This review was graciously written by Ashe Collins, a video game critic at DieHard GameFAN. You can follow him on twitter @DHGFAshe, or check out his other reviews by clicking here. Look for more guest reviews from Ashe in the coming weeks.
Let me get this out of the way: I am not a fan of the first film, The Evil Dead. I have an appreciation for what they were trying to do with it, but my introduction to the series was Evil Dead 2 late on a Friday night off a pay cable movie channel back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. While it was a bit campy, I was young and it scared the hell out of me. In the later ’90s I’d gone back, after Army of Darkness had been on video for awhile, to watch the first one, and I just couldn’t get into it. All the beats I was looking for had been recapped in the Evil Dead 2 introduction, but with far fewer people and the second film made me care about events more. Evil Dead is a horror classic, I will give it that, but I clung to my copy of the other two in the trilogy. When they announced they were revisiting the first film with an actual budget, all new characters, and a slightly modified plot, I got interested. The goal was to remain in the same vein as the original, but to also let it go its own way a little bit. And while I wasn’t terrified by the new version, it fits in quite nicely with what has come before. The remake takes things more seriously than Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, making me squirm, and I loved it for that.
I’m not into gore fests much anymore, preferring to be creeped out in other ways instead of getting gore splashed at me like I enjoyed when I was a teenager. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it when it’s well done and makes me squirm in my seat, though. This version does apply the gore liberally, but at the same time looks very convincing when not spurting everywhere. It manages to pull in that feel from Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness where it’s so over the top it makes you cringe, but at the same time, it lets your brain register that it is an effect. This remake doesn’t stay from the original premise or cliche all that much, but it’s a damned good horror film that definitely has the Evil Dead stamp on it.
The story of Evil Dead is simple: a group of five friends go to a cabin in the woods and all hell breaks loose. There have been variations on this in urban folklore and films for decades now and it’s something that strikes a cord in anyone that’s been camping with friends or family, especially when it gets dark on top of the already moody atmosphere of the forest. While the original just had the friends going on sort of a retreat, this one has a bigger purpose to it and a little more backstory, which is kind of a modern staple to many horror movies.
Evil Dead (notice it doesn’t have The in front of it) starts off with a random girl wandering through the backwoods – obviously something wrong with her – looking like she’s been attacked. She gets jumped by two good ol’ boys who put a bag on her head and take her somewhere that looks like a cellar. It turns out that not all is right with her at all and she is “purified”, giving us our first taste of what the new film is going to give us before we’ve even met the main cast. The five friends turn up to the family cabin way out in the middle of nowhere with their opening shot coming in like the opening to The Shining, only upside down. All is not well when they do meet up as there’s a little bit of bad blood, and they’re out there to try and help someone kick a bad drug habit.
Blood, mutilation, a nail gun, a chainsaw, machete, meat carver, and other instruments of gore are all used to move the story along, but it’s the atmosphere of the film itself that really sucks the viewer in. The director captures a foreboding sense of dread that really drives the film forward, keeping you invested even while you’re squirming. There are shots that are direct lifts fromThe Evil Dead because they work so well, but at the same time carry their own spin here. The distinct Sam Raimi zoom in and cut shots make their appearance here while the characters put things together, or go hunting for new weapons. Different lines of dialogue pop up that are lifted from the original trilogy, but are used in a unique way that fans of the original trilogy will surely appreciate. I think one of my favorite little homages is the “classic” car that Sam Raimi has put in every one of his films: the ’73 Olds Delta 88. The one in Evil Dead is a ’74, but considering it’s left rotting in the woods outside the cabin, I’m ok with that. That, and the filming was done in New Zealand so shipping Raimi’s car out for shooting might have been problematic. It’s a nice touch either way.
As a horror movie, and even standing on its own, Evil Dead does well. My only real issue is that a few of the friends are kind of cookie cutter to the point where they may as well be there just to up the kill count. They just don’t contribute much to the film at all. That seems to be more of a running problem in horror films overall, and not just one confined to this movie, though. I will say Jane Levy, playing Mia, does an amazing job with her character throughout the film.
This film is taken far more seriously than Sam Raimi ever took the original trilogy. Not all fans are going to appreciate the darker tone, but it works well for this film. The musical score is fantastic and helps to drive the moments extremely well. One idea the director put out is that this might not be a remake but more of a continuation of the story. Enough time has passed from the original that it’s entirely possible the cabin could have been sold to a new family, but the coincidences then stack up, which tends to happen with demonic rituals anyway. While by no means perfect – and I can hear fans decrying it now and saying it’s horrible just because Raimi didn’t direct it – it feels very much like a labor of love and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for this horror fan. I do recommend staying through the credits if you’ve seen the others because there is a brief but fun Easter Egg for those that stay.