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".

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