Silver Screen: Evil Dead ***
The first, and most obvious question: Is there any real reason to remake The Evil Dead?
No, of course not. Sam Raimi’s cheapie 1981 horror flick is one of the last drive-in classics, and half the movie’s appeal is the tongue-in-bloody-cheek humor and over-the-top gore. The other half is star Bruce Campbell. This is not a movie with a gem of idea that demands polishing; it’s gleefully stupid, visceral fun. And of course it already has been remade, and by Raimi himself, in the even loopier Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.
That said, if you can ignore its utter lack of justification for existence, Evil Dead-- the The has been chopped off as unceremoniously as Ash’s right hand-- is a fun, frivolous exercise in shock and splatter. As they are wont to do, a group of young people drive to a remote cabin for a weekend. But these particular young people aren’t on a hedonistic vacation, they’re here to help junkie pal Mia (Jane Levy) kick the habit. While her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and her registered-nurse pal Olivia (Jessica Lucas) are overseeing the detox, old buddy Eric (The Chumscrubber and Thumbsucker’s Lou Taylor Pucci) finds a weird old book with a stitched leather cover. When he reads a passage from the spooky book aloud, he conjures an evil spirit that inhabits Mia’s body.
The detox storyline provides a nice, logical excuse for the crew not only to isolate themselves, but for them to write off Mia’s increasingly Exorcist-y behavior as withdrawl symptoms. But did we really require much logic in a movie that features as its primary showpieces a rain of blood, multiple limb-severing, and tree-root rape? Writer/director Fede Alvarez’s moves toward character development seem a little perfunctory once the movie settles into a steady pace of carnage and mayhem.
But what mayhem it is. Alvarez has a solid if indistinctive visual aesthetic and an aptitude for atmosphere, not to mention a jokester’s sense of timing. He takes a Fangoria subscriber’s approach to horror, but manages a few substantial scares to go along with the requisite grossout moments and sound-cue startles.
Alvarez’s primary innovation in the remake is a gender flip. His The-less Evil Dead update begins almost identically: A guy takes his girlfriend to a cabin, she gets possessed and starts butchering people. That’s a trickier proposition here as Shiloh Fernandez lacks the zany charisma of Bruce Campbell. He’s not terrible, but he’s not fit to carry a movie. Alvarez, however, negates the problem when he flips the script and puts a girl in charge of saving the day. That also gives the remake a tinge of progressivism-- it’s not about a guy fixing things with violence after his girlfriend goes hysterical and ruins a vacation-- although maybe the tree-root rape negates that....
Alvarez also deserves credit for suppressing the nudges and winks and allusions to the original. In an era of remakes, the meta-reference or in-joke to the progenitor has become one of the hoariest clichés. Alvarez’s primary tip of the hat is the inclusion of Ash’s classic car, which is featured in all of Sam Raimi’s movies; here it’s an old, rusted-out junker parked by the cabin. It’s a sufficient homage he wisely leaves alone.
Evil Dead is shinier and even scarier than 1981’s The Evil Dead, and plenty of fun even if it lacks the original’s wit and upstart inventiveness. The line “I’ll suck your soul!” is still where it should be, but the soul part isn’t quite there.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.