Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Jane Levy
Watch the Evil Dead remake online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
The story of how Sam Raimi’s demonic ‘video nasty’ The Evil Dead (1981) came to pass is almost as entertaining as the film itself. From the production’s cheap ‘n’ cheerful DIY aesthetic (some of the most memorable shots were achieved by Raimi and Bruce Campbell running around the woods with a camera attached to a piece of lumber) to the hellish nature of the low-budget shoot (Raimi allegedly liked to ‘torture’ his actors by making conditions on-set as arduous as possible) it’s a goldmine of nerdy trivia.
One of the most endearing pieces of Dead mythology is how the film ended up largely funded by dentists. What a shame, then, that Fede Alvarez’s 2013 reboot – produced with the co-operation of Raimi and Campbell – feels entirely toothless and lacking in bite. It has no mythology. No history. No reason to be. If Raimi’s film felt sinister, scuzzy, and strangely insidious, this blandly entertaining update comes across as an oddly corporate piece of work, like the documented minutes of a business meeting about The Evil Dead rather than an outstanding horror film in its own right. Note how the definite article has been ditched from the title. Before, it was ‘The Evil Dead, a very specific threat. Now it’s just ‘Evil Dead’, a kind of generic, all-encompassing terror that can be packaged up and transferred around at will.
The story components, however, remain largely intact, the sparse, effective narrative proving as lean and mean as ever. You know the drill: five close friends get into a whole lot of spooky trouble when they stumble across the Natorum Demonto, a Sumerian take on the Book of the Dead, and inadvertently summon the spirit of an ancient hellion with a thirst for bloody vengeance. Ferociously gory fun ensues as, one-by-one, each of the group is duly possessed then dispatched in a series of increasingly unpleasant and visceral set pieces.
At the beginning of the film, in a neat nod to its franchise forefathers, there’s an intrinsically unsettling scene in which one of the key players gets raped by a supernatural tree. It’s a grubby, disquietening sequence, one of the most chilling but least gory moments in the film, and therefore something of a misnomer. From that point on, Evil Dead seems less interested in creating something genuinely distressing than it does in taking its audience on a gruesome ghost train of blood, piss and vomit. Along the way, there are nods to the original series (as well as the first film, there are some specific call-backs to 2 and 3 as well) and even a bit of roaming, Raimi-esque camera work clearly designed to appease fans.
And yet it’s never really scary. Technically audacious, sure – the film is, to a certain extent, reassuringly archaic in its approach to this particular brand of old-school, blood-soaked thrills, and the special effects are largely practical, eschewing CG wherever possible. Alvarez shot the film over an epic 70 days, so attention to detail is immaculate and production values are all top of the scale.
Sadly, assault by tree aside, there’s never any real sense of threat. The peek-a-boo, jump-in-your-seat moments don’t quite work in the way they’re intended and lack of surprise is a general problem throughout – everything looks great, but the editing never feels as sharp or jarring as in Raimi’s film. Furthermore, the characters are so thinly-drawn as to be non-existent; how can you root for someone you care so little about?
As a relentless, crimson-stained shocker, the new Evil Dead delivers. It’s certainly light years ahead of the bowel-achingly dire Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street reboots. But it doesn’t stick to the skin in quite the same way as Raimi’s mercilessly definitive spine-chiller. Not so much groovy, just a little funky.
Evil Dead is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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