Perhaps the most anticipated and most dreaded film coming out this year is Evil Dead. The cult classic by Sam Raimi is ripe for remake, in my mind, because of the limitations of the budget and admitted inexperience by cast and crew.
Despite its numerous flaws, Evil Dead remains iconic. And so why not put a decent budget behind it and the collective experience of the original cast and director as producers to help reinvent the series?
Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead remake does just that and in spades. Fans of the original, of whom there were legion thronging the Paramount Theater in last night's screening, will cheer the homages to the original as it captures its spirit (no pun intended) perfectly.
The story is much the same: a group of teens head to a cabin in the woods and unleash an unspeakable evil that begins infecting and killing them one by one. In this, the group is there not there to party, but quite the opposite: they're trying to help one of the protagonists quit drugs cold turkey and help her through withdrawal. They find a creepy book, read an incantation and... poof! Evil begins stalking them.
This begins one of the problems with the film. With the exception of a pre-title scene which sets things up, the first part of the film is more of a family drama that then transitions into a movie about evil dead. Bruce Campbell, in a post film Q&A, referred to it as "The Big Chill with deadites."
Despite this slow build, when the film begins firing on all cylinders, it becomes an orgy of blood, vomit, profanity, stabbings, and, yes, tree rape. How this got rated R while the original was originally NC-17 I will never understand.
Its climax is so satisfying and ridiculous beyond all belief. It was as though, having really tread over all of the ground of the original Evil Dead in its first 75 minutes, it tries to pack all of the ridiculousness and campy-awesome ultraviolence of Evil Dead 2 into the final 15.
However, don't be fooled. This is not a comedy. This is a balls-to-the-wall horror film. While it spends a lot of time on loving homages and outright stealing from the first Evil Dead, it's done with such a straight face that it's not as though the filmmakers are taking any time to wink at the audience. In this sense, this film has more in common with the 2009 Star Trek remake than anything else: loving care and honor to the source material, but ultimately blazing its own path, even on on familiar ground.
So fans of the original and fans of horror are certainly going to be pleased. Everyone else? I have a hard time believing this film is going to find a huge mainstream audience. I just hope that every braindead idiot who went to go see the most recent Paranormal Activity or somesuch crap will go see this. Not just to make it a hit, but to remind them that THIS is what a good horror movie is like. However, considering that last year's Cabin in the Woods (one of my favorites of the year, and also a SXSW premiere you might remember) failed to much a huge splash, I'm skeptical.
What we know is that regardless, Alvarez announced that they have begun working on a sequel. I sincerely hope that just as Evil Dead 2 was played almost purely for laughs that we can get the crazyness of this Evil Dead teamed with some humor, as that was always my favorite part of the franchise to begin with.
So, I'm not going to go full spoiler on here, but I do want to give away some elements that do show up in the film that you might want to know, including if Bruce Campbell makes a cameo. Invisotext away!
Yes, there is a shotgun. (nee boomstick)
A nail gun is used to great effect.
Broken shards of glass
Hypodermic needles (anyone who has a fear of needles is going to get MAJORLY freaked out by one scene here)
There is a chainshaw
There are also multiple teases of the chainsaw, including using an electric knife (same basic idea, right?)
Ash's old Plymouth shows up, as Bruce Campbell made a point of mentioning it has been in all of Raimi's movies, including the western The Quick and the Dead
The upside camera shots? Yup
The crazy tracking shots as if deadites are chasing people through the woods? You know it.
The words "satan's bitch"? Yup
And what the director estimated as 50,000 gallons of fake blood. At least..
Oh, and does Bruce Campbell make a cameo?
Barely, but yes. But it doesn't distract and lets this cast really keep this film as theirs.
Stay through the credits, sportsfans-- not only is the credit sequence well done, there are some great bits of exposition and nods to the original that are worth sticking around for.
For fans of horror and Evil Dead, here is your movie. For you I'd give this movie 3 1/2 stars. For general audiences, I'd say closer to 2 1/2 or 3. A good film, but definitely made lovingly and carefully for its target niche audience.