With Hollywood’s unquenchable thirst for remaking/updating/ruining classic horror films it was only a matter of time before The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981) was targeted. Few titles inspire such a cult following as The Evil Dead, a low budget first feature film about five teens who go to an old cabin in the middle of nowhere and stumble upon the ‘Necronomicon Ex Mortis (the book of the dead). Playing a taped recording of the spells contained in the book, they release ancient demonic powers that terrorise and possess the youngsters one by one until only Ash (Bruce Campbell) is left to fight against the terror. Gleefully violent, twistedly funny and brimming with gore, the movie launched the careers of both Raimi (who went on to direct the Spiderman trilogy) and Campbell – who is revered almost religiously in some areas of fandom. A sequel followed in 1987, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. This was itself partly a remake as Raimi couldn’t get permission to use footage from the first movie so had to shoot an introduction where only Ash and his girlfriend Lind (played by a different actress to the original) went to the cabin and unleashed the demons. More slapstick in tone, it still contained gallons of fake blood, fantastic humour and a novel ending which set up the third instalment Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness released in 1992. With an endlessly quotable script and a ludicrous premise which sees Ash hurled back in time to mediaeval Britain this was a fantasy adventure rather than a horror but it offered so much pure fun that fans lapped it up. A spin off comic ensued and Ash is now a celluloid icon.
How did The Evil Dead end up getting a remake? Sam Raimi had been considering one for a long time, wanting to see what could be accomplished using up to date special effects and a bigger budget. Finally in 2011 the remake was announced. Raimi chose a Uruguayan director called Fede Alvarez to take the helm, who’d gained a reputation from posting a short film online that became a YouTube hit. Alvarez co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayaguez, which was then edited for English by a third writer Diablo Cody – although she was uncredited. Raimi, Campbell and Robert Tapert (producer of the original movie) co-produced the remake, so what could go wrong? Let’s find out…
Some questions remain as to whether or not this film fits in with the existing Evil Dead canon (such canon as exists anyway), even according to the director who couldn’t come up with a definitive answer when asked about this during an interview. As before, five teenagers travel to a remote cabin in the woods (no not that Cabin in the Woods). David and Mia, played by Shiloh Fernandez and Jane Levy are brother and sister. Their three friends have joined them with the intention of helping get Mia clean from drugs. Soon however, the group have bigger problems than Mia’s withdrawal symptoms. Down in the cellar a bizarre altar is found, on which rests a package wrapped in barbed wire. One of the party, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) makes the common mistake of letting curiosity get the better of him and unwraps the package to find a book – Naturom Demonto. Were you expecting the ‘Necronomicon Ex Mortis’? Sorry to disappoint you, but due to copyright issues with H.P Lovecraft’s estate the script couldn’t use that title.
Predictably Eric goes on to recite some words from the book and raises a demonic force. Instead of unspecified Sumerian spirits as in 1981, here the demon is a single entity set on possessing five souls to release an even greater evil. Why? Just because. Mia is the first to be possessed, in a scene that’s a mishmash of Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975), the ‘tree rape’ scene from the original and how Jason Vorhees transfers between bodies in Jason goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Adam Marcus, 1993). This is a bit confusing as the possession is shown as being via physical rather than spiritual contact, which is completely new to the franchise. Especially so as none of the other characters in the plot are possessed this way. Soon blood begins to flow aplenty, limbs are hacked off, faces mutilated, heads smashed in and hypodermic needles shoved into faces. Special effects are all done mostly without the use of CGI (it was only used to give scenes a final tweak) which is to be commended and they look all the better for it.
Possession followed by bloodbath – sounds pretty Evil Dead to me. However, what’s missing is a strong central character like ‘Ash’ to give the plot focus. Yes, Mia is the heroine of sorts but the character is so bland that I didn’t really take to her. Where she’s bland, the other characters are almost non existent. All of them are instantly forgettable, something that the original could be accused of as well. I’d defend the original here as the characters take on a unique identity after they’re possessed, which doesn’t happen in the 2013 release.
Also sadly lacking is Raimi’s trademark humour. Everything is conducted with an achingly serious face. True, the first instalment of The Evil Dead was much less a black comedy and more of a straight horror than the two that followed. It still had an undercurrent of dark humour though, which is one reason why it became such a cult classic. If Raimi had chosen to write and direct rather than just co-produce, the film would have been much more enjoyable.
There are no decent scares either. I was on the edge of my seat almost too tense to watch when I saw the original and I at least expected to be made to jump a few times by this movie. You may have heard there’s an Easter Egg after the closing credits, it’s true but don’t get too excited.
Forget the rave reviews Evil Dead got in the mainstream press. No-one could sensibly deny that it’s a competent, well made horror flick. It just doesn’t have any of the standout elements that made The Evil Dead so brilliant in the first place. A sequel has already been announced, I won’t be rushing to see it when it’s released.
Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas
Runtime: 92 mins