Evil Dead (2013)
‘THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM YOU WILL EVER EXPERIENCE’ is rather a bold claim I think, clearly someone in marketing doesn’t appreciate that some of us have sat through Three Men & A Little Lady AND The Hottie And The Nottie during our sordid careers, I must admit to a growing appetite for this ferocious little remake, the early reviews weren’t exactly without fault but they all seemed to revel in the films gruesome charms, the salacious summaries suggesting that this is perhaps the ‘hardest’ mainstream horror film of recent years, an assertion which whetted my depraved gorehound appetites. I can’t quite remember the last gruelling experience I underwent at the cinema, of course there was Enter The Void and L’Amour but they are demanding in a different sort of way, I’m referring to a journey into darkness akin to The Strangers or Martyrs although that film had a serious heart pulsing beneath its shattered carapace. My assumptions of the Evil Dead remake was more of a fun and sloppy carving of genre grotesquery, rather than reaching for any serious or severe points about the human condition, my instincts proving true as this prejudice speared my expectations as surely as a nailgun lacerates flesh. Gone are the days when one gets offended by the trampling of sacred texts with money scented remakes, I simply couldn’t care less anymore as we’ll always have the original, and at least Evil Dead has original schlock peddlers Robert Tapert, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi pulling the puppet strings, electing to elevate first time filmmaker Fede Alvarez to the big screen on the strength of his 2009 short Ataque de Pánico.
We’re back down in the woods to play and once again sure of a big surprise, this time with a desperate emotional gravitas added to the brew in a rather pointless attempt to elevate the stakes as the gates of hell are torn asunder. Rejecting the usual genre tropes of teens in peril – the slutty cheerleader and bonehead jocks, the geeky stoners and meek yet resourceful ‘final girl’ Evil Dead begins with withdrawing addict Mia (Jane Levy) accompanied by her sympatric friends to endure cold turkey in a remote family cabin, sequestered away from civilisation in order to finally break the spell of that sweet, sweet smack. The family friction with her brother David (Shiloah Fernandez) reveals that their mother recently passed after David fled from home, leaving Mia to nurse their ailing matriarch to a painful and traumatic passing. The duo are supported by a fairly nondescript bunch of plump fleshbags, with squinting teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and nervous Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) assisted with the requisite ethnic casting of Olivia (Jessica Lucas) as a qualified nurse, all committed to saving Mia from herself no matter the circumstances and screaming. After twenty or so minutes or tedious emotional scene setting Eric discovers a barbed-wire bound grimoire lurking in the cabin’s basement, the dungeon attractively festooned with the dismembered corpses of cats hung from the ceiling – from an interior design perspective it really pulls the room together, if you have the demeanour of a Fred West or Jeffrey Dahmer. As stupid people in horror films are want to do he Eric cracks open the tome and inadvertently invokes the forces of darkness, the infernally sneaky Naturom Demonto possessing and punishing the youngsters to feed its cruel and yawning hunger, and soon Mia’s drug dependency is the last of her worries as the cabin is catapulted into the realms of a chaotic, crimsoned drenched charnel house,
The problem with these remakes is you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – if you slavishly follow the template of the original with a near shot for shot reproduction, maintaining the story beats, tempo and characters you are crucified for redundancy, if you strive to take the material in a new direction from the original infrastructure then you’re pilloried for dishonouring the memory of the beloved precedent from its cultish champions. This is the poisoned chalice from which Evil Dead nervously sips, with just about enough nods and references to the original as it stakes out it’s similar journey, with a few key differences to scold the discerning horror fan into nervous acquiescence – it’s graphic and gruesome, and occasionally amusing. There’s a messy sense of momentum with each breathing space soon punctuated by the next assault, a cinema from Abu Ghraib which is designed to disorient the senses with a screaming soundtrack, strobing images, plenty of spurting extremities and lacerating cuts, both upon the victims’ bodies and the film fragments themselves. The additions and omissions cleave to both positive and negative camps – a redundant contextual pre-credits sequence establishes the polluted ground of the cabin for little reason or effect, on the other hand it’s a neat touch to introduce the intervention idea which is a solid reason to keep the principals at the slaughter-house as events get progressively more weird, a plausible framework for why Mia’s friends would dismiss her raving rants about creatures in the woods as either the hallucinations of an addict in withdrawal or a futile plan to get taken back to civilisation. It’s not scary but funny with a few well executed jumps, but if you’re of a nervous disposition then I suggest you stay home. Maybe you can go for a stroll in your new pink frilly dress. Girl.
If you’ll excuse the expression this is a very wet film, with a bedraggled, sweaty cinematography breeding with a sloppy sound design, one imagines that the talented Foley artists must have demolished a bumper harvest crop of melons and pumpkins, all to achieve the grimace inducing aural environment of leering lacerations, of pummeling pain. It’s ghoulishly refreshing to witness in-camera atrocities only lightly embellished by CGI scribes, the gruesome prosthetics are impressive from a technical perspective, although maybe I’m sick but I didn’t think the film went that far in terms of violence and perversion, but I guess I have high (or indeed) low thresholds in this arena. It’s no spoiler to reveal that yes the film breaks out the chainsaws – c’mon this is an Evil Dead movie so we were bound to hear those screeching, scything, rotating blades eventually – and there are a few scattered throwbacks to the original series; Raimi’s favoured 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 makes an appearance, a POV view entity prowls the grounds in a mist shrouded petrified wood, and some of the final plot contortions clearly mirror the conclusions of a previous camping trip which resulted in a massacre. The major diversion between parent and sibling is in tone as there is very little humour in Evil Dead, black or cruel or otherwise, it’s very much trying to out snarl its kin with a void of comic relief, about from one slippery incident a few gags could have heightened the stakes when the next stream of Candarian carnage erupts. Does the film suffer from a lack of Ash? Well naturally for fans of the original the absence of our favourite punchbag is sorely missed, I think Raimi and Campell realised there was no way they could compete with his unique persona, and we should remember that in the 1981 original he was just another badly sketched victim for the most part, and treading very carefully I’ll just say that….well….no, I’d best keep schtum, as the film does have bit of surprise with a post-credits sting. The bottom line is this – if you like horror movies then this is worth your time at a brisk 91 minutes, if you’re a Evil Dead aficionado you might be a little ‘meh’ but will reluctantly admit that this was OK if certainly not a classic, as it scours the box-office* we’ll no doubt soon see much more of that laceratingly lethal, cosmically chained Cabin In The Woods;
*The original, shot in 16mm over a year of weekends cost £$16,000….