Evil Dead (2013)
7/10 Hardcore Rehabs
Stumbles a bit, but gets it right where it matters.
Evil Dead is about a group of friends who go spend the weekend at their old cabin in the woods to help one of their own kick her dope habit. Unbeknownst to them, the aging shanty was recently the site of a demonic purging because some freaking idiot went and read from the Necronomicon. So they settle in for the evening, get to snooping around and eventually make their way to the basement. Lo and behold, they find dozens of dead cats hanging from the ceiling and a flesh-bound book wrapped in barbed wire – you know, the usual stuff. Rather than hightail it out of there, they decide to stay the course and help their friend get clean. But because some people just can’t take a hint (even when it’s sprawled in blood), one of them gets to reading the Necronomicon like a freaking idiot. Next thing you know, our junkie-on-the-mend gets possessed by a good old-fashioned soul-eater and starts gunning for all her buddies. Good times.
Before we go any further, it probably bears mentioning that Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead – that’s the movie this movie is based on, boys and girls – is as near-perfect as it gets when it comes to horror. Can’t speak for everyone on the matter, but in my humble opinion, it’s one of the best times you’ll ever have with the genre, and it’s still as horrifying, relentless and ridiculously fun as it was 32 years ago. There’s good reason why it’s the blueprint for every cabin-in-the-woods movie that’s followed in its wake (The Cabin in the Woods included), because few, if any, movies have ever managed to do what The Evil Dead does without crossing over into the realm of torture porn endurance tests.
If you haven’t seen it, I don’t know what tell you other than to drop what you’re doing and hit up Netflix Instant. After all, rumor has it that it’s the only movie that ever truly freaked out the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and if that isn’t the pitch of a lifetime, I don’t know what is.
So even with Raimi on as a producer, it goes without saying that this sick puppy had a tall order to fill. We’ll get to the bad news in a little bit, but the good news is that a lot of the things that make the re-up work are a lot of the things that made the original work.
As that charming tagline on the poster will tell you, Evil Dead is not effing around. Yeah, there are a few jump-out-of-your-seat moments peppered throughout, but that’s not what makes it so terrifying, not in the slightest. See, what’s so damn great about The Evil Dead is that when thing start going wrong, they go really, really wrong. For chrissakes, if the first thing your demon does after getting loose is get to committing tree rape of all things, rest assured that everyone watching’s gonna get the memo. Because when tree rape is your precedent, the only thing that’ll be on anyone’s mind is what in the hell they’ve gotten themselves into and what in God’s name could possibly come next?
Just as The Evil Dead kept making good on its title in that regard, the remake handily delivers. First-time director Fede Alvarez not only does a great job of upping the ante while paying tribute to the original, but he plays to the original’s strengths. He follows the blueprint, gives the bloodthirsty fans exactly what they want, and even manages to channel Raimi’s flair with a camera. The dude’s done his homework, the dude is one of us, and for that first hour or so, the end result was nothing short of groovy.
Oh yes, everything was going great for that first hour. It was gnarly as hell, the laughs were there, and the theater had turned into a gosh darn hootenanny. If only every horror movie was as fun as that first hour was, and if only it could have kept that gravy train a-rollin’…
Unfortunately, this is where the legacy of The Cabin in the Woods comes in.
The biggest reason I was so hesitant upon going into this movie was because of the much-needed service that Joss Whedon and Co. paid to the horror genre last year. Thanks to The Cabin in the Woods, the formula that The Evil Dead created and Evil Dead operates on was finally put down after decades of abuse. It was a moment I had long been waiting for and it single-handedly paved the way for a future devoid of stupid teenagers who, despite all Earthly logic, kept swimming right into their goddamn barrels. Since then, I honestly never thought anyone would dare return to that formula, but for better or worse, here we are. So let’s get down to brass tacks.
For the most part, these characters aren’t even all that stupid, some could even pass as smart in certain horror circles. This is good, this is progress, and as a result, they can hardly be blamed for the fates that befall their filthy souls. However, there are exceptions to every rule, because one complete jagoff is all it takes to ruin the fun. The jagoff in question here is the estranged brother of our junkie-turned-Kandarian demon, and while his behavior is forgivable when everyone thinks his little sis is just going through withdrawal, even the most forgiving of moviegoers have their breaking points. For someone who refuses to face the facts or take any real meaningful action for as long as he does, the length of his survival is both dumbfounding and infuriating. The silver lining is that his friends eventually start treating him like the jagoff he is, but even that just makes his jagoff-ness seem that much more out of place.
Adding insult to injury, just when it seems like he’s finally getting his shit together, the writers up and decide that it’s time to start jumping sharks. Apologies for the obscure reference from a garbage movie, but does anyone out there remember that scene in Hollow Man where Elizabeth Shue miraculously escapes from a walk-in freezer by somehow turning a defibrillator into the world’s strongest electromagnet? It was twice as ridiculous as it sounds, and it’s exactly the kind of horseshit plan that our jagoff uses to fight back. Won’t spoil it for you, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it.
Serenity now, man.
It wasn’t enough to make me forget about all the good times, it’s just that there were way too many instances in that last half-hour where I and everyone around me were collectively yelling at the screen over how things were playing out. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if The Evil Dead had had characters and moments like these, but even at its most ridiculous, it never descended into sheer idiocy.
And what’s with making the same homages multiple times? We get it, Ash had one hand, one tribute is enough. There are also some really tense scenes here that just end rather abruptly and are never addressed again, which is just no bueno. I mean, even when they were chopped up to bits, those homeys in The Evil Dead were still kicking right on through to the end. On that note, kind of a weak ending, too. Really can’t remember the last time a horror movie ended on such a relative high note.
Anyhow, I’m getting ahead of myself, time to tone this sucker down.
Despite all these gripes, the fact of the matter is that a 7 is no Verdict to scoff at and there’s a good deal worth commending Evil Dead for. I dug its efforts to flesh out the characters for a change (Jane Levy’s in particular) and I appreciate that there’s was actually some kind of reasoning behind each new person who got possessed rather than going with the “just because” formula of the original’s. I wouldn’t call it a necessary remake per so, but it’s by no means a cash cow or a carbon copy, and that’s a whole lot more than I can say for most movies of its kind.
As much as I wish someone had stepped in and given that final Act another rewrite for good measure, the Evil Dead‘s heart is still in the right place and it’s one hell of a fun time to boot. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m taking away from it and that was all I was really hoping for anyway. After all, why shouldn’t horror movies be fun?