Writing my feature review The Evil Dead (1981): Video Nasties, Misspent Youth and the Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror it started out as a shorter piece but I really could not find much to write about solely as a critique of the film. This is no way a bad reflection on the quality of filmmaking but was its near lack of narrative that left me stuck.
As I write in-depth analytical pieces and I could barely get out 500 words talking about what is on screen I turned it into something more than just a write-up of the movie. I incorporated its history as one of the most infamous video nasties in the United Kingdom, my own personal experiences of how Sam Raimi influenced me as a youth encouraging me to find more interesting works in my beloved horror genre and documented its production that all lead up to the review segment that concluded the article. Focusing on how the film was important to me growing up by changing how I looked at the genre and on its production put emphasis on what a truly unique piece of work it is. The reason for Raimi’s groundbreaking debut being almost completely devoid of narrative structure was that it was constructed as the tagline stated as “The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror.” This is exactly what it is an unrelenting experience in terror brought to fruition by the execution of innovative techniques resulting in supreme displays of inventiveness in its scare tactics with its intention purely to scare, shock and disturb all on limited low budget resources. It is the epitome of guerrilla filmmaking working so effectively well on its simplicity.
I do have more to say about what is on screen in this year’s remake/reboot whatever but for negative reasons. While a visually stunning movie in its depictions of mutilation executed largely by what is some of the very best special make-up gore effects I have seen in an American horror for some time with just a smidge of CGI for certain moments that would be difficult for practical effects to pull off convincingly this is all it is. It is a big budget gore film, nothing more released wide to pander to the gorehounds to empty their pockets. This is an empty soulless cash grab with little imagination other than to torture its young attractive cast whose characterization is so poorly written I could not care less about them. The filmmakers have set out to make their audience vomit rather than to provoke our fears and do nothing new with the material other than adding pointless twists and turns to justify the reasoning for the group being in the location of the cabin in the woods and some bollocks with an improvised defibrillator.
The movie opens with an injured girl captured in the woods, is taken to a basement somewhere, and is restrained by a group of people including her father holding some kind of ritual. It turns out that she is demonically possessed so her father kills her by setting her on fire and then shoots her. The looks of the deadites in this version are so uninspired compared to the uniqueness of the creations in the original series looking closer to the possessed Regan in ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) and even their voices are similar with some of the dialogue even paraphrasing lines from William Friedkin’s masterpiece.
Now flashing forwards after the title card a group of teens turn up at the isolated cabin in the woods owned by the parents of two of the group the Allen siblings Mia (Jane Levy) and older brother David (Shiloh Fernandez). They are there with the help of their friends to beat Mia’s heroin addiction by supporting her through her cold turkey period after she has rejected her friends’ attempts to help her get clean many times and continues to do so here while her friends just constantly moan about getting her clean. The reasoning for the group to be there is unnecessary when all there was needed was for the young adults to turn up to this isolated location for a weekend getaway and finding the Naturom Demonto book that raises the evil spirits like in the original. The writers forgetting that less can be a lot more and padding it out adds nothing emotionally rewarding to the story either when there is no character to give a fuck about, as they are immensely unlikable drawing little sympathy with their actions. The characters in the first film may have been two-dimensional serving their purposes for a situation based nightmarish experience making all the usual illogical decisions in the cabin in the woods premise that Raimi innovated but at least they were likable.
The group find the trap door to the cellar and even though it is Mia and David’s family vacation home this is still a surprise to everybody. It turns out downstairs is the exact same basement we saw in the just thrown in opening of the movie. Sure enough, they find the Naturom Demonto that was used in the ritual and was stupidly left behind. It makes no sense that the group in the beginning of the film were just randomly in this family owned cabin and do not even bother to take the dreaded “book of the dead” with them. So, they just stumbled upon the place that just so happens would serve as the sole setting and leave the book behind in a family owned cabin that two of the members of this family would turn up with a few friends and find. TOTAL. FUCKING. BULLSHIT.
One of the characters reads from the book, and obviously, it has to be the inquisitive teacher bloke the annoying Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and then all hell breaks loose. In a piss poor recreation of the tree rape sequence from the original that fails to elicit scares and tension, Mia is possessed by a deadite demon and then one by one, the group are also possessed mutilating themselves and attacking the remanding living. A whole load of clichéd jump scares are also thrown in and the atmosphere is non existent too. SPOILERS Oh yeah, and because Mia once overdosed and was revived by a defibrillator David constructs one with resources from the shed and after burying her and then digging her back up and reviving her with it somehow it rids the evil spirit from her. This is just God-awful writing. END OF SPOILERS According to a prophecy in the Naturom Demonto, an evil creature known as “The Abomination” will arrive when four souls have been taken leading to an actually quite entertaining slasher orientated standoff between Mia and the said demonic monster.
So that is it just an abysmal rehash. I have no problem with remakes/reboots as long as they do something innovatively different with the source material by taking the original’s premise and running wild with it with an invigorating fresh take. Just look at the very best horror remakes for example like ‘The Thing’ (1982), ‘The Fly’ (1986), ‘The Blob’ (1988), ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004), Maniac (2012) etc. All these movies stripped the DNA of their predecessors and did something radically different and interesting. ‘Evil Dead’ is just a gorefest with craptastic new age ideas to try to bring it more up to date. Sam Raimi’s own ‘Evil Dead 2’ (1987) although a sequel is essentially a remake itself being a rewrite of the original’s screenplay and having new footage shot to replace the first film's recap used instead as the outset. It is bursting with creative energy being a visual masterpiece of slapstick black comedy horror. SPOILERS If it wasn’t for a post-credits cameo from Bruce Campbell and apparently a plan from the producers to later merge both continuities in the franchise there is enough here to class ‘Evil Dead’ solely as a remake rather than a reboot as it has the exact same premise as Sam Raimi’s original movie with enough nods to it. END OF SPOILERS
I can only recommend ‘Evil Dead’ to the diehard gorehounds because that is all there is of worth here and a stunning achievement it is too in this respect. Aside from the enjoyable slasheresque climax, there is nothing else positive about it that warrants a pass from me. This is a huge waste of an opportunity to recreate something special. This could have been a bold and brave take on the material but instead of doing something ballsy with it the filmmakers wimped out and just cashed in on the brand name of the franchise with a piece of blood soaked eye candy catering for the mainstream Saw crowds. On top of that, there is not one likable character here and anything new that is attempted is just a plain bad idea.
* out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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