johnlink ranks EVIL DEAD (2013)

Another day, another horror movie remake. The original EVIL DEAD is one of those campy classics which wouldn’t be such a huge deal to remake if it weren’t so beloved. Sam Raimi’s film was made cheaply, creatively, and without the advantage of major studio effects. All of which makes it the more endearing, even if it isn’t a movie which holds up as a particularly scary film. The EVIL DEAD remake sought to renew the fear while maintaining respect for its predecessor. How did it do?


I watched EVIL DEAD (2013) on 12.7.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

The above image is our introduction to our new heroine Mia (Jane Levy). She sits, literally, atop one of the symbols of our old hero Ash. His Oldsmobile Delta is a relic. It is a thing of the past. Quite to the point, it no longer works. Instead we have this new person, this young woman in a Michigan State shirt (also like the original) ready to bring the EVIL DEAD franchise into the present.

Writers Fede Alvarez (who also directed) and Rodo Sayagues carefully crafted this film. They worked tirelessly to create levels of symbolism and believability (well, believability to a point). Mia is a drug addict. In her past, she had doped to the point of death, only to be brought back by defibrillator. When the demon comes for her, the reaction to her body is the same (only heightened). It takes her three victims and her brother a long time to believe her visions and her madness because they have all seen it before. This works to great effect because we’ve been set up for the fact that Mia has done crazy stuff in the past to get out an intervention. The symbol of drug addiction as demon, then, is a major through line of the film. The demon even needs to be eradicated the same way the drugs once were, a general statement meant to avoid spoiling anything.

Though spoiling this movie is, apparently, not a worry of the studio. Critics grumbled about much of the film’s power being muffled by the trailer’s need to show us too much. Rather than once again perch high above and preach the message of avoiding trailers at all costs, instead just know that this is a film much better enjoyed if you don’t have major beats revealed by watching the preview.

The fear, here, works wonderfully. The violence is brutal, the blood plentiful, the torture is often self-torture as a means of survival. As much damage as the possessed do to the living, the stuff which gets a major part of the focus is those we pull for having to do terrible things to themselves. No character is free from this. All five perform some sort of masochistic brutality, whether it is pulling a needle out of your own eye, cutting off a limb, or butchering yourself. Usually this is done before possession, in one case it is done after; as if the demon is inside from the start.

This EVIL DEAD is relentless. It’s jump scares seem more powerful, its demons more villainous. Even the cold opening, containing characters we never see again, sets the tone for what is about to happen. It can get so bad, according to the opening, that family will kill family out of pity and love. It is that sort of movie.

But this is an EVIL DEAD movie, so it wants to have light moments as well. In an odd tonal choice, this comedy does not come out of a character the way it does through Ash in the original. Instead, the interruptions to the brutality come, almost always, as direct homages to the original film. The script carefully sets up moments to put itself in position to mirror the 1981 film, resulting in shots like this:

untitledIt’s sometimes unsettling the way the movie feels the need to drop in shot-for-shot bits form the original film. In moments where the movie is playing for extreme, torturous realism, these shots often have the effect of reminding you that it is all a movie. It is all, in fact, a movie which is referencing a previous movie which wasn’t this scary but was much more lighthearted. The tone of the shot referenced at the top of this article seemed to get it right: The homage there seems to plant the past films in the past and announce a moving forward. As this movie goes on, though, it seems unable to let the past go. Thus the chainsaw makes a cameo in a way which is effective on the page and in a cute way, but which pulls the viewer away from the fact that Mia is in great danger. For a movie which worked so hard to keep us guessing as to who would go and in what order, it seems too easy a choice.

In many ways, this EVIL DEAD is one of the great 21st century horror films. But, for this reviewer, it doesn’t quite get there exactly because it is a remake which insists on reminding us it is a remake. I walk away from this film impressed, eager for more, and having been entertained (even as I pressed my self deeper into in the back of the couch to try and distance myself from the horror). It’s a really solid horror film, just one that is not quite perfect.



The negative bonus point indicates the failure of the homage. For the next in the series, I hope they allow the movie to stand on its own merits. This one could have, but it chose not to.



~ by johnlink00 on December 8, 2013.

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