As good as unnecessary can be

The Sam Raimi-sanctioned Evil Dead reboot is more like an amped-up cover version than a true remake.

Evil Dead

As one of the only mythical horror films not to already have been mined for a remake (barring, of course, its do-over sequel), The Evil Dead remains one of the few sacred cows still capable of whipping cultists into a frenzy. Suffice to say that it’s easy to view Fede Alvarez’s Raimi-sanctioned remake with apprehension, especially when you consider the original’s status as the foundation upon which scores of independently financed gory horror movies were built. It may not have said it up there on screen or anywhere in the paperwork, but Evil Dead has already been remade by thousands of young filmmakers brewing buckets of syrup in their basements and maxing out their parents’ credit cards.

Alvarez is thus faced with a nearly impossible challenge: to expand on a film that gained much of its notoriety from its goopy-yet-rudimentary special effects, Grand Guignol approach to violence and inventive camerawork while somehow working within the grim, poker-faced constraints of 21st- century horror. The filmmakers made the most boring but most effective choice: cut as close to the original as possible and, when you can, turn it up to 11. The result is something more like an amped-up cover version than a true remake —  which, fittingly, also applies to Evil Dead 2.

David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his friends (Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore) drive up to his parents’ cabin for a very specific reason: to help his sister Mia (Jane Levy) kick her heroin addiction. They’ve barely set their bags down when they find rotting cat carcasses in the basement and a skin-bound book full of satanic imagery and scribbled curses. A few muttered words later, Mia is sexually assaulted by trees while trying to escape the hell that is cold turkey, and possessed by a demon that compels her to murder her compatriots in twisted, perverse and blood-drenched ways.

Evil Dead hits all of the key points of the source material (and a few from the sequel), from the (still pretty iffy) tree sequence to the hyper-kinetic camerawork (often lifting entire shots from the original), torrential outbursts of blood and puke, multiple dismemberments and the now-mythical chainsaw. While the film’s first moments seem to suggest a slick, cruel and calculatedly antiseptic horror movie in the vein of the recent Texas Chainsaw remakes, Alvarez manages to channel the blood-soaked anarchic glee of the original by the second act. Best of all, he does so through the magic of practical effects, make-up and gallons upon gallons of syrupy fake blood. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I didn’t know how much I loved all of these things until I realized they were gone.

If I lived in a world where we remade movies because the original ceased to exist, Evil Dead would be a godsend. Since that world does not exist and I can walk over to my bookshelf and pull out the original Evil Dead and its considerably superior follow-up at any time, however, it feels superfluous. The fact that the characters remain as thinly plotted as in the original does the film no favours, either. It’s stylish and gory and undeniably effective, but to what end?

Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather see a reverent, ultra-gory rave-up version of a classic than one where CW teen stars get picked off by a pro wrestler in a mask while Drowning Pool plays in the background. But if the only reason they made this is because the original’s stop-motion mashed-potato gore and poofy ’80s haircuts aren’t as palatable to the 18–25 set, why bother? As it stands, Evil Dead is the best version of an unnecessary retread one can hope for. ■

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