The only people who are going to be happy with Evil Dead, the eagerly-anticipated remake of the 1981 cult horror classic, are fans of horror make-up and make-up artists. For that niche, there’s lots to enjoy here, as almost no CGI was used to create the film’s many gruesome-as-gruesome-gets sequences. For the rest of us, including diehard fans of the original franchise of Evil Dead films and of its auteurs, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, this humorless exercise in torture porn lacks any of the imagination or the fun of the original. It’s the worst thing that a horror movie can be: mindnumbingly dull.
The story from the original is more or less unchanged. Five college students — drug addict Mia (Jane Levy), her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), Mia’s med student best friend Olivia and her boyfriend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) — retreat to a dilapidated cabin in the woods to spend a few days sequestered away from the world. Once there, they discover in the basement a book that practically screams “Don’t Touch Me” and (of course) one of them reads a few passages, releasing a very nasty spirit in the woods. That spirit then possesses each of the cabin’s residents in turn, resulting in increasingly gory scenes of self-mutilation, projectile vomiting, and uses of all-too-familiar power tools in ways not recommended by the manufacturer. After this, you may never look at a electric carving knife the same way again, for example.
Writer/director Fede Alvarez was hand-picked by producers Raimi, Tapert, and Bruce Campbell, who starred as “Ash” in the original Evil Dead trilogy, to make this remake happen, and by the time it’s all done fans of those other films might really be asking themselves “Why?” His script, while providing less idiotic reasoning for why these kids would choose to stay in this cabin in these woods, and to initially resist leaving despite all signs around them screaming “Get Out!”, also divests the film of most of its inadvertent fun. In other words, the kids this time around are slightly less stupid, and as a result the movie’s not nearly as laughable or enjoyable.
Is it scary, though? Sure, if you’ve NEVER seen any of the dozens of demonic-possession horror flicks that have come down the pipe since Raimi made The Evil Dead three decades ago. Most of the time it’s just dreary and gross — Alvarez seems to delight in casting everything in a grey pallor and belaboring scenes of the kids pulling things like needles and nails out of their limbs. That’s where all the make-up artist genius comes in — most of the movie magic you’ll see on screen is pretty gut-wrenchingly convincing. But Alvarez gives us so much of it at every opportunity that it’s as though he regarded the torment of watching such sights as the same as genuine fear. By the end, you most likely won’t have ever been truly scared, but you might find your face sore from grimacing for most of the film’s 91-minute running time.
Fans of the series will no doubt appreciate the appearance of particular props and visuals from the original. The cabin and the car outside it are the same, the “Book of Dead”, the “naughty trees” and the chainsaw, they’re all here. But what little fun those few moments afford do not outweigh how much this all just feels uninspired. Perhaps most lacking is Bruce Campbell himself, or someone else with his kind of comic timing and charisma, to provide a character on screen that you care about enough to pay attention to what’s going on through all the screaming and gushing blood. Campbell built a career out of his work as Ash in this franchise — it helped the films stand the test of time as cult classics.
This Evil Dead certainly will not have the same staying power, unless it’s as yet another caution to Hollywood studios against remaking old horror films, even when the minds behind the original are involved.
Score: 1.5 out of 5
Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Hernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore. Directed by Fede Alvarez.
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language.