A review of Evil Dead, by Scott Jones
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Screenplay by: Fede Alvares and Diablo Cody
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas
I remember the first time I saw the original Evil Dead, back in the heady, illicit days of VHS. The twisted cachet of the thing, I think, is what drew me to it: this was the movie that had been banned in the UK, triggering the creation of a new classification in the British ratings system. There, THE EVIL DEAD was a “Video Nasty”, the first of its kind, and here in the Colonies, the film’s reputation was about the same, though a full ban never happened. Evil Dead’s run in the theatres was necessarily brief, and it was not until its video distribution that Raimi’s shock-masterpiece really took off. By the time my 14 year old self got his hands on a very-well-used copy, Evil Dead had already been in rental stores for three years.
There was something about the atmosphere surrounding Evil Dead that made renting it from Crazy Eddie’s Video Vault (the dank closet that served my neighbourhood, smelling of greasy pizza-box cardboard and sweat, Crazy Eddie not being known for his hygiene) an experience comparable to stepping behind the Adults Only bead curtain in the back and returning to the counter with an armful of triple-X wet-dream fuel. Not that I could do that, at the time, being 14 and all. Crazy Eddie was, well, you know… but the man knew which side his bread was buttered on. Last thing he needed was outraged parents burning down his store for renting porn to minors.
Somehow, though, Eddie felt that Evil Dead was OK for our tender eye-meats. Go figure. He let us kids (us boys, mostly) get away with renting it. And get away with it we did. If the plasticized body ecstasy from behind the red beads was unavailable to us, then the rubberized foam and nameless karo-syrup-froth body horror of Evil Dead was a worthy, and in many ways, superior replacement. At least it had a plot. Leaving that claustrophobic store with Evil Dead tucked inside your bomber jacket felt positively criminal: this was the most terrifying film ever made, and you were about to watch it, an experience which I probably don’t have to go into detail about here. You’re reading this, so you’ve likely been there with me, rushing away from Crazy Eddie’s, on your way to a basement rec room where your buddies were warming up the VCR with The Howling or The Wrath of Khan. And raiding the liquor cabinet, naturally.
Evil Dead was completely gross, over-the-top, sickening (in the best way!), a film that pulled not a single punch. There was body-horror, sure: mutilations, mutations and mobile, melting flesh; blood (so much blood!) and less recognizable goo, foul humours rendered in splenetic neon glory; even the normally passive arboreal surroundings of that tormented cabin rose up to assault and violate the inhabitants…
“Was that girl… wait, did that tree just… NO! Oh my god! Holy f-…”
More than the nausea and the wrenching realization of the body’s fragility Evil Dead induced, though, was the disquieting sense that the true corruption, the true horror of what was happening on-screen, was a corruption of the soul, of terrible things being done to something more precious than the corporeal self. In this, I’ve always classed Evil Dead with other, better films that use that fear as their touchstone: The Exorcist, The Shining. Films that leave your stomach feeling gross (and not just from the peach schnapps lifted from that liquor cabinet. Lesson learned, teenage me!), but also wound you in the heart and chill your brain. Evil Dead did this. It wounded, and it did so despite a young Bruce Campbell’s bug-eyed debut as Ash.
That Ash, the boring nice-guy Ash of Evil Dead, was almost set dressing: it was his first outing, after all. Only in the later incarnations would Bruce Campbell’s iconic portrayal of the chainsaw-handed King (of All Splatter) take on the slapstick dimensions that it enjoys today. Back then, he was just the guy who (almost) survived Evil Dead. In Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, Ash came into his own, in a narrative that played the preceding film for laughs as much as it did for scares. By the time Army of Darkness rolled into theaters (oh! that poster!) the shades of the Three Stooges had taken over, and if there was horror, it was the campy tongue-in-cheek kind. Not that anyone was complaining by then.
All that being said, the character of Ash does not make an appearance in this new version, in any way, shape, or form. Sorry. Moving on…
So, now we have the remake of The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience. That’s the tag line, and it’s a bold claim. In thinking about the film, anticipating it, I’ve been casting my mind back quite a bit, trying to inhabit the 14 year old I once was. Was Evil Dead (circa 1981) truly frightening? Was it worth the “Video Nasty” rating? Thirty years of cult status and the leavening influence of its funnier successors, not to mention recent deconstructionist efforts like the brilliant Cabin In The Woods, have rendered it almost quaint. Not adorably quaint, not by a long shot, but we know this story, we are comfortable with it. It’s a favourite. We’ve been coming back to this cabin for years and we know when to cringe, when to laugh, when to quote-along with the lines.
