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“EVIL DEAD” (Chris’ Review)

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Leonard Maltin’s 2.5 star review of Sam Raimi’s original THE EVIL DEAD in his pre-IMDB/Rotten Tomatoes printed reference book summed up the picture’s plot like this: “Five kids at mountain cabin chop each other to pieces when demons possess everything.”

Three decades later, the same lean synopsis could apply to the Raimi-produced, Fede Alvarez-directed remake. Like the beloved, influential and in many ways revolutionary first film, Alvarez’s snarling redux dispenses with subtleties and logic to deliver as much go-for-broke gore and fiery refuse as its running time can hold, making carnage a character and sparing little in its single minded mission to batter its audience into jaw-dropped submission. The big question is that in this less naïve, considerably more jaded cultural climate, can a film as scrappy and senseless as EVIL DEAD carry the same shocking gravitas? Can it shake the spines of kids acclimated to ultraviolence in every medium and who now seek smug irony in their horror hits (I’m staring at you CABIN IN THE WOODS)?

It sure as hell tries its damndest to do so.

The film sees a troupe of typically bland boys and girls venturing into the wilderness to the family cottage that’s unbeknownst to them, already the scene of a violent ritual, illustrated in the needless, histrionic, pre-title card sequence. Their mission is to support hunky, stubbly David (Shiloh Fernandez) as he tries one last time to help his troubled sister Mia (Jane Levy) kick her all consuming drug habit, removing her from impolite society and forcing her to go cold turkey. Pretty soon the gang find ye olde flesh bound Book of the Dead. One lad who looks like Jared Leto channeling Kurt Cobain (Lou Taylor Pucci) reads from its passages and almost immediately the classic Raimi-cam POV demon starts zipping around the woods, a violently detoxing Mia is raped by a tree (in a sequence that attempts to out-shock the original and generally succeeds) and yes, they all begin the happy task of chopping each other to pieces—cue the outrageously vulgar gore, some of it so nauseating that this critic’s stomach flipped more than once and all of it pushing hard against its R rating to the point of bulge. It’s been ages since a mainstream studio horror film dared release something as gleefully repellent as EVIL DEAD.

Grumpy horror fans  going into this wanting another dutch-angle saturated, abstract and almost surrealist Raimi film will be non-plussed by the shadowy, shuddery atmosphere the film works hard to control, even at its most outrageous moments. Alvarez still manages to nod a few times to some of his mentor’s skewed, Looney Tunes inspired visuals and iconography ( the Ash-mobile, a deck of cards, a swinging clock pendulum etc.) and hits many of the pictures original beats without ripping them off wholesale. In fact, despite its subject matter, this is an almost elegant film, gorgeously lensed (by Aaron Morton) and lushly scored by Spanish composer Roque Baños (THE LAST CIRCUS) who quotes some of original DEAD composer Joe DeLuca’s melodramatic melancholy while adding things like a sinister brass section and best of all: a weird, frightening air raid siren that wittily revs up when the horror really takes hold. General audiences may miss just how effective Baños’ score is to adding terror and even empathy to the abattoir and it’s an important element to isolate.

But hacked limbs, torn flesh, screaming deadites, cellar dwelling demons, horny trees, technical competence and general practical FX bravado aside, is EVIL DEAD a good horror movie? Like any genre film, your appreciation of the flick will be subjective, your perspective depending exclusively on what it is exactly you want out of it. The cast – outside of the incredible Levy who truly goes the distance – is unremarkable, but outside of Bruce Campbell, so were the original’s players. The dialogue is expository, flat and often grating, but try finding anything particularly quote-worthy in the first flick. But here, the gore is the movie, evolved into a high art. In fact, I’d call EVIL DEAD a kind of bloody opera, one that covers the same ground as its predecessor until its utterly unhinged climax when the entire enterprise erupts into a plasma raining, gasoline spewing primal scream; a ferocious denouement unlike anything I’ve ever seen in commercial cinema. It’s that wide-eyed closing sequence that makes this critic excited for the inevitable EVIL DEAD 2, a film in which Alvarez and company will be liberated from the confines of the untouchable, cheap and chilly predecessor and have the space to truly change the rules. Judging by his enthusiastic work in this revolting, confident vomitorium, he’s more than up to the task.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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