The original Evil Dead series means a lot of different things to many different people. At their worst, the original Evil Dead films (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness) are cheesy, low budget guilty pleasures that you don’t openly admit to liking or even being familiar with. At their best, they represent groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting, brilliantly original, near-perfect, genre-bending works of cinematic art.
Most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle.
Here’s where it gets complicated: I have a love/hate relationship with horror movie remakes. The best way to sum it up for me is that they are, at best, wholly pointless and wholly entertaining. They are never as good as the original, but, in special cases, can show that they have something new to bring to the table.
Then I saw Evil Dead.
This new incarnation of the Evil Dead, in a word, is amazing. As a matter of fact, forget that we’re even talking about horror remakes for a minute. As a horror movie that stands on its own two feet, it is nearly perfect. As a remake or re-imagining of the original film/series, it is absolutely brilliant.
If you don’t already know, this film very closely follows the premise of the original Evil Dead film. Bunch of friends, cabin, book of the dead, possession, murder, mayhem, blood, and a couple of laughs along the way. When I say “very closely,” I really mean “almost exactly”. The only thing that is really changed other than the characters themselves is the reason for them being at the cabin, a reason which goes perfectly with the eventual demonic possession they will all face. A reason that also offers filmmakers and writers a way to screw with the minds and emotions of the audience, too. One welcome addition is an alternate presentation of the backstory we all know and love, which grabs the audience by the balls (metaphorically speaking) from the opening frames of the film.
Fede Alvarez has directed (and co-wrote) one of the best horror movies of the last 20 years, remake or otherwise. Everything from tension-building to out-of-the-box angles and even the color palate is engaging and appropriate. Everything about this film oozed atmospheric creepiness in the very best of ways. He wore several hats as a director, making a film that is simultaneously an exercise in beautiful, crimson gore, as well as an all-out psychological assault on the audience. Truly, Evil Dead is as good for its cheap “theater scares” as it is for its ability to keep you up at night long after the movie is over. It is an astounding success on just about every level a horror movie can strive to succeed at.
Jane Levy steals the show as Mia. While every other performance is decent, they pale in comparison to Levy’s, which is so good it’s almost unfair to everyone else involved. Without giving too much away, there is a lot of pressure on the character of Mia, and not in terms of the plot, but in the larger context of the film. She has to “work” in several different ways. She must be initially worthy of our sympathy, betray our trust with her horrific possession, and, when all is said and done, be the new Ash. Jane Levy gets an A+.
One of the shining achievements of this movie is its use of practical effects. It just wouldn’t be an Evil Dead movie without an ocean of blood and gore, and bet your ass that this is a genuine Evil Dead movie, not some cheap imitation or cash-grabbing remake. This movie is out to paint theaters red. Don’t misunderstand me — there’s plenty of computer-generated effects to be had, but it’s almost always in a supporting role to make things look a little more sexy. Or horrific. To each their own.
I do have one gripe with the movie though, and that comes by way of the writing. I know, it would seem as though that’s a pretty big “but” to try to slip into an otherwise awe-stricken review, BUT, the writing isn’t great. The dialogue is, more often than not, unimpressive. Not cheesy, just uninspired. While the Evil Dead series, especially the original film, isn’t exactly known for award-winning dialogue, this version of Evil Dead falls particularly flat in the first act. It’s almost as though the dialogue was purposely lackluster to channel the campy charm of the originals. If you’re wondering, Diablo Cody co-wrote with director Fede Alvarez.
Back to the lovable. There are plenty of easter eggs in this movie for fans of the original series. As a matter of fact, I have my own theory on how old will meet new in an eventual crossover film, but I’ll save that rant for a future podcast episode. Just be on the lookout if you’ve seen the originals. There are some very cool things going on that will make you wonder if this movie takes place in its own universe, or, for the tinfoil hat crowd, if it actually falls within the continuity of the originals.
And please stay through the credits. All of them. Just saying.
All in all, Evil Dead is an outstanding horror experience. It stands on its own while paying loving tribute to (and debatably taking place within the continuity of) the originals in a way that is extremely rewarding for fans. This film really delivers the goods: gore galore, genuine scares, brutal violence, and ballsy cinematic risks. All of that and about a million gallons of blood.
One of the best horror movies of the last 20 years, Evil Dead will please long-time Deadites and new blood alike, but falls just short of being perfect. I am very, very excited to see where the sequel takes us in terms of this series’ re-imagined, revamped identity.