Review: Evil Dead

Evil Dead is not scary. It really, really wants me to shit my pants in abject horror, but like most remakes, it fails to do the original justice or effectively carve out its own, unique space in a genre that’s all but beaten into the ground beyond repair. Instead of discarding the tired mold of the kids-in-a-cabin motif, it sticks stubbornly to that decades-old script without a hint of self-awareness. In this day and age, refusing to take a chance when remaking something usually spells doom, and Evil Dead face plants right into the hole it dutifully dug for itself.

In a post-Cabin in the Woods world, I can’t bring myself to take the basic premise of Evil Dead seriously anymore. I just can’t do it. The movie’s sub-genre has been absolutely obliterated by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, so to soldier on, seemingly without a clue, is curious at the very least. I will, however, give credit where credit is due. Evil Dead gets its characters to that cabin in the woods in a very plausible way, by simply making the trip one about detoxing a friend. It makes all the sense in the world, and since the story isn’t interested in changing up dynamics like, say, Behind the Mask, it’s at least a welcome departure from moronic teens running around with constant boners while the Final Girl gets totally trashed off of two beers (Wooo!).
I guess establishing itself in a believable manner is against some rule somewhere, because the magic doesn’t last terribly long. The Necronomicon is found, bound in barbed wire, in the basement next to dead cats hanging from the ceiling and a bunch of crazy witchcraft stuff all over the place. Once one of the characters clips the barbed wire away (genius status already confirmed), he opens the book to reveal all kinds of warnings written in its pages. It’s quite clear that NOBODY SHOULD EVER READ THIS BOOK, EVER. But what does this guy do? He just blurts out every weird word he comes across.
See, that’s the kind of crap that just doesn’t fly nowadays, especially when the person doing the reading is shown to believe in witchcraft to some degree. What’s the point of working around suspension of disbelief if a mere ten minutes later, Captain Obvious is in the next room, working to undermine all the believability? In the original Evil Dead, the setup was genius: They found a recorder, and when they played it back, the voice on the tapes discussed experiments and eventually said aloud the cursed words. The kids had nothing to do with it, and there certainly wasn’t some dipshit reading all the phrases out-loud that he was warned to never speak. On a side note, why is the book even in the basement in the first place? Its previous owners obviously didn’t want anyone else to read it, so they just left it in the basement and scribbled “do not touch” all over it? What kind of plan is that?
Getting back to my first point about Evil Dead having little scares, it’s definitely not for any lack of gore. There’s blood all over the place as well as some gross-out scenes that earn the movies R rating, but they’re not grounded in anything. The characters are only built up enough to barely scrape by narratively, so any heavy lifting has to be done by the horror aspects alone. Sadly, Evil Dead just doesn’t deliver. Maybe it’s due to my earlier gripe about its sub-genre, which could counter any disturbing imagery with boring and predictable atmosphere. I mean, the part where the girl licks a blade and French kisses the other girl with her newly-forked tongue is suitably gross, but it would have had more impact if that character’s demon transformation wasn’t so abrupt. One minute, she’s fine; the next, she’s intentionally puking all over someone’s face.
The best moments in the movie come toward the end – one where someone is being buried alive and another that features some wicked chainsaw action. If there were more scenes like those, Evil Dead would fare a lot better. But even if the entire movie was more like its climax, I still don’t understand one of the core things about all of the soul devouring. It rushes through the story of the demon responsible for all the chaos, and in it, it’s discovered that he needs five souls to unleash hell on Earth. Why is it so hard for him to get five measly souls? That’s a little stupid if you ask me. And why does the main character, Mia (Jane Levy), constantly have to do battle with her demon doppelganger? What the hell is that about? Eh, who cares.

If I were you, I’d stick with the original. If you haven’t seen any of the Sam Raimi flicks, they’re fantastic. They get goofier as they go along, but as long as you’re aware of that, there should be no problem. As for the Evil Dead remake, while it’s nowhere near as bad as some other remakes, like The Uninvited or The Fog, it still isn’t a movie that stands on its own two feet. I believe a sequel is being mulled over as I write, and I can only hope it reflects lessons learned from Fede Alvarez’s gory but ultimately shallow feature film debut.
–George Bell

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Twitter: @moviefiednyc
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