Film Review: 'Evil Dead' Demons Return

Much more gore than in 1981 classic

Sony-TriStar Pictures
Demons possess a group of friends taking a trip to the haunted woods in “Evil Dead,” a remake of the no-budget 1981 shocker by Sam Raimi, who returns to write and direct.

Sony-TriStar Pictures Demons possess a group of friends taking a trip to the haunted woods in “Evil Dead,” a remake of the no-budget 1981 shocker by Sam Raimi, who returns to write and direct.

In the much anticipated remake of the 1981 cult-hit horror film, five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin. When they discover a ...

Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language

Length: 91 minutes

Released: April 5, 2013 Nationwide

Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, Elizabeth Blackmore

Director: Fede Alvarez

Writer: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

More info and showtimes »

Movie Review

‘Evil Dead’

Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, profanity and some sexual content.

2 1/2 Stars

Photo with no caption

Photo by Kirsty Griffin

A collapsed bridge stymied the escape plans of the college students trapped in the haunted forest in the original version of “The Evil Dead.”

This time, rushing floodwaters thwart the young folks’ getaway. That’s appropriate, because if Sam Raimi’s 1981 no-budget shocker washed moviegoers in a gusher of blood, the elaborate remake drenches the audience in gore — so much so that the climactic sequence literally takes place during a torrential plasmatic downpour. Will the audience reject the red, or tilt back its head and drink it in to the point of drowning, like the proverbial turkey?

Produced by the original film’s team of Raimi (writer-director), Rob Tapert (producer) and Bruce Campbell (star), the new “Evil Dead” drops the word “The” from the title but otherwise adds more than it eliminates, especially in terms of budget and back story.

The first “Evil Dead” was shot in the backwoods of East Tennessee. Barley more than a student project, it was made with enthusiasm and ingenuity as well as many gallons of Karo syrup-based blood formula; an endorsement from Stephen King helped it become perhaps the most in-demand horror movie of the VHS revolution of the 1980s. The movie spawned two sequels, and Raimi, of course, went on to direct the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” trilogy and the current “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

The new movie’s writer-director, Uruguay’s Fede Alvarez, was discovered the modern way, via social media: His 2009 giant-robot short “Panic Attack!” was a hit on YouTube. Alvarez brings energy to the remake, as well as a gruesome prologue that (unnecessarily) explains the isolated cabin’s demonic presence. Most of the movie was shot in New Zealand, in part to take advantage of the country’s expert effects technicians; to the remake’s credits, its gruesome gore sequences were created on set, with prosthetics and other makeup tricks, rather than through CGI. (The redo of the infamous tree-assault is a disturbing highlight.)

As is the rule for modern horror movies, the violence and language are uglier than before, but the people are a lot prettier. This time, the “Book of the Dead” — the ancient text used to resurrect the evil spirits — contains scrawled profanities atop its runic symbols, but the young people who unwisely open the book look like models, especially the ostensible hero, David (a dull Shiloh Fernandez, replacing the famous “Ash” character of the original).

The true hero here, however, is not a man but a young woman, David’s sister Mia (Jane Levy). A junkie who has suffered at least one overdose (presumably making her an easy conduit for beyond-the-grave influence), Mia has been brought by her friends to an isolated cabin in the woods for a tough-love cold-turkey cure. Thus, Mia’s increasingly odd and destructive behavior is interpreted initially as extreme withdrawal symptoms; eventually, of course, even the beautiful nurse (Jessica Lucas) and David’s girlfriend (Elizabeth Blackmore) will agree with bookish Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) that literal demons and not Mia’s drug demons are to blame for the story’s riot of broken-mirror self-mutilation and electric carving-knife dismemberment.

“Why does my face hurt?” a possessed girl asks at one point. Um, because you just shot it full of nails with a nail gun?

The new “Evil Dead” is promoting itself as “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience,” a boast that takes some chutzpah, coming only two weeks after “InAPPropriate Comedy.” The evidence to support the claim includes a scene in which a demon girl bifurcates her tongue by licking the blade of an X-ACTO knife. Such extreme body modification might be taken in stride by some of the genre’s more dedicated fans, like the guy sitting in front of me at the Memphis preview whose pierced earlobes had been stretched to about 5 inches in diameter.

The first “The Evil Dead” was scary, but also a Looney Tunes slapstick splatterfest. The remake, for the most part, is too gruesome to be funny, although one’s natural response is to laugh when a demon girl hoarsely boasts: “I can smell your filthy soul!” Similarly, it’s hard to know whether to chuckle or be impressed when Eric moans: “I just don’t want to become the devil’s bitch.” (Eric is the intellectual of the group: He wears glasses.)

Alvarez obviously is a talented filmmaker, but he concocts nothing more creative than the demonic rushing-through-the-woods point-of-view shots that he borrows from the 1981 movie. More derivative than evil, this latest “Dead” outing may please fans seeking an over-the-top thrill ride, but Raimi, Tapert and Campbell can pocket their share of the profits with the confidence that the superiority of their original film remains unchallenged.

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