Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult horror The Evil Dead is the latest classic to get a modern day revamp, and with Raimi’s involvement and a whole load of gore, it successfully manages to inject new life into the franchise.
In an attempt to help their friend Mia (Jane Levy) kick her drug habit, four twenty-something friends head out to a remote cabin to keep her isolated and away from any temptation. It’s a plan they’ve tried before, but this time her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) is along for the ride, and the other friends believe this will help her massively. When one of the group, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), reads from a barbed wire bound book they found in the basement all hell, literally, breaks loose and the friends not only have to survive, but find a way to end the curse they unwittingly unleashed.
Consisting of mainly unknowns, the cast initially appear to be your usual bunch of expendables. But by investing a twenty minutes or so into two characters, screenwriters Fede Alvarez (who also directed) and Rodo Sayagues elevate them above the typical horror victims. Jany Levy is the focus for the most part as Mia, the addict brought to the cabin to kick her habit. Her descent into madness, both from possession and withdrawal symptoms, is a horrifying pleasure to witness, whilst her brother David is the ‘Ash’ of the bunch. Fortunately, Alvarez hasn’t tried to emulate that particular character, and let the two characters be themselves. Unfortunately the others, Eric, Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore AKA the most forgettable of the lot), aren’t as memorable, with only Eric serving any real purpose to the narrative.
It would have been easy, albeit lazy, for Alvarez and Sayagues to have stuck with the simple narrative seen in the original of ‘teens stuck in a cabin’, but they take it one step further by having a reason for them to stay: to help out Mia. For me, it made the story more believable, especially in this day and age where the isolated cabin gimmick has been done to death. Not only that, but it’s all the more impressive that Evil Dead avoids many of the cliche’s that were highlighted in 2012’s Cabin In The Woods – a comparison that many would rightly make. Admittedly, the first twenty minutes don’t do much to shake the similarities of the two, but thankfully by the half hour mark there’s next to no thoughts of Drew Goddard’s horror.
Evil Dead also works as a standalone film too but doesn’t forget its roots, with the obligatory nods to Raimi’s classic trilogy strewn throughout: without giving too much away, almost every prop that made The Evil Dead memorable can be seen here. One notable aspect that’s missing though is the humour: Evil Dead always struck me as a self conscious horror, therefore it made fun of itself with its exaggerated violence and excessive gore. That’s not to say 2013’s version doesn’t have these – more on that in a minute – but it’s played totally straight. Yes, I laughed at the gross nature of some scenes, but I don’t think this was Alvarez’s intention. Much like the Saw franchise, in its earlier installments at least, the intention was the shock, and I believe this is what the director was going for. This is where the majority of ‘horror’ in the film comes from too, by visually disgusting the viewer. There’s tension throughout, but it’s only there to lead up to the ever increasing amounts of gore and mutilation. The filmmakers should be applauded also for opting for make up for the injuries, rather than CGI – it’s far more effective.
Evil Dead fully deserves its 18 (or R rated) age certificate – limbs are detached from bodies for longer than they’re attached, blood literally rains from the sky, and every imaginable gruesome toe-curling scenario is brought to reality: anyone with a dislike of eyes or needles will squirm at one particular scene. It ranks up there with the bloodiest pictures I’ve ever seen – and that’s not an accolade I throw out lightly. In the climactic scenes, I was surprised to discover that there were actually actors in the frame, and not just streams of blood. Gore fans who have been disappointed with recent offerings from their genre will be well within their element here.
While it’s not as groundbreaking as its 1981 father, Evil Dead is a solid retelling of a classic. Narratively, it brings nothing new to the table but Alvarez nobly attempts to add new elements to an old story. The horror doesn’t come from jump scares, though there are a few, but in the high volume of blood visible, and the grisly methods that the characters meet their makers. Stick around after the credits too for a final scene that will leave fans of the original smiling whilst making newcomers scratch their head in confusion.