reason for their gathering has been changed from the original recreational purpose to the goal of helping one of their group members go cold turkey after OD-ing. I actually really liked this version of the set-up as it gave an interesting new spin on the group’s reaction to Mia (Jane Levy) getting possessed in the first place. It makes sense that they’d pass off her strange behavior as part of the detox process, making it all the more understandable that nothing is done to contain her until too late.
Regarding the cast themselves, the two real standouts for me were Jane Levy as Mia, taking the part of Cheryl from the original film, and Lou Taylor Pucci, who fits into the part of Scott in terms of gender if not necessarily personality. Levy, who you may either know from the ABC comedy Suburgatory or last year’s lame teen-romp Fun Size, is surprisingly great here. While some of her best moments come later in the film and I don’t want to spoil any of them, she plays the possession aspect of her character incredibly well. I also really liked Lou Taylor Pucci, aka the bearded guy who, despite it being crossed out and surrounded by scrawled notes that specifically say “Don’t Read This!”, reads the passages from the Necronomicon that unleashes the Evil Dead. While his character isn’t intended to be quite as funny as Fran Kranz was in Cabin in the Woods, he still gets in some of the best “Are you F*cking kidding me?” themed lines of the movie.
My only real complaint regarding the characters is that David (Shiloh Fernandez) is no Ash Williams. That being said, nobody really expected him to be able to fill Campbell’s shoes, and I give the writers a lot of credit for not trying to force the comparison. As for Campbell himself, many people will undoubtedly be hoping for a cameo, but I’m sorry to say that this is not the case. Truth be told, it would have been very difficult to work him in naturally given the intentionally small number of people on screen.
I’d like to emphasize that this is a remake of the first Evil Dead movie, and not The Evil Dead II. This means that even though there are a few moments of dark humor here and there, the film is first and foremost a Horror movie. This is, in my opinion, where the movie gets the closest to beating the original on, which is even more impressive seeing as the kind of scares Evil Dead relies on aren’t the easy “Gotcha!” scares of most modern horror movies. Perhaps the largest reason that the movie’s lofty claim of being”The Scariest Movie You Will Ever Experience” is so close to being truthful is that none of the gore effects are achieved through the use of CGI. The feeling of realism from every cut, every stab and every bite make the movie incredibly unsettling in a way that most horror movies can only try to be.
I really do think that a lot of the credit for the effectiveness of the movie’s horror goes to first time director Fede Alvarez. Aside from his use of the mirrored cinematography between this film and the original (especially seen in the repeated POV zooms through the woods), Alvarez also contributed a large portion to the film’s screenplay including some of the most significant changes made from the original. Once again, I can’t go into some of my favorites of these changes for fear of month-early spoilers, but I will say that the pivot taken near the end was one of my favorite parts of the movie.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 – Pretty Damn Great
+ Great acting, at least by horror standards
+ A really impressive sense for the style of the original by director Fede Alvarez
+ The few changes that are made to the formula of the original are surprising and effective
– Nothing you’ll want to see if you’re squeamish or not into horror movies
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Devils’ Advocates: 5/5
Rhino’s Horror: 97%
The Code is Zeek: 4/5
Committed to Celluloid: 3.5/5
The Cinema Monster: 7/10