“Evil Dead” a surprising treat for fans, original still better

By Emily Brightman

Flickr/Films Inbound

The announcement of a remake of Sam Raimi’s seminal cult classic “The Evil Dead” was met with dubious skepticism, especially given the severe disappointments wrought by classic horror remakes over the last few years. Though the inclusion of Raimi, original producer Robert Tapert and infamous original star Bruce Campbell in the producer’s chairs eased the antagonism slightly, the question still remained as to whether or not an update to the 1981 low-budget masterpiece would be able to recreate the grisly charm of its predecessor.

The answer is an indefinite but entirely gore-drenched “yes.”

Looking to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick a nasty drug habit, her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and three friends (Elizabeth Blackmore, Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci) head off to a secluded cabin in the woods in search of vacation and healing. The discovery of a macabre “Book of the Dead” releases an ancient evil that possesses the kids one by one and wreaks havoc through gruesome self-mutilation and murder. The maiming comes to a head (pun absolutely intended) when Mia, released from the fiendish grip of the evil forces at work, is left to confront her literal demons in the blood-drenched climax.

Though it never truly transmits the raw independent energy of the original — with a considerably large budget for this update, this is not surprising — director Fede Alvarez manages to breathe new life into a classic low-budget horror movie that, amazingly enough, does not deviate so far from the original. There is a definite discrepancy between the production values of the original film and the recent update, but this is inevitable given the massive shift in production techniques over the last 30 years.

Alvarez’s intentions are clearly on display as the action begins to rise: to project as much carnage as humanly (or more appropriately, inhumanly) possible. To an extent, the serious volume of blood and guts detracts from the value of the film as it dances dangerously on the edge of devolving into a shock-splatter fest. If nothing else, the indulgent butchery and brutality of the original “Evil Dead” has been given a shot of adrenaline and intensified by several hundred percent in the remake, an update that is in many ways necessary to the extent that the DIY effects of the first film are much more appreciated.

Fans of the 1981 original will appreciate cinematographer Aaron Morton’s near fanatical attention to detail in recreating scenery from the original film. The shots of the infamous cabin are a near-perfect rendition of the original setting, and the scenes within the cabin itself maintain the same close-quartered parameters characteristic of the first film. Even the rusted husk of a car that Mia is perched upon in her first scene is a tip-of- the-hat to the 1973 Delta 88 Oldsmobile in the original. Of the many nods toward the 1981 classic, the most notable is the chainsaw montage, which has come to be the unofficial mascot of the trilogy. Though the tool is not wielded by Campbell, die-hard fans will be pleased to see that the chainsaw’s indelible role in the original films has been acknowledged.

In an interview with DigitalSpy, Campbell says that, “Sound-wise, I’ve snuck in a bunch of stuff that only the deepest, darkest aficionado would ever notice.” True to his word, the film is peppered with sound clips directly from the original flick. Bob Dorian, who voiced the cryptic chanting played on the mysterious tape recorder from the first film, provides the same eerie cadence that sets off the chain of demonic events. The voice of Ellen Sandweiss, whose character Cheryl in the original film provided the basis for the character of Mia, appears throughout the remake as well. The truly obsessed will recognize that much of the unearthly soundtrack is derived from the original.

Many critics have dismissed this remake as visually gratuitous, but truth be told if ever there was a word to describe the original “Evil Dead,” gratuitous is certainly appropriate, so in a way it was almost necessary to freshen it up for the modern splatter-obsessed age. In response to critics who have dismissed this update as unnecessary because it highlights the inconsistencies of the original film, there is a considerable difference between distorting the original intent of a classic movie and giving it a modern makeover. To use an apt metaphor, Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” did for the franchise what Rob Zombie’s re-visioning of “Halloween” did almost six years ago: took a seminal horror film and fleshed out the background details of the underlying story that were left unattended to by the original movie. In plain language, Alvarez and screenwriter Rodo Sayagues filled in the nitty-gritty details of Raimi’s original script with their own interpretations of the bloody events of the movie — which in turn added a visceral element of creepiness to the story.

While talks ensue for a fourth “Evil Dead” that will pick up where “Army of Darkness” left off, dedicated fans of the franchise can indulge their inner gore-hounds with Alvarez’s update to a classic work of horror cinema. In the words of the indomitable Campbell himself, this remake is nothing short of “groovy.”

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]