But our memory of the original is coloured by everything that’s come after. Yes, Evil Dead: The Musical, looking in your direction. The Evil Dead we watch now seems funny, but is it? Was it, really? Can the new Evil Dead recapture the sense of insane violation and terror and yes, illicit thrills, that was there in the original? And can it do it without descending into standard-issue torture porn?
Can Evil Dead (circa 2013) make us fear for our souls? I’m serious, here. I mean that in the most non-ironic way. Can it make the viewer say “I don’t feel so good, like, spiritually…”? Can it make you feel bad? Black and squicky in your guts and in your heart?
I’m sorry to report that it can’t.
Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been coming to this cabin for so many years. That we’ve watched these teenagers act out this particular shadow-play from Hell over and over. Maybe I’m jaded now, my soul and sensibilities well callused from exposure. I’m willing to allow for that. I dunno.
But this Evil Dead lacks something. Not gore. Plenty of that, and very creative stuff it is, some truly gruesome visuals without a pixel of CGI that I could tell. So kudos to the FX folks for that nice call-back to the glory days of doing it with rubber and syrups and it’s-murder beams.
And it’s not horror that’s missing, either. It’s incredibly horrific. Foul. Even appalling. There were moments where the entire theatre recoiled from the screen, because some truly awful things go down. The performance of Jane Levy as Mia, the recovering junkie who becomes the prime host of the demonic force resident in the woods, is excellent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor manifest the extreme throes of fear better or more believably. Her co-stars, less so. It’s a cast of unknowns (again, like the original) but with the exception of Levy, their acting chops are not very developed. Granted, each character is battered into a kind of automatic, doped reaction to the storm of malevolence that’s targeted them, but still, some range beyond stupefaction and screaming would have been welcome. Levy’s Mia is the most lively of the bunch, and she spends most of the film dead. Or dead-ish.
The Lovecraftian elements of the original are missing, and though I’d like to say that this is what makes Evil Dead stop working for me, it’s not. The Necronomicon here is merely a standard-issue Satanic boilerplate edition. Classic human-leather binding. Decent woodcuts. Non-flammable, which was a nice touch. But other than that, no different from any number of black tomes from Beelzebub’s bookshelf. There was an apocalyptic sense, in the original, that what was released from the Book would spread beyond the closed environment of the cabin, that the events of that night were merely the beginning. Even with no knowledge of Lovecraft or his Mythos, viewers got that. It was just going to get worse and worse, and although lip service is given to this idea in this latest outing, it’s only that. The night ends, the sun rises, and the lone survivor staggers into the dawn, much like the original. Only recall what happened to Ash in the original before the screen went black and that chipper swing music kicked in. Yeah, that doesn’t happen here. It’s a basic Hollywood ending: a way out, an excuse to exit through the lobby. So, Lovecraft is missing, yes, but that’s not the main problem.
The film has no poignancy. No sorrow. There is some character background that deals with family and relationship issues (a mother dead from cancer, abandonment, drug addiction, strained friendships) that are reminiscent of the best kind of J-horror, but these are not given enough time to sink in to the narrative in any kind of enriching way before the madness kicks in. Which makes the references to these issues later in the film come off as bloodless and flat. In the original, for all its perhaps unavoidable campiness, there were tears, moments of quiet reflection, shocked despair. Regret. A very human sorrow, resonating at some deep level that made the horrors worse.
For all the demons shrieking about it and for all the human’s manic chattering about saving theirs from damnation, what’s really missing from Evil Dead is soul. It’s got no soul itself, nothing inside it to hold up a dark mirror to what’s inside you and make it, and you, afraid.
There’s a thing with creative types, a frustration and a disappointment that comes naturally when the thing that’s being created (book, movie, song, what-have-you) fails to become exactly what the creator saw in her mind, despite all best efforts. Sometimes this failure comes because the technology used to create is not quite ready, or the culture is unprepared for the work, or the creator himself is not up to the task due to, god, so many factors.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Sam Raimi’s intention with the original Evil Dead was to create a pure horror movie, something that crawled deep into the Stygian pits of fear in the dim recesses of the human mind and laid eggs there. It could be argued that he failed in that attempt. He did what he could with what he had and he did a damn fine job of it, even so. So fine a job that thirty years later, the Evil Dead franchise is as healthy as ever.
A failure though, still. I can imagine Raimi saying “OK. Good try. Let’s play it for comedy now”, a decision which would have a lasting effect on how we perceive his original attempt.
I wrote a good chunk of this review before seeing the film, and at this point, I wanted to be able to say that those eggs have finally hatched, that director Fede Alvarez had purified the original vision, that Evil Dead is a success, the kind of movie that the young Raimi saw in his head. The Most Terrifying Film Ever Experienced.
