EVIL DEAD: Review by Deadhead Kernel, Andrew

Firstly I want to say that I am writing this not as an “objective” critic but as a long standing fan of this film franchise, a “Deadhead” (apologies to Grateful Dead fans out there). I have seen the original trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness) hundreds of times, I reckon, and even made my way to New York to see Evil Dead: The Musical (quite brilliant really) when it was on there about a decade ago.

 

Evil Dead 2013 - Fan made poster by PID_NYC in Inspirations
Evil Dead 2013 – Fan made poster by PID_NYC in Inspirations

 

“The Evil Dead” was written and directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell who would later become one of the biggest cult stars in the World. The original was made on an absolute “shoe-string” budget, with the budget so small apparently the creative process was very unpleasant and grueling but they all stuck it out as a real indie labor of love. Lucky they did, the result was so engaging and ground-breaking that upon being viewed by Irvin Shapiro (a producer) it was screened at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. The rest is stuff of cult legend. Evil Dead pioneered so many techniques and “horror” staples that when you view it now you think you have seen it all before…..well you have that’s the point most of these pastiches were invented here. Too many critics to mention cite it as one of the greatest horror movies ever made and probably with Rocky Horror one of the biggest cult movies of all time.

 

Evil Dead 2013
Evil Dead 2013

 

So you can see my natural hesitation when I heard that this was being remade. The remake titled simply Evil Dead (sorry sounds so much better as The Evil Dead) would be co-written by Raimi and produced by him, Campbell and The Evil Dead producer Robert Tapert.

So last night I piled into a packed cinema with my fellow Deadheads to see the Australian release of this movie. We all waited with bated breath, judging by the crowd I could tell like me they had seen the original many times. The lights went down and you could have heard a pin drop.

Firstly there are great ideas in this new version. We meet our characters in the first scene at an old cabin in the woods (for film trainspotters out there why do you think Whedon called his excellent movie of the same name that?).  Mia (Jane Levy) is a junkie, and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and their friends (Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas). They are here after an off camera intervention to make sure Mia detoxes from heroin and this is the perfect horror setting to do it. Yes the metaphor is completely obvious but a standard horror staple – weak of character / prone to demonic possession.

 

Evil Dead 2013
Evil Dead 2013

 

Mia begins to become upset that she constantly can smell something putrid, her friends dismiss it as “junkie talk”. During the course of the first day David and Eric find a basement filled with butchered dead animals (something putrid?) then Eric (the nerd) finds a book in the same location bound in tight barbed wire. He can’t resist opening the book, despite notes all over it telling him not to. What is it with these teenagers in lonely cabins in the woods doing the bleeding obvious? To be fair in the original Raimi had a strong subtle message which is lost in this remake. Our own urges, the urges to darkness and curiosity sometimes get the better of us, they don’t have a rhyme or reason but we follow them anyway. Of course he reads from it…only a few brief words…

 

Evil Dead 2013
Evil Dead 2013

 

OK, decent start you would say…the script by Diablo Cody has worked so far, actors are all very competent and the cinematography is perfect. I have to say though once the Evil awakens it’s all downhill. What we have is no new ideas we are walking through a “cover” of the original movies (I noted nearly every classic scene from the first two). True there is bucket’s more blood and more screaming and cringe worthy limb cutting but that is not what Raimi was trying to achieve. Underneath all of that there was a subtle almost Lovecraftian lesson in classic storytelling, we humans are not the masters of all we survey – we only scratch the surface of a far more sinister malevolent reality. I think Fede learnt the wrong lessons or it was lost somewhere along the way.

Raimi using the almost Buster Keaton like Campbell in his gory scenes with a razor sharp mind not just for horror but for slapstick, like a master chef manipulating the senses and emotions of the audience brilliantly. There is the setup, the scene and then the payoff either laughter or fright and you never knew which to expect. With the remake we get the first two but not the last, it is like a big firecracker that lets out a flag. Yes there are a few genuine scares in this remake but all to and far between, I always knew what to expect.

 

Evil Dead 2013
Evil Dead 2013 – every time I (JK) see this in the trailer I nearly cry

 

Jane Levy (Mia) is excellent I have to say and the only fault I have with her is the fact that the script or the director do not know exactly what they want her to achieve – she is either a demon possessed psychopath, the heroine or a victim. The transitions are too quick and very confusing. For the lead she spends most of the movie off camera and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) is pretty forgettable.

Like many reviews I have read from critics I agree that the final scenes of the movie when Fede is unshackled from the constraints of the original we finally get to see both Levy and Alvarez shine. I loved the last 10 minutes, they were exciting, when a mortal dares to defy her station and challenge the fate and powers she cannot comprehend – great stuff, but it is too short and too late.

 

Evil Dead 2013 - Fan Poster screen print by Olly Moss
Evil Dead 2013 – Fan Poster screen print by Olly Moss

 

Once the credits rolled we were treated to some of the best end credit scenes I have seen in a horror flick accompanied by audio of Professor Knowby (the finder of the book) from the first movie and it clicked this is what it was missing…a sense of time, subtle malevolence, a background and ancient horror (have I said that enough this review?). Shame really

As a final summary I would say there is gore galore but once you become immune to the endless and pointless, sometimes use of buckets of blood, you find behind it a very confused movie. The cast and crew have missed the point somehow? The movie lurches from one horror pastiche to the next and misses the subtle underpinnings of the original. This is unfortunate as the cast is quite competent but essentially we are in a tick the boxes version of the original. Rather than being buoyed by the films cult like status the film is strangled by it. It is really like a cover of one of the greatest songs on Earth. You can see and hear the underlying tune but it has lost everything that has made the original so beloved and respected. Sometimes a smaller budget and fresh ideas are better than the power of Hollywood and an endless cheque book.

If you want to see horror masters working doing new things check out the first Scream, Saw, Cabin Fever, Cabin In The Woods or Raimi’s own genius at play in Drag Me Back To Hell.

For Deadheads stick around post credits you won’t want to miss it.

For this Deadhead I give it disappointing 5 out of 10.