One of my favorite movie remakes of all time is 1987’s Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, a film which was no sequel but a pumped-up new spin on the ultra-low-budget The Evil Dead of 1981. It’s a favorite because, as a remake, it actually improved on the original. And in what ways? It made the bizarre horror-show lunacy at a tiny, remote cabin even more vivid — and even more funny.
That’s right, funny. Star Bruce Campbell and director and co-writer Sam Raimi are big Three Stooges fans, so they slipped twisted slapstick into their tale of giddy gore, as demonic forces at a remote cabin assailed a group of young people, including Ash, played by Campbell.
Cut to 26 years later, long after 1992’s Army of Darkness (a true sequel) made the series a trilogy, and we find what’s essentially the second remake of The Evil Dead, this time called simply Evil Dead. (It’s due on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday from Sony.)
Should we be worried our beloved little franchise will be trashed? Well, this reboot is produced by Raimi, Campbell and Rob Tapert (a producer of the originals), so that bodes well.
Certainly the new Evil Dead, directed and co-written by Fede Alvarez, has an assured polish and efficiency when it comes to gut-grabbing horror. It’s scary, all right, as horrific supernatural forces again attack unsuspecting young visitors at a remote cabin. It also tells a bit different tale, with the visit being a cold-turkey intervention for one drug-addicted girl, Mia (Jane Levy), staged by her brother and three friends.
Just imagine the ways in which her hallucinatory fever during withdrawal could have driven this story. She could see demons where none existed — or did they? Yes, imagine it, because this screenplay doesn’t bother going there. Rather, it’s a straightforward look at how hellish violence comes down on these interlopers, and how they fight back.
And by straightforward, I also mean this Evil Dead isn’t funny.
I’m not saying it should have been a knee-slapping laugh riot. But I am saying that, as a remake of a film with underlying if not overt humor (well, two films, since they were cut from the same cloth), it should have respected that essential element enough to deliver warped amusement of its own — if not out of faithfulness, then out of distancing, since it’s easier to stomach wrenching grisliness as entertainment and not punishment when its leavened by sly laughs.
So there you have my mixed-bag reaction to this new Evil Dead in a nutshell: gory enough, but not funny enough.
That said, I do appreciate some embellishments amid the traditionalism of the film’s rapidly approaching POV shots through the tangled woods, as well as its good ol’ chainsaw.
In some ways this Evil Dead feels more like an old EC comic book in its luridness, and its demon-possessed anti-heroine owes much more to The Exorcist — my favorite horror film of all time — than to Raimi’s ’80s creations. There’s also an elegant score by Roque Banos, and the actors have credibility and heft (my favorite being Lou Taylor Pucci, all grown up from his boyish roles in indie films such as Thumbsucker).
But just as one character’s “everything is going to be fine” line couldn’t have sounded more hollow, everything isn’t fine here. It’s gruesomely efficient, but not fine — at least not for me.
That’s because I love this franchise for more than mere blood-splattering. I also loved the macabre mirth and twisted playfulness that set it apart — defined it. Now this redefining reboot misses that mark — at least until the end credits’ final seconds.
Don’t worry — you’ll get no spoiler from me. Just stay tuned for a nice surprise.
— Bruce Westbrook