A Review of The Evil Dead

After Ebert’s death, I became convinced that I had to go to a theater. It didn’t matter the film. It was something I had to do.

It’s also what cemented my decision to see The Evil Dead in theaters. I was not sure what to expect, especially from a remake of the first film of a franchise that people are unable to describe. When most people talk about Evil Dead, what they usually end up describing is Evil Dead 2. That was the one with the slapstick humor and the tongue in cheek ideas behind the premise.

The first Evil Dead film was a relatively straightforward, low-budget horror film. It’s a very well made low-budget horror film, but still not the sort of thing that its reputation would suggest. Indeed, I am not entirely sure what has created the cult surrounding it, except for the sequels. Make no mistake – I like the first film. But I’ve seen plenty of items about how this remake of Evil Dead is supposed to be “funny” and concentrate on slapstick.

Warning: The trailer below is a red band trailer and includes scenes of explicit gore. If that bothers you, don’t watch it.

Well, it doesn’t. This is more of a concentrated remake of the first film – and as such, is a horror film that is guaranteed to shock everyone. But what’s most shocking  is how well written it actually is. There is a reason for the characters being in this situation, and why they don’t leave the second that their friend starts acting possessed. The friends in the cabin, as I am sure many have heard, are there in an effort to help their friend Mia (Jane Levy) kick her drug habit and help her go cold turkey. When she starts randomly screaming about demons and wanting to get out – and when she runs into the woods and comes back scratched from tree branches – well, why should they believe her? Yes, the film does include the obligatory “trying to leave after it’s too late” scene, but the biggest question with horror film is why anyone would stay in the first place. Evil Dead does address the biggest problem the franchise had in the past.

The introduction of drug addiction also makes the film more psychologically disturbing than any of the other films were. Oh, they had isolated moments, but there was never an attempt to make the Deadites mean anything. They were simply evil ghosts that possessed bodies. The Evil Dead turns them into the “demons” of addiction. I know it sounds a mite corny, but it’s true. One person, while in the throes of possession, graphically cuts off pieces of her face with a shard of glass before attacking her boyfriend. It is reminiscent of the “bath salts”attacks  – it is certainly not drawn from any moment in the first two films. The best horror films are those that draw us back into real life – we are more easily shocked when we realized that something can happen. A ghost turning someone evil won’t happen. What they do to people may….that is where the film actually does become shocking.

Another item that I respected about this remake is how it felt it could experiment on its own terms, rather than copy every famous moment from the original. Although the tree rape sequence from the first film is repeated here (although the film’s implausible treatment of that moment makes it appear as though it is a hallucination or supernatural occurrence, mostly because it is more explicit than it was in the original film) There are references to each of the films – the famous “cutting off the possessed hand” sequence from Evil Dead 2 is recreated, as is the “possess-ee singing a lullaby” scene. The third act of The Evil Dead can be described as “good Mia vs bad Mia.” Upon reading that sentence, everyone whose seen Army of Darkness is no doubt thinking to themselves “little goody two shoes! Little goody two shoes!”

The great thing about these moments is that they are organic to the plot. Most reboots point out every little nod to the original in an effort to appear smart (or to please fans). All of these moments work within the plot of the film, and so are so subtle that they won’t be noticed at first. Evil Dead rewards people who are fans, but does not do so at the expense of the plot.

For example, this moment comes from the second film

I was surprised how strong The Evil Dead actually was. Even the original franchise abandoned the hope of actually squaring people pretty quickly. This film tries, even though its basic premise has been reduced to pretty thin soup over the years and (as Cabin in the Woods demonstrated) it’s more likely to generate laughs than screams. Evil Dead, like it’s predecessor, does not try to play nice like most remakes do in an effort to win audiences. It goes for broke, the same way that the first two films of the franchise did. As such, it is breath of fresh air at a time when no one even tries to make cult horror films any more.

One more thing – there’s a post credits sequence that’s quite…groovy. Be sure to stay for that.

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