In 1981, Sam Raimi introduced to audiences one of the more original horror films of its time. The Evil Dead gave us some decent effects, some good scares, plenty of macabre humor, and one of horror filmdom’s most beloved characters, Ash, as played by Bruce Campbell. The film spawned two sequels, and remains a cult favorite. Now Raimi revisits his classic flick, this time in the producer’s seat, turning the directorial reins over to Fede Alvarez, making his feature film debut here. Alvarez and fellow writer Rodo Sayagues rework the screenplay based on Raimi’s original movie, giving us more of a straight forward horror movie. While it’s watchable and has its moments, the 2013 version of Evil Dead lacks much of what made the original work. The scares just aren’t there (unless you’re easily frightened- then you may jump a bit), it has only a hint of the macabre humor (one scene in the trailer that had some of that didn’t make the final cut of the movie), and it just doesn’t have the 1981 film’s charms. Plus, no Bruce Campbell, unless you count a throwaway cameo after the credits (And no, I’m not counting that as a spoiler. If anything, I just saved you a couple of minutes, because there really is nothing to it.). It does rise above other recent horror movies, but not by much.
The story is a familiar one. Five friends- Mia (Jane Levy), her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), the scholarly Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore)- travel to an isolated cabin in the woods, with the goal of helping Mia detox and quit her drug addiction. Things don’t go well with Mia quitting cold turkey, and the group makes a gruesome discovery by way of a trap door in the cabin floor. Naturally, among these horrific finds, they discover a book wrapped in black plastic and bound with barb wire. Most would leave such a tome alone, but Eric’s curiosity gets the better of him, and he opens the book, reciting aloud an incantation from within (This deviates from the original, where the group found a cassette tape along with the book). Of course, this brings forth some unpleasantness, leading to a horrific night for the band of young friends.
I won’t divulge more of the plot, though if you’ve seen the original, the remake won’t hold any surprises for you. Alvarez does keep things going at a brisk pace for the movie’s 91 minute running time, and the cast does well enough in their roles, though none of them provide a standout character like Ash. The effects are fairly well done, and gore fans should find quite a bit to like here. There are some nice nods to Raimi’s movie, like the tree branches doing some unpleasant things and a favorite item found in every cabin’s tool shed, but it never matches the sheer ferocity of the original movie. Instead, this remake plays it more straight than tongue in cheek, and that works to its detriment, rather than working in its favor. It does retain some of the stock shots, like the camera tracking speedily through the woods, but in the end, it feels more like a pale imitation rather than a movie that could be a new horror classic.
Evil Dead is a better remake than most recent horror movies (it far surpasses Texas Chainsaw in quality), but it still falls short of the mark. It’s not a complete waste of time, and at the very least, it’s worth a rent, but fans of the 1981 film may walk away disappointed. For those who watch this first, I’d urge you to check out Raimi’s original. It’s far scarier and far more entertaining.
Evil Dead is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.