Better than the dismal Texas Chain Saw 3D but not as brutal and affecting as Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is the third remake of an influential American horror film from the 70s and 80s to be released so far this year. Produced by the star and the director of the 1981 original, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, the remake is an undemandingly fun and instantly forgettable update that provides the required amounts of blood, gore and demonic possession, although no real scares or re-invention.
This time, the five who fall victim to the demonic forces unleashed by the reading of the flesh-bound book of the dead are a group of friends who have come to the iconic cabin in the woods to help drug-addicted Mia as she goes cold turkey. There is marginally more characterisation than in the original Evil Dead, with the difficult family history of Mia and her brother, and a parallel between drug addiction and demonic possession. Thankfully, this is not pushed too much, but just enough information is given for the film to play nicely with audiences’ expectations as to which of the characters may survive.
Some of the gruesome highlights of Fede Alvarez’s remake include possessed characters cutting off their own tongue or limbs, a nail gun attack, a crawlspace scene and a chainsaw showdown in blood rain set to an oppressive choral score – the sound design as a whole is one of the film’s strengths. The problem is that so much is lifted from other films (not just the original Evil Dead, but also most obviously Evil Dead II and The Raid, while The Exorcist is clearly an influence) that nothing feels very fresh or surprising. Alvarez respectfully and competently provides the expected motifs – the demonic POV, the tree rape, the gift of a ring, the cutting-off of the only access road, etc. – with a few minor variations, but without any new twist or angle.
For a truly madcap reinvention of the original Evil Dead formula, it’s better to revisit Evil Dead II, released on Blu-ray this month. While Sam Raimi’s uninhibited low-budget debut established some of the horror tropes that are now taken for granted, its 1987 follow-up was a surreally comic, exuberant, irreverent take on the story, influenced by the comic sensibility of Raimi’s friend and co-writer Scott Spiegel. Bruce Campbell is a hilariously hyperactive Ash, who inadvertently summons the demonic forces from the book of the dead while on a romantic weekend with his girlfriend in the fateful cabin. As he is driven insane by various supernatural occurrences, the previous occupants’ daughter and her companions turn up and come under attack from the demon.
The film is a succession of brilliantly offbeat set pieces, including the wonderful dancing corpse; the diabolically laughing house; the flying eyeball that lands in someone’s mouth; the terrific sequence, inspired by Spiegel’s short film Attack of the Helping Hand, that plays like a macabre early Disney cartoon, in which Ash cuts off his murderous possessed hand – said hand scuttles off, squeaking like a mouse, through holes in the wall and is caught in a mousetrap before flicking Ash the finger and disappearing; and of course, the insane ending set during the Crusades.
This non-exhaustive list is probably enough to convincingly demonstrate the different natures of this month’s two Evil Dead resurrections. For efficient Saturday night popcorn horror, see Fede Alvarez’s remake. For riotously fun, maniacally imaginative comic horror, get the Evil Dead II Blu-ray.
Watch the trailer: