In 1981, Evil Dead was released and capped a golden era of gore films, which had started eight years earlier with the release of Exorcist. It may be difficult to believe now—after those original films have been obscured by their ridiculous sequels—but The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 1973, including Best Picture, and likewise, the first Evil Dead was a remarkably tense storyline, which still retains a rare 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Since then, though, those films have become parodies of themselves, with sequels more about blood and gore than the original dramatic tension.
To reboot the franchise, Evil Dead has returned with a remake of the original story, and the promoters would very much like you to believe that it has regained its original elegance, if that is the right word for a horror film.
Is it gory? Yeah, sure, grading strictly on a scale of buckets of blood and guts, and viscera, and burns, and slashes, and stabs, and cuts, and bashes.
But terrifying? Hardly, unless there is some fright to be found in how damn depressing it is to see Hollywood once again attempt to recapture the glory of the past instead of doing something new. It's even more depressing that the original 1981 Evil Dead, from writer and director Sam Raimi (who went on to direct the Spiderman series), was a reaction to a lack of creativity in horror films itself.
But that irony is missing here. Really, how could Raimi give his stamp of approval to this slap in the face to his own work, with the only sad irony being that he serves as the remake's producer and bankroller.
How could he understand that what made his original film—and that launched his career—work so well is it labored with a severely limited budget? That shoestring budget (a reported $150,000) forced him to be wildly inventive with effects that cost nothing, like deploying certain odd camera angles to create an eerie atmosphere. And, how could he not see that everything fresh and new about his 1981 Evil Dead has been imitated over and over—and never well—and this new version falls right in line with those lame knock-offs?
What was fresh with the original Evil Dead—air-brained teens/ twentysomethings heading to a cabin in the woods—now seems tired, and the script of the remake, written by the increasingly overrated Diablo Cody (Juno), does nothing to freshen it up. The premise: One of the flavorless twentysomethings (Jane Levy of Shameless) is going cold turkey on her drug habit (heroin? it's never clear what her drug of choice is, and doesn't really matter). Remoteness from her dealer is what's called for, and while there's some thematic potential in the notion that drug addiction and withdrawal is akin to demonic possession, that is not dealt with in any interesting way here.
With as much sense as Scooby Doo in a haunted house, the wayward—and drug- cleansing—protagonists decide it is an OK idea to read out loud from a book of dark-magic spells even though it is wrapped in barbed wire and instructs in blood-dribbled warnings, "Leave this book alone."
"I can smell your filthy soul," the demon in the body of one of the Scooby gang hisses at another. Now that would be an interesting movie, if we actually got a hint of that filthy soul? That could be an intriguing twist: Maybe these younglings deserve to die at the hands of vengeful demons.
But no, Evil Dead misses any opportunity for originality or emotional depth. The kids really are nothing more than bowling pins set up to be smashed down by demons. What's most pathetic is that the demon turns out to be pretty easy to dispatch, but not until most of them are already dead. Sucks for them. Sucks for us, too. SW
Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas