Horror movie reboots get a bad name, and it’s usually justified. There’s no earthly reason why remakes of I Spit on Your Grave, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Last House on the Left should exist but there has been the occasional exception. The first remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, was pretty decent (I don’t mean the 3D one) but even so, it wasn’t as good as the original.
So I went into Evil Dead (not The Evil Dead) excited but expecting the worst and knowing that the best I could hope for probably wasn’t going to be as good as the original Raimi classic from 1981.
Mia is going cold turkey from a heroin habit so she, her brother David, her brother’s girlfriend Natalie and two random friends Eric and Olivia, all retreat to a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere to help her overcome her demons. It’s a neat little device as, when everything goes south, and it goes very south very quickly, her buddies put it down to her craving for drugs and ignore her pleas to leave.
In amongst this set-up, we’re introduced to a number of random items that common sense dictates will be feature heavily later on. There’s a nail gun. A machete. A chainsaw (yay!). An electric meat carver. Soon the smell in the cabin is sourced to a bunch of dead cats hanging in the basement and the pals discover a book of witchcraft, bound in human skin and wrapped in barbed wire, which they obviously want to read. Who wouldn’t?
“Don’t say the name aloud!” some scrawlings in the book declare. And, of course, the first thing Eric does is say the name aloud. For this act of utter stupidity, Eric spends most of the rest of the movie pulling sharp and spiky things out of his body. Serves him right.
Look. It’s not bad. It’s not bad at all. But it’s far from the film the quotes on the poster would lead you to believe. Yes, it’s gory. It’s exceptionally gory. And yes, there are a few wince-inducing moments, moments where my toes searched about in my shoes for something to cling on to. But it’s not scary. I didn’t jump once. I jumped loads of times at the original. I remember wishing it would be daytime in the original so the horror would be over. There was something more claustrophobic about the original, something more panic inducing, which is why, despite the poor production and shoestring budget, the original worked. These hearts are both missing from this new vision. But it wants to be good. It wants to be the most terrifying experience of your life. And I kinda respect it for that.
The cast of unknowns put in good shifts, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as the hapless Eric and while the movie doesn’t have the same humour as Evil Dead 2, the brief moments where comedy does threaten to break through are handled exceptionally well, with pathos. For the whole 91 minute running time, director Fede Alvarez does his best to make us queasy with spinning and swooping landscape shots through to wobbly end credits and again, despite all the viscera flying around, it’s nice to look at. Seemingly, Diablo Cody had her hand in redrafting Alvarez’s script but apart from a dog named Grandpa, there’s little evidence of her work here. This isn’t Jennifer’s Body. Any sassy dialogue was presumably cut, thrown out in the woods, and left to fend for itself.
Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to but the over the top denouement, which comes on the back of a oddly flat ten minute period where the pace and supposed unrelenting terror nip out for a quick cappuccino, is a reasonable last image to take back to the foyer. I’m back home, not scared to look in the basement. Maybe that’s a good thing.