‘Evil Dead’ Remake Has its Moments, but it Could Have Been Better

Seriously, I really wanted to love this remake of “Evil Dead” the way my fellow horror fans did. They seem to be thrilled about this one in ways they usually are not when it comes to remakes of any kind, and we knew way in advance that this remake was designed to be an incredibly gory delight. But while the filmmakers did their best to not just do the same old thing with their take on Sam Raimi’s immortal cult classic from 1981, the story of a group of young adults trapped in an old cabin and being terrorized by demons has now been told one too many times for it to thrill me anymore. Furthermore, they spent more time making this movie look bloody as hell instead of truly scary, and this is why it fell apart for me.

The character of Ash was wisely left out of this interpretation as no one would dare try to replace Bruce Campbell in this unforgettable role. Heck, even if Campbell was dead, no one would be recklessly stupid as to attempt such a foolish feat as replacing him in this role would be like replacing the late Richard Belzer as John Munch. Instead, the story centers around a young woman named Mia (Jane Levy) who has come to that horrific cabin in the woods to kick her opiate addiction once and for all. She is joined by her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), with whom she has not always had the best relationship, and his sexy girlfriend, because guys like him just have to have one, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Also present are her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) who have watched Mia go through detox before, and they are not sure they can handle her going through it again.

This “Evil Dead” takes its sweet time setting up the characters and their backstories before they discover the Naturom Demonto, best known as being the Book of the Dead. I loved how so many of the pages had things written on it such as DON’T SAY THESE WORDS OUT LOUD, and yet Eric, whose job as a high school teacher has made him quite cynical, just has to read them anyway. Besides, how is a horror movie supposed to work if nobody does anything incredibly stupid? Those faceless demons then make their way to the isolated cabin with the sole intention of possessing its inhabitants and then killing them off one by one. The question is, which one of them will be left standing at the end?

This remake was directed by Fede Alvarez who made the short film “Ataque de Pánico!” (aka “Panic Attack!”) which was a big hit on You Tube, and he would later go on to make the terrific horror thriller “Don’t Breathe.” He does not seem the least bit shy about giving us tons of blood and gore, and it made me wonder what graphic images he had to cut out in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. You have one character slicing their tongue in half, another tearing chunks of flesh out of their face, and yet another using a nail gun the same way Danny Glover used one in “Lethal Weapon 2.” And let us not forgot that one person who gets a chainsaw shoved into a part of their body which would eliminate the need for a tonsillectomy. Still, no NC-17. Perhaps this is because in this version, no one gets raped by a tree.

But while Alvarez and company put a lot of work into the gory effects, I wished they had put just as much effort into the story. Things are played a lot more seriously here than they need to be, and it would have been great if they included more of the original’s sense of humor which helped to make it so memorable. With this remake, the filmmakers are already at a disadvantage because this kind of story has been told to death far too many times already. We quickly know where the characters are heading once they mistake of unlocking the door to that darn cabin, and all we can do is wonder who will be the first to die and how.

Also, there is way too much shaky camerawork going and, when this remake came out, I was getting to the point where I can no longer defend anyone going overboard with this kind filmmaking. I used to get a kick out of shaky cam, but I have since come to believe this technique is best to Paul Greengrass.

As for the actors, the majority of them are just okay. Not that the cast of the original gave Oscar worthy performances, but they were a lot livelier than this bunch. The strongest performance comes from Jane Levy, best known for her work on the television shows “Shameless” and “Suburgatory,” as Mia. While her character is one messed up individual, Levy makes you get deeply involved in Mia’s plight from start to finish to where we never want to abandon her.

When all is said and done, it is impossible not to have had high expectations for this particular horror remake as Raimi, Campbell and Robert G. Tapert (producer of the original “Evil Dead”) were on board to make sure the fans got all the blood and gore they wanted. As a result, I knew this version would not be dumbed down into some lame PG-13 flick where all the edge was rendered moot for mass consumption. I did enjoy parts of it, and it did keep me entertained for the most part. But considering the talent involved, I expected it to be a lot more than what it was.

The great thing about the original “Evil Dead” was how Raimi was able to pull off so many clever and innovative shots on such a low budget. Alvarez was able to work with a much larger budget this time around ($17 million), but while he certainly does try his hardest, he cannot top what Raimi did or bring much of anything new to this material. I do have to give him some credit as he gets away with using practical special effects instead of throwing a bunch of cheap CGI crap at us. This is what helps to keep the goings on more entertaining than they should be. In no way should this remake seem like a total loss as it did give us filmmakers and actors who have since moved on to bigger and better things, and they deserve to be where they are at. Still, I wished I liked this version much more than I did.

I came out of this “Evil Dead” remake with some hope despite my mixed reaction to it as I wondered if it could possibly give Hollywood enough of a reason to give us a fourth film with Ash Williams following the events of “Army of Darkness.” People had been praying for a fourth “Evil Dead” film for years, and we finally got one in the form of a cable series entitled “Ash vs Evil Dead.” This proved to be loads of fun, but when it was all over, Campbell made it clear he was retiring the character once and for all as he could no longer tackle the physical and emotional punishment, but we have a new one entitled “Evil Dead Rise” which looks to reinvigorate the franchise in a whole other way. Here is hoping it is worth the wait.

By the way, for those of you who have not yet watched this “Evil Dead” remake, I implore you to sit through the end credits as there is a special surprise at the very end. Trust me, it is worth the wait. And, sad to say, it was my favorite part of this film.

* * ½ out of * * * *


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