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“EVIL DEAD” (Mike’s Movie Review)

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EVIL DEAD die-hards can calm their concerns—the remake of Sam Raimi’s classic is good enough that, at a certain point, you might forget it’s a remake. Recapturing the essence of its predecessor without slavishly aping its style, the new movie stands on its own and provides buckets of bloody fun.

In fact, one of the differences between EVIL DEAD’s two incarnations is that this one hasn’t had to go unrated to go gruesome. In terms of the gore, this is the most eye-popping—and face-nailing, limb-removing, etc.—horror film in years, and how they landed an R for a movie that feels just as extreme as the NR original is a question most fans probably won’t care about the answer to; they’ll be too busy enjoying the ride.

Under the guidance of initial creators/redux producers Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell, writer/director Fede Alvarez and co-scripter Rodo Sayagues haven’t reinvented the story here; after all, the cabin-in-the-woods plot wasn’t exactly fresh even 30 years ago, when the trio brought their unique energies to it. What Alvarez and Sayagues (with a bit of help from uncredited dialogue polisher Diablo Cody) have done is bring fresh wrinkles to the characters to give their actions a little more sense, and the director goes for a somewhat moodier tone as the film goes on. He does adopt Raimi’s swooping camera racing through the trees, but not to the same extent, which was a wise choice; part of what made those shots in the ’83 film so impressive was the subconscious awareness that the filmmakers accomplished them on a tiny budget, and seeing them in a movie with millions at its disposal doesn’t have quite the same effect.

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After a prologue (the most unnecessary addition, which needlessly reveals the nature of the evil ahead of time), we meet our five-kids-in-a-car who arrive at a remote shack that, in true EVIL DEAD tradition, appears much more expansive inside than it does outside. This group isn’t looking to party, but rather has a much more profound purpose—helping one of their number, Mia (Jane Levy), to kick a drug habit; it’s also a chance for Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) to atone for his previous absence from Mia’s life. Cue the discovery of the Book of the Dead, the ill-advised reading aloud of passages from its pages and some very unpleasant possessions.

Mia is the first to sense the presence of something evil, and the first to be afflicted, and her situation is Alvarez’s clever solution to the eternal question of why the imperiled protagonists don’t bug out when things start getting scary. Both her fears and the first signs of her supernatural infection are seen as byproducts of her addiction, and by the time her friends realize something much more dangerous is going on, it is, of course, too late. One by one they are taken, transformed into vicious, profanity-spouting monsters who turn on each other with nail guns and other implements, while Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci, eyes bugging to the point where he seems to be on some kind of substance himself), who started the trouble by reading those incantations, tries desperately to figure out how to reverse the curse.

EVIL DEAD 2013 is liberally sprinkled with direct echoes and visual references to Raimi’s movie, including a familiar vehicle parked around back (though Mia’s reprise of the “We’re gonna get you” singsong seen in the trailers doesn’t appear in the film itself). Alvarez has some surprises in store in the second half, though, and they serve as plausible variations on the mythology that help make his film its own experience. Also setting this EVIL DEAD apart is its focus on Mia, the first victim/villain, given a ferociously committed performance by Levy that helps make up for the fact that there’s no Ash, or other equally compelling heroic lead. The other young actors, also including Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore, are convincing enough in roles that remain largely functional; there’s more character development in the later sections of the movie, when their personal weaknesses are turned against them, than in the setup.

What really counts, of course, is the shock-and-awe quotient, and Alvarez proves up to the task of keeping the pace relentless and the setpieces varied, startling and audacious—to the point where, even though the tone is serious, you may be chuckling on the inside at what he’s gotten away with in a major-studio release. The bloodshed is often spectacular, punctuated by the kind of small-scale physical damage that most gets under a viewer’s skin; chainsaw dismemberment is one thing, but a hypodermic needle inserted just below an eye…eeewwwww. The prosthetics and blood FX supervised by Roger Murray are first-rate, part of a craft package (eerie cinematography and production design by Aaron Morton and Robert Gillies respectively, and a genuinely frightening score by Roque Baños) far beyond what Raimi and co. were initially able to afford.

It is one of the acheivements of the new EVIL DEAD that the substantial increase in budget hasn’t relieved the scenario of its gritty appeal. The new film may not be a trendsetter they way its predecessor was, but it does demonstrate that old wine can be put in a new bottle and remain pretty damn tasty—and red.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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