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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Evil Dead (2013) review


Jane Levy (Mia), Shiloh Fernandez (David), Lou Taylor Pucci (Eric), Jessica Lucas (Olivia), Elizabeth Blackmore (Natalie)

Directed by Fede Alvarez

The Short Version: The new EVIL DEAD can be summed up in four words -- Piss, Puke, Pus and Plasma. The photographic gymnastics and gore of Raimi's classic are paid gruesome tribute, but the scares are few and far between in the new version. Curiously, these Evil Dead do not possess the macabre countenance that made the original demons so memorable. The newer Deadites look like little more than zombies who occasionally indulge in as much self-mutilation to their own bodies as those trying to escape them do. Aside from a few quibbles and a drastic left field turn during the conclusion, Fede Alvarez has ultimately summoned a daring demon of a remake that pays a great deal of homage to its source, and takes some big chances in the process.

Five friends converge on an isolated cabin in the woods to help one of their circle cope with recovering from a drug addiction. They discover some bizarre artifacts in the basement including a book wrapped in barbed wire. Upon opening the grisly volume, one member of the group unleashes an evil onto the world after reading incantations found within its bloody pages. 

The original EVIL DEAD is among a small contingent of devoutly worshiped horror pictures whose fans are as dedicated to it as the Deadites are to swallowing your soul. As with other remakes initially deemed unnecessary like DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003), there was a lot riding on how well received this particular do-over would be. First time director Fede Alvarez won original director Raimi's approval, and for the most part channels much of what made the first film so special.

By that I mean two things -- the gore and the ambiance. Both of those exceed the first film mostly in that the original was a "Do It Yourself" kit in moviemaking while the new one had everything all planned out -- such as a budget that would cover over two dozen old-style horror pictures of a similar vintage.

The gore goes far beyond the porn level of "money shot" with all sorts of viscous fluids ejaculating in an orgiastic miasma of plasmic ecstasy once the halfway point is reached. It's really quite staggering, and also in that most of it appears to have been accomplished through practical means as opposed to all that computer generated nonsense folks seem so enamored by these days.

Scenes of gore have been enjoying a similar, if arguably bigger renaissance today than their legion that splattered across silver screens back in the 1980s. And like that decade, the sight of a severed head here, a dismembered limb there, it's all become a bit monotonous and mundane all over again. For the EVIL DEAD movies, you can't have them without the gore. It's the life's blood of the films, and Alvarez and his crew have served up a sanguinary spectacle of the highest order. Curiously, the Deadites do almost as much damage to themselves as their intended victims do while trying to escape them. Also, the human characters seem all to eager to sever their own limbs at times, which is both cartoonish and disgusting all at the same time.

The other thing EVIL DEAD 2013 does extremely well is its atmosphere. When the film isn't soaked in blood and puke, it's saturated in a dense, muddy aura replete with the thickest fog you've ever seen. It's easily the most Gothic horror film in decades to not take place in a period setting, or to have 'A Hammer Films Production' appear during the opening credits. The cabin itself looks so destitute and bereft of life, it should in all probability be condemned.

There are also two things about the new picture that aren't entirely successful, at least in this reviewers eyes -- the Deadites and a massive alteration that occurs during the last reel.

The demonic denizens of hell that gorge themselves on the souls of humans were infinitely more terrifying in the original film. They had white-scorched eyeballs, gutteral drawls and the creepiest grins of Kandarian demon origin. In the new film, they look like your standard zombie with a brightly colored ocular highlight. The hellish voice of the demons is oddly restrained compared with Raimi's interpretation.

The dialog they utter is also very different from the original ED movies. For the newer version, we get leftover scraps of speech that would sound more at home in any of the dubbed imports that cloned THE EXORCIST (1973) during the 1970s. The new Deadites just aren't scary, and when they say things like, "Come down here so I can suck your fucking cock", it doesn't instill anything resembling fear.

The 'Rape by the Forest' sequence also doesn't quite resonate the same way it did the first time around. Possibly if you're not familiar with the '81 original, it may yield more power, but otherwise, the feeling that the forest has come alive to possess its first victim is not realized to its full potential.

