We’ve seen enough horror remakes over the last decade to know which ones work and which don’t. The ones that are successful are less interested in duplicating the plot of the original, and more invested in recreating the energy. Nobody can ever duplicate the energy of the original The Evil Dead: It was two childhood friends — Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell — and their family and friends, hump-slogging through a miserable shoot in a remote cabin with a meager $100,000 budget and the kind of inventiveness and originality that comes from the hopefulness and desperation of youth and ambition (the editing process of The Evil Dead, which Joel and Ethan Coen assisted on, famously inspired their first film, Blood Simple). But eager Fede Alvarez, making his feature directorial debut with Evil Dead, has the hunger and the sensibility, and comes as close as you could expect to replicating the energy of Raimi’s original, albeit with a much bigger budget ($17 million), most of which was spent on fake blood.
Indeed, Evil Dead rains blood (literally): It inhabits every nook and cranny, it’s in between every toe and skin fold, and it oozes out of every orifice in Evil Dead. It is a blood-drenched holocaust, and horror hounds and hoochies who gets their kinks from gore geysers and puncture wounds will be Priapistic for hours. How it managed to avoid an NC-17 is a mystery to me: it comes up to the line, smashes its skull against it, and then slices its jaw off with the cranial shards. It is beautiful.
Jane Levy, she of Suburgatory fame, is also outstanding as both the chain-sawing protagonist and the demonic she-bitch who offers — literally — a soul sucking blow job to her brother. Evil Dead misses the unhinged go-for-broke energy of young Bruce Campbell, but Levy’s gleeful unrestrained fiendishness almost makes up the difference. She is magnificent, combining the ghoulishness of the The Ringer girl with the wide-eyed madness of Jack Torrance. There’s a moment, in fact, where Levy’s blood-drenched succubus climbs in between the legs of her female victim, takes a drink , and then slices her own tongue through the middle that is one of the most disgustingly fun scenes I’ve seen in a horror film in a very long time.
The story, more or less, is a straight-up remake of the original, with a few details modified, one of which is a marked improvement over the original. Here, Jane Levy plays Mia, a heavy drug abuser whose friends have brought her out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to dry her out. Her estranged brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend also arrive for emotional support, and they’re working toward keeping her in the cabin until she overcomes withdrawal symptoms. The setup better allows Mia’s friends to dismiss her demon sightings and tree rape as the delusions of a cocaine addict trying to get it out of her system. But of course, they are not delusions: Her friend Eric unleashed hell when he opened the Necronomicon and stupidly, stupidly recited the incantations the book specifically told him not to recite. The recitations deliver the devil’s estrogen into the body of Mia, and you can guess how a one of Satan’s bad menstrual cycles transforms her relationship with her friends.
The rest of Evil Dead’s cast is largely a collection of nobodies, plus the poor man’s Paul Dano (Lou Taylor Pucci), but that’s to be expected for the expendable roles. There is no Ash, only David (Fernandez) and he obviously pales in comparison to Bruce Campbell. I do appreciate, however, that Alvarez made no real attempt to reconjure the spirit of Ash Williams, shifting the focus away from the brother and on to Mia’s journey through demonic possession.
Where Evil Dead falters, however, is in Alverez’s overt nods to the original: While I appreciated the fan-service, it’s better left alone when it serves as a reminder of Evil Dead’s inferiority (this is especially true of a sequence in which David is thrown against the walls), but there are enough new wrinkles and methods of undoing to enliven the remake, and it’s certainly more fresh than most of the other classic horror remakes over the years. Where it’s better than the original is in the level of gore: Alvarez has taken bloodshed to Eli Roth levels and beyond, but along with Diablo Cody (who polished Alvarez’s screenplay) he’s also injected as sense of fun. It never achieves the level of fist-pumping greatness that Raimi’s original does, but thee are certainly enough blithesome moments of hellish glee to make it worth your while.