Review: Bloody ‘Evil Dead’ Surpasses Its Source Material

Evil Dead

There’s something to be said for a movie that can trigger lightheadedness more than 12 hours after you leave the theater. An orchestra of voluminous shrieks and a bounty of armrest clutches and eye shieldings are what Evil Dead sets out for