The other questionable part of ED 2013 is what occurs during the last 15 to 20 minutes. It's always a gamble when you do a remake of something as iconic and revered as the original EVIL DEAD. The gamble comes in how close, or how far you cater to what made the original so memorable in the first place. Director Alvarez is largely successful in homaging and tinkering with details to suit his vision. But what transpires at the end will in no way be recognizable to any fan of the series. All I will say is this -- While this new film has no actual character named Ash, we do have what amounts to an "Ash-ley".

Also, the filmmakers give us their translation of the "thing in the woods". In EVIL DEAD 2, it turned out to be an evil, giant rotten apple creature. For this version, it's something entirely different that may leave some viewers scratching their heads. How you perceive this finale is entirely subjective and will possibly play a large part in whether you love, or hate this movie.

The script (co-written by Alvarez) writes a few interesting characters, and leaves others as paper thin as a page from the Necronomicon itself. They wisely wrangle some interesting expository means of questioning their increasingly deadly plight as something non-supernatural; this adds leverage to the few characters of interest.

The one performer that comes off the best is Jane Levy as Mia. She delivers the strongest performance of the entire group -- especially after her forced entry, forestal rape. The scene between her and her brother David (Fernandez) in the bedroom wrings an incredible amount of tension prior to her full blown possession -- and no, there is no pencil through the ankle shock moment preceding her change. Her character is the crux of the plot, and the reason these five young adults have gathered at this dilapidated, and very isolated cabin in the woods.

A nasty opening prologue sets the new tale in motion where the tape recorder in the old version audibly informed us of what was going to transpire; not to mention raising the dead all at the same time. Instead of building up to that moment, the new film gives us a visceral sequence to satiate impatient viewers who need something to keep them from fidgeting in their seats till all hell breaks loose about 35-40 minutes in. This prologue visualizes (as so many new films often do) essentially what we heard on the tape recorder in the original movie.

Regarding the resurrection of the evil demonic dead, in the first film it was the discovery of the Necronomicon and Professor Knowby's recital of those few words. That sequence had a good amount of build up and terror. The revival of the grateful, soul-hungry dead hasn't the same resonance in this new rendition. Instead of a tape recorder, a guy who looks like Jesus removes the "crown of thorns" wrapped around the book and merely recites those four magical words -- "Kunda, Strata, Mantusse, Kanda". Ironically enough, this character (named Eric) is sitting at a table with a picture of Jesus holding his 10 Commandments on the wall to his right.

There are other minor details, slight alterations and additions, but these listed are the ones that stood out the most to me. The score by Roque Banos is worth mentioning, too. It's occasionally organic, rarely mimicking the original films soundtrack, and mostly stands on its own. 

When it's all said and done, Fede Alvarez's vision of the EVIL DEAD is its own monster. It will likely be better appreciated by those who haven't seen the original. No doubt a vast number of devoted deadite worshipers will enjoy it, too. Its gimmick of gore will be an easy sale, and I'd wager an arm and a leg and a chainsaw that more souls will be swallowed in a future installment. Be sure to stick around for a post credits short scene that alludes to something "groovy".


Aaron said...

movie good. There's gotta be something else there, and this movie didn't have a lot to offer outside of some cool moments of nastiness. I kinda just wanted it to be over towards the end. You're kinda "damned if you do, damned if you don't" with these remakes, though, aren't you? Change too much and people complain that it's too different; don't change anything and people complain that everything's the same. Oh well.

Greg Stuart Smith said...

Brian: "The gore goes far beyond the porn level of "money shot" with all sorts of viscous fluids ejaculating in an orgiastic miasma of plasmic ecstasy once the halfway point is reached."

Greg :Couldn't agree more. The sheer amount of gore in this film is rather staggering. It is my strong feeling, that when so much gore is displayed in rapid succession, it has a debilitative effect on the viewers ability to continue to suspend disbelief - it's like a survival mechanism, similar to the breaker box in your house: too much juice and it flips. The audience needs time to breath between goretastic (yes, I just made that up) set pieces. Comic relief works nicely for this, but this film didn't elicit so much chuckle from anyone in the rather crowed theater I was in, other than the uncomfortable sort; it didn't even try to be funny once, which it could have. Well, I guess a few people laughed at the "groovy" bit you mentioned.

