There are a lot of folks out there who ask ‘why remake EVIL DEAD?’ However, as a Twitter topic, it pales beside ‘could the FBI have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing?’ and ‘what have Chechen terrorists got against America anyway?’ I digress. My general point is no franchise is immune from the dead hand of a reboot. As the word implies, you only cover one limb. What about the rest of the body?
THE EVIL DEAD launched director Sam Raimi and the cult hero of Ash onto a cinema-going public. The remake answers a question: is Bruce Campbell replaceable? Well, I haven’t watched BURN NOTICE but as far as this version goes, apparently not. The reboot, sanctioned by Raimi and Campbell who are listed as producers, features five characters, none of whom are called Ash and a distinctly different opening.
There is a girl in the woods and she’s running. She is caught by a redneck type figure and clubbed on the head with a rifle butt. Not pleasant. She awakes to find herself tied to a pillar in what we later discover to be a basement. There are the corpses of cats hanging from the ceiling. There is a group of white folks staring slack-jawed at her. We see the Book of the Dead, annotated with graffiti-like translations, as if scratched on a desk surface in red ink. The girl must be burned. Her father is the one who has to sprinkle the gasoline. The girl pleads for her life, but then like all possessed spirits about to meet their end in movies like this, taunts him: ‘I killed your wife, nyah, nyah!’ Dialogue like that. Her face changes pallor in a way that no amount of Freederm Facial Wash can correct. She gets roasted. Roll title.
Cut to modern day and a disorientating upside down shot of a car tootling down a forest road. It is driven by David (Shiloh Fernandez), the nominal hero of this remake, directed by Fede Alvarez from a script credited to Alvarez and Rodu Sayugue. (Diablo Cody is said to have given the dialogue a polish, though I could not be for shizz!) Mr Alvarez is apparently the next Robert Rodriguez or would be if perhaps he was directing his own material. On the evidence of this, I would say that he is dedicated to reducing the silly contrivances that one would find in a horror film, though he still has one character read from a book wrapped in barbed wire for goodness sake. (I mean, what’s a teenager got to do to prevent their diary from being read?)
David hooks up with his old pal, Eric (bearded with glasses, text book post-graduate nerd played by Lou Taylor Pucci) and his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas). His main reason for coming is little sister, Mia (Jane Levy). She’s a dope addict and is finally kicking the habit. She’s taking her slash and dropping it down the well. That would make for some psycho rodents. (‘You tried this stuff? It’s primo.’ ‘Thanks, I’m used to branded products. If I haven’t seen the TV commercial for it, I’m steering clear.’ ‘What’s a rat doing watching television?’)
Mia gets real upset about the smell down in the basement. (‘I can’t stand it.’) The thing is, no one else notices, except for the dog, Grandpa. He goes tugging at the rug – that’s a real rug, not some Hollywood actor’s hair piece – and uncovers a locked hatch leading to the basement. Sure enough, there are some dead cats and evidence of burning, as well as the aforementioned BOTD. Eric gets curious.
Stuff happens. Eric reads from the book. Mia makes a run for it. She takes one car and then crashes it, swerving to avoid a girl in the road. (She’s seen I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.) Mia then takes a tumble and encounters a tree with tendrils of its own.
In Raimi’s original, the equivalent scene earned THE EVIL DEAD video nasty status in the UK. It was banned on VHS for a while but eventually got an 18 certificate. The scene here still constitutes a violation of female genitia, but the link to Ingmar Bergman’s 1959 film, THE VIRGIN SPRING, referenced by Raimi, is completely severed. The violence in the early section is female-on-female, mostly involving vomiting of various coloured liquid.
Mia is found by her buddies but she is now possessed and she takes out her nurse early on. We learn that a demon has been released by the Book and requires five souls in order for the sky to rain with blood and bad things to generally happen in an apocalyptic fashion. The sky does indeed rain red, but one character is just about intact.
Alvarez clearly set out to preserve certain elements of the original. There must be a point-of-view shot of a force speeding through the forest. (Why?) You should include a tricky mirror shot – here, one of the women glances at her reflection and sees her jaw line as bone. A hand should shoot up through the ground and grab a woman by the neck. The tree violation is strangely necessary. There should also, of course, be a chain saw.
Alvarez may be enthusiastic about his task, but he misses the point. For all of the copious vomiting, nail guns being fired, the involvement of a shotgun, machete and needles (ugh), the film has very little genuine suspense and terror. Most of all, with the exception of the final set piece, involving the demon and the last survivor, it is not entertaining. (Here, Alvarez does generate some genuine tension.) Worst, the dog gets killed. Poor Grandpa!
Alvarez may have grounded the motivations of the characters in logic on a scene-by-scene basis, but he has the most appalling expository dialogue, with Mia saying to David, ‘I’m glad you could come’ with David responding ‘I’m your big brother, what else was I supposed to do?’ Just once, I’d like to see a whole list of family members queue up and give their responses. ‘I’m your father and if you take drugs, you deserve what happens to you.’ ‘I’m your aunt, and your mother should have never married your father.’ ‘I’m your cousin. Could I get that dope?’
One effective climax does not make an entertaining film. I did feel that it was fundamentally different from THE EVIL DEAD. It wasn’t seeking to be a game changer unlike the original, which was a response to its contemporaries – most horror films of the late 1970s and early 1980s dealt with psychotic children growing up to seek revenge in disagreeable and graphic ways (so-called splatter horror). EVIL DEAD 2013 is essentially a demonic possession movie and we’ve seen plenty of those – there is THE LAST EXORCISM 2 due for release pretty soon. It has a lead actress who is a TV star, but then so did I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. The effects don’t seem new or inventive. The most-tense moments are the calms before the bone creaking, when you don’t know if one character will suddenly turn on another – most of the violence is telegraphed. It made me nostalgic for last year’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Not so much EVIL DEAD as feeble dead. I was grateful when it was over.