The horror remake seems to be one of those things that Hollywood is just incapable of cracking; one need look only so far as the stillborn contemporary takes on Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street to see how it isn’t done. The decidedly less popular cult franchise Evil Dead gets the unnecessary makeover treatment this year, and though it hardly manages to convince of its necessity, it is without question one of the more stylishly reverent – not to mention gory – takes on a horror classic.
Evil Dead is not a great film, nor is it even a particularly good one; the script is chock full of risible dialogue (Diablo Cody reportedly did a rewrite, so don’t be too surprised), all but two of the actors (Jane Levy and Joe Taylor Pucci) are absolutely forgettable, and the first half of the film in particular drags its feet, too keen to go through the motions of a dull first-act build-up.
Few of the big references to the Sam Raimi original come off half as well as they did before – the famous “tree rape” scene isn’t a might as effective – because the tone has been curiously shifted from comic horror – although it is funnier than you’ll expect – to straight-up visceral horror.
The problem is that in jettisoning the comic elements of the original, director Fede Alvarez fails to replace them with anything approaching scary; every single jump scare in this movie can be predicted bang on cue. Take the slapstick comedy out of Raimi’s original and you don’t leave very much behind at all, hence why Alvarez defers to more conventional wisdom.
However, the first-time director does still manage to rattle viewers through Aaron Morton’s lush lensing, and the film’s thorough intensity in its second half. Yes, this is the “five friends holed up in a cabin” scenario that fans of the original and its first sequel will be totally familiar with, though it diverges in a number of key areas; the intervention of drug addict Mia (Levy) is what brings the youths to the cabin this time, and amid the glut of possessions and severed limbs, the true “Ash” of the group isn’t definitively discernible until the final moments of the film.
What really differentiates it, though, is the grand guignol third act, replete with wanton dismemberment, mutilation and a simply ludicrous degree of blood-letting. Alvarez refuses to let up, consistently hurling absurd gag after gag at the audience, such that the sheer reckless abandon should be enough to please most horror fans and, indeed, even the more skeptical hardcore fans of the original.
Mainstream horror hasn’t been this brazen with tearing off limbs in some time, and the showers of gore tread that fine line between being stomach-churningly vile and just a little too silly. The final scenes of the film in particular will have audiences squirming in their seats, something the Raimi original certainly failed to do.
With a tagline as audacious as “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience”, the film was nevertheless always setting itself up to underwhelm. Expect the harmlessness of the original’s veneer of camp and you’ll be disappointed; expect a scary time at the cinema and you’ll similarly be disappointed. Oh, and don’t expect a Bruce Campbell cameo, because there isn’t one (sadly).
Gorehounds, however, will find themselves right at home when the pay-off comes around, and though it only barely makes the grade overall, Evil Dead does just enough to pique interest for its mercifully short 90-minute run-time. The whole endeavour invites a sure feeling of pointlessness, but it’s as beautifully shot and gore-soaked as these retreads come. What’s more, if it cultivates a greater interest in a fourth Evil Dead film – which Raimi is apparently writing this year – then that’s no bad thing.
Evil Dead is in US cinemas April 5th and in the UK on April 19th.
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