It’s not. But I take a little comfort in knowing those eggs are still down there, waiting. Maybe in another thirty years, they’ll hatch and some director will give us Evil Dead in a pure form.
(This is a guest post by Scott Jones, a writer and spoken-weird artist from Victoria, BC. He has two books out with Martian Migraine Press, Soft From All The Blood and R’lyeh Sutra. He’s been known to over-think a movie or two. You can follow him on the Twitter @PimpMyShoggoth)
I think it was better than most of what we`ve been seeing ! lightyears ahead of tripe like insidious or the Possession .or even worse , the last exorcism. that sounds like ” pretty good movie” to me ! sorry its beyond your limited comprehension ! the only thing you`ve stated that is right is that the texas chainsaw massacre , and last house on the left remakes were crap ! and sorry but we sadly no longer have actors of the late great vincent price , lon chaney , boris karloff ,or peter lorre quality !and will probably be losing another one of the greats soon (christopher lee) the industry has become stagnant , they fear trying anything new , and when they do it usually flops , because people seem to want the same old thing over , and over ! I would love to see something original , but how likely is that to happen ? was hoping that del toro would do lovecrafts , at the mountains of madness ! but the studio shot it down because it would be ” to violent ” ! really ? compared to what ? have they looked at any recent films ? we get remakes because of cowardice on the part of film company executives ! at least give the films we are getting a chance , some surprise you , they are`nt all crap , and the evil dead while not perfect is “pretty good !”
I liked the remake, but I didn’t love it.
exactly whjat I was getting at ! but some people are so hard core that they leave their brains behind when reading a review or answering it ! it`s a good film , it`s not perfect , but what is ?
Seriously? Every review I have heard until this one says it hit the mark! Maybe should have dropped the schnapps back at 14… I can’t wait to judge for my damned self next weekend when we go see it. Sam and Bruce put their two cents into this and definitely got back a dollar since this movie is only #1 at the box office this weekend. Take that GI Joe!
did`nt read very well did you ? said it`s a very good film ! but like most remakes , not quite up to par with the original ! would I watch it again ? hell yes I would ! go see it ! I recommend it to anyone who likes a good horror film !
When I read the synopsis of it, I never heard anywhere that it was going to be a remake, I heard something about it being reinvented, so I would watch it with a whole new mind set. I guess maybe the title “Evil Dead in the Water,” threw me off that this was a GOOD review. Must not have read it well- “lacking something” in my reading skills…
Alright. Re-read the review and I was left with the same feeling- “this movie is missing this, this movie is lacking that. Nowhere did I read “very good film” in the review. Also, Joseph, what are “most remakes”? I thought Rob Zombie did a great remake of Halloween. I also thought Nightmare on Elm Street was pretty great. I think we have to go back to what the original “splatter” flicks were missing- Psychological terror and in-depth back story. To have emotion linked to the antagonists is what we as horror buffs look for now a days. Oh, my original comment, the one you commented on saying, “did’nt read very well did you”, (poor grammar) was about the review I read, I wasn’t commenting on what you wrote anywhere above, unless you are also Scott Jones. Anyways, I intend to watch this movie this weekend right after watching the original. Cheers…
Oh, and the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Oh yeah! Thumbs UP! Let’s see some other excellent remakes- Last House on the Left, Ammityville Horror, House on Haunted Hill, sure, some can’t touch the originals (Vincent Price in the original House on Haunted Hill- CREEPY) but the new psychological way of reaching out to the audience is PRICEless, lol. Anyways, off to watch Bates Motel and Hannible.
Well, I actually haven’t wanted to see this. I’m with Scott on the original. It’s the only horror movie I’ve ever seen that has scared me so badly I will never watch it again and won’t even let the DVD in my house (The Exorcist and The Shining I have to respectfully disagree on. The Exorcist is one of the most boring things I’ve ever been subjected to and if we want to talk about a movie not having a soul, The Shining is textbook). I don’t know how, but the makers managed to touch on every irrational fear I’ve ever had in my entire life. So when I heard they were remaking it, my soul just curled up inside me. It sounds like, from the reviews, this one might not be as scary, but I’ll still have to get my courage up to see it. Maybe.
scary ? yeah you could call it that , but I found it to be more disturbing than scary ! and I have to tell you I saw it in a way most have`nt ! alone in a small cabin in the woods , late at night during a thunder storm ! takes a lot to scare me , and most horror films just dont cut it , and neither did the evil dead ! I prefer real creepiness to gore and violence ! both the original and the new film are very good for the type film they are , but in different ways ! the original film tends to get under your skin , while the new one is just gorey to the point where you would`nt be surprised if a few drops of blood splashed you while watching it ! on a scale of 1 to 10 , 10 being the best , I`d give it an 8 1/2 easily ! but if you want something that will play with your mind , watch sinister !
