'Evil Dead' remake heavy on gore, light on clever invention
The poster for "Evil Dead" might be right.
This could well be "the most terrifying film you will ever experience" -- if you've never seen a horror movie before and will never see another one again.
I should point out right now that this review is not intended for hard-core horror fans who've been waiting with bated (and baited) breath for a modernized remake of Sam Raimi's 1981 low-budget demonic possession classic "The Evil Dead."
That ultra-cheapie horror tale (it cost about $383,000) won an X rating for its violence, but went to market unrated to avoid the porn stigma. It made a cult star out of actor Bruce Campbell and earned high praise from novelist Stephen King, who called it, "The most ferociously original horror film I've ever seen!"
"The Evil Dead" was impressive scary and inventive given its low budget. But it wasn't nearly as frightening, fun and creatively creepy as its 1987 sequel, Raimi's twisted masterpiece "Dead by Dawn," which was, more or less, an unrated remake of the earlier tale.
(A second sequel, "Army of Darkness," pulled out the comic stops and restrained the previous violence to win a less-restrictive R rating.)
First-time director Fede Alvarez brings gallons of gore and goop (plus an obsessive amount of Cronenbergesque mutilation) to this hard-R-rated remake of "Evil Dead."
Before getting around to killing off the five characters stuck in a cabin in the woods, Alvarez first murders the sly sense of humor and over-the-top campiness that Raimi injected into his trilogy.
Call this "Evil Dead" "Dead Serious," with actors who read clichés with all the conviction of a cast on a bad soap opera.
("This can't be happening!" someone screeches. "This is insane!" another one bellows. "I can't do this!" another says.)
In Raimi's original, we had no idea what to expect from the invisible demonic forces unleashed by reading from the Book of the Dead.
In Alvarez's remake, mystery takes a back seat to the blunt action opening: a marginally upset dad burns his demon-infested daughter alive -- before blowing her face off with a shotgun.
Raimi's original was simple and direct: five young people we don't know (and don't care to know) arrive at a wooded cabin and it's demon time!
The remake (written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues) tries to give depth and back stories to its characters, presumably so we'll care more about them before they start chopping off various body parts.
You gotta be kidding.
Campbell's cracked-out character has been refashioned into dull David (Shiloh Fernandez).
He's come to his family's old cabin with his friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) as part of a cold-turkey intervention for his drug-addicted sister Mia (Jane Levy).
This premise actually works because it provides a reason for the group to stay around long after Mia goes hysterical and tells them there's something evil in the woods and it's decided to come indoors.
The group assumes Mia is going through one heck of a withdrawal hallucination.
Things start to pop when Eric the numskull pries open a barbed wire wrapped book of incantations and -- despite warnings to never read the words aloud -- reads the words aloud. Really loud.
We know something wicked this way comes, because the camera lens skirts rapidly through the woods in a disappointing attempt to replicate Raimi's "shaky cam," created by dangling a camera from a two-by-four with a man holding each end and racing toward the cabin, the lens always at grass level.
Mia turns demonic first, followed by Olivia and Natalie.
The trio perform gross and icky demon-atrics such as slicing tongues in half, lopping off limbs, ripping their faces open and using their friends as target practice with a nail gun.
Fans of goop and gore will get their fill of satisfaction from this Grand Guignol production.
It sets a new standard of acceptance for grossly explicit violence in R-rated movies. (The MPAA's ratings board members apparently decided there's nothing in "Evil Dead" that's not for children -- if careless parents take them.)
If you want to see a cabin in the woods movie that actually brings something new to the horror table, see last year's superlative "Cabin in the Woods," an unpredictable self-aware sendup of the clichés and conventions that "Evil Dead" assumes is high quality scary storytelling.
Call that "Evil Dead Wrong."
(Note: "Evil Dead" fans should stick around the theater after the closing credits for a special treat.)
"Evil Dead"★ ½
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Other: A Film District release. Rated R for extremely graphic violence, language, sexual situations, drug use. 91 minutes