Anyway, by they end, your nerves are so fried, that you just kind of want the whole thing to be over with. You're not in the mood to be scared, you just want it to stop. Not that the gore isn't good, it's fantastic, but there is just so much of it, that you almost have to laugh at it to get by.

And another thing (I'll try and be brief), but it really fails to set up the whole reason for the Book Of The Dead even being at the cabin. The whole pre-title sequence fails miserably, I think. I was with my lady and her sixty-four year old mother (believe it or not!), neither of whom had seen the original, and they had no concept of what was going on or why the book was even there to begin with or who the Dad and the girl at the beginning were, etc. Plus, who were all those town folks type people hanging around? Why weren't they around later in the film? It wasn't clear and it could have been. You get the feeling that what transpired only took place a week or so before the kids arrive on the scene. And why were those people in the cabin to begin with? They just "broke in" is the reason given, but it fails to set up any cohesiveness explanation. It's just lazy script writing. The original worked much better.

I was also put off by how young the cast was. If I have to watch someone cut their arm off, I'd rather they be closer to thirty-five than twenty-five. Maybe that's just me, but I don't get off on watch young people mutilate themselves. Maybe it's just since I'm of the 80's, twenty-five year olds back then still look older than that to me.

I will say this: this movie did scare the shit out of me at times. I had to look away a lot and kept pulling my shirt up over my nose, something I've done in scary movies since I was a kid. An impressive first film, too. I'll stop rambling on your blog now, Brian. A great, fare review. Cheers, amigo.


Anonymous said...

It’s bloody and gory in a good way, but nothing special when you get down to if it scares or not. Good review.

venoms5 said...

@ Aaron: "Damned if you do, damned if you don't is a good way to put it, Aaron. I liked more of it than I didn't like, and won't mind adding it to the collection when it hits DVD. The tinkering with the "killing" of a deadite, the sudden swap, and the revelation of the thing in the woods bewildered me. My friend that went with me didn't like it at all. In fact, as we exited the theater, there were other people talking to themselves saying "It sucked". I thought it was a decent remake. For my money, the HILLS HAVE EYES remake struck a nice balance between homage and going in a different direction.

venoms5 said...

@ Greg: I didn't mind the lack of humor, although I did laugh at some of the dialog that I don't think was intended to be laughed at.

Actually, the opening is sort of explained away in some dialog between the group of friends. The cabin belongs to the brother and sister, Mia and David. Their mother is presumably who the demon mentions burning in hell. Later, either David or Mia mentions their mother died in an insane asylum. However, I don't recall them mentioning another sibling, unless the dad remarried or something. Again, it wasn't sufficiently explained, but the film did address it subtlely.

Feel free to explain and ramble on all you want, Greg. Short and long comments are welcome here, always!

venoms5 said...

@ dtmmr: I enjoyed myself for the most part. It seemed a good number of folks at the matinee me and a friend attended liked it, too; and apparently they were grossed out by a lot of what was splattered onscreen. A few people walked out, actually.

It was a middle of the road remake for me. Thanks for the comment, sir. :)


I saw it at a special 10 pm show the night b4 it opened,the place was pretty crowded.Me and my friend both liked it but we prefer the original.The one thing,maybe you can explain it,the creature that comes out of the ground couldnt be resurrected until 5 people were "possessed" or dead,anyway,I only counted 4,unless you count the dog too.I mean you can dissect the movie and find flaws but as just a remake,I thought it was pretty good

Franco Macabro said...

I see we pretty much agreed that this one was filled with "viscous fluids ejaculating in an orgiastic miasma of plasmic ecstasy"!

Can't wait to have this one on dvd so I can truly dissect it! I wonder what Fede Alverez will do with a sequel? Where could he take it? He has said he doesnt want it to be a remake of the second Evil Dead, so Im curious as to where he could take things.

venoms5 said...

Allegedly, there's interest in some sort of crossover with the old and new ED series. I'll pick this one up too, Fran. I'm curious if there'll be extra footage on the DVD. There's some shots I recall seeing online that aren't in the movie.

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