Ya man Sinister was pretty good and original
I think it was better than most of what we`ve been seeing ! lightyears ahead of tripe like insidious or the Possession .or even worse , the last exorcism ! horror films have degenerated the last several years , you can watch only so many slasher flicks before you are burnt out on them ! and the supernatural stuff can be good like , evil dead, sinister, mama, or crap like insidious or the blair witch project ! and I think the “reality ” type stuff like paranormal activity ,( which really was`nt all that bad ) has pretty much played itself out ! watch sinister for yourself and see what you think ! I`ve seen thousands of horror films since 1964 , and to be honest the creepiest in my opinion are better than the bloodiest , but it is nice to have a good mix in a film ! the two films I had the hardest time watching were , visions of suffering , ( think bad acid trip with a dollop of the supernatural ) and antichrist ! which is one of the most disturbing films I`ve ever seen ! a good one word description of the second film would be , depraved !
thought it was rather good ! had the gore , a decent story line , pretty decent acting and several nods to the original film if you paid attention ! what it lacked was that feeling of creepiness ! the best way to put it is , the original film was ” disturbing ” and this one was`nt ! at least not to the same degree ! as for ash being completely missing from the film , watch it through the end credits , and then for just a few seconds more ! lol
Well, coming from someone who holds the original very near and dear to my heart, I loved this reimaging. To complain about not enough lovecraft in this is kinda weak to begin with. I mean, I dont think the original even called it the necronomicon. But yeah, to have made the book more of lovecraft’s I would not complain but I can deal with the standard issue from lucifer. Lol
Either way, the flick was fun. I cheered and clapped and squirmed in my seat. I could not have asked for more. My only complaint is like you said, the acting chops were a tad weak. When you first meet the main five, I kind of got a twilighty vibe off of their interactions towards one another. So yeah, that plus going into it knowing there is no Ash type character… I was a skeptic. And it was on a short leash. But once the “evil” arrived. Buckle up! Cause it was a fun ride.
Plus, these guys REALLY did their homework. This flick was literally FILLED with little easter eggs of references to the original some being very small. But that’s what I thought made this one fun.
The original will always hold a special place in me loins. But let’s all agree here. This was WAY BETTER than ANY Leatherface, Freddy,Jason or even Michael Myers remakes we’ve had to endure the past decade or so.
Here is to hoping more and more movies go back to oldschool fx and ease up on the Digital crap. Also, Fake Shemps need work too ya know! 🙂
PS- I watched this in a private pre screening, there was a couple beside me get up and leave within the first 20 mins. And then last night here in my hometown, a man passed out watching it. They had to stop the flick as paramedics came in…. Hella fun movie!
What would be really interesting, is to find someone who has never seen any of the original Evil Dead movies (long shot i know) and have them watch the new one first. Then have them compare to the original. I feel that to almost any fan of the originals, this is going to be a let down in any sense. We all have to much invested in the original Evil Dead and no matter how much they try to stay true we are not going to fully enjoy it compared to the first. Also with no Ash, our fantasy of the remake is already dashed a little. Which leads to my curiosity for an opinion of someone who has never experienced the original.
What I’ve noticed about most of the bad reviews for this movie is that everyone seems to have some lost Romanticism for their youth. I remember when the movie came out and it wasn’t even the least bit scary. I remember the claymation effects, loved the cinematography, but i wasn’t scared. Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness weren’t scary but at least they were entertaining, and none of the previous movies had any character development except for the main character so I don’t know what people are complaining about. THIS is the Evil Dead for christsakes and I think they made the movie that Sam, Robert, and Bruce always wanted to make. Each character got an awesome possession and attack moment in the film which were much better than the originals. The whole theater had a great time watching this movie, Hell I took my daughter to it and we had a blast .
Yeah, I’m sorry but Evil Dead was great. Its a film made from love, not by fans but by the original creators. It had a great mix of genuine terror and subtle humor. I thought it complimented the intentions of the original film very well. Most people complaining about it are nitpicking at the littlest details, failing to understand that this film wasn’t going to be a totally serious remake. For eff sake, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were producers of the film. To say this film didn’t do it right is like saying Lovecraft didn’t do Cthulhu right. This film embodied the purist form of the original intentions without being overly serious.
Its sad to see so many people dislike the film. Oh well, gotta love misdirected expectations.
I agree wholeheartedly with everything that Stuart Bradley Newsom said.