The boilerplate justification for remaking a beloved film is that someone wanted to “introduce it to a new generation,” or “bring it into the modern world,” or something along those lines. Most remakes succeed only in introducing money into the filmmakers’ pockets (if that), and quite a few come across as pale, unworthy imitations. “Evil Dead” is the rare example of a remake that works, both as a respectable reiteration of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic (which had a “The” in the title) and as a stand-alone gore-fest.
It’s also, not incidentally, among the bloodiest movies I’ve ever seen, and the writer/director — Fede Alvarez, making his feature debut, with Raimi on board as a producer — says none of it is CGI. Nothing but good old-fashioned red-colored corn syrup (or whatever they use) for this crew — torrents of it, gushing and spurting from this wound or that at regular intervals.
The basic scenario from the original is intact. Five young people, two male and three female, visit a dilapidated cabin in the woods, fully equipped with an unsavory basement, where they discover a sinister book and inadvertently summon evil forces that turn one of them into a raging fiend. The key difference this time is that there’s a serious reason for the excursion: one of the girls, Mia (Jane Levy), is trying to kick a nasty drug habit by going cold turkey. Her absentee brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), has come to help, joined by his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and two of his and Mia’s friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas).
Alvarez doesn’t do much with the addiction-as-metaphor-for-demonic-possession angle, but it doesn’t distract, either. The focus, of course, is on ratcheting up the tension as horrific things begin to happen, and then gripping us by the throat and not letting go once all hell breaks loose. In these areas Alvarez performs gruesomely well, some wheel-spinning in the third act notwithstanding. The tone is intense, occasionally darkly funny (though not as much as in the original), and there’s a gleeful malevolence to the violence that gives it the “dare you to look” vibe of a particularly intense Halloween haunted house. Painful, awful things happen to people’s limbs and parts — there’s as much “body horror” here as any other kind of horror — but it doesn’t feel mean or torturous like, say, the “Saw” movies.
It lacks a strong central character, or even a memorable supporting one. Aside from Mia’s addiction and misery (which Levy performs with gusto), the only notable character-related detail is that Olivia is a nurse. This “Evil Dead” isn’t as flavorful as the old one, and it doesn’t try as many different things. But on the promises it does make, it delivers.
B (1 hr., 31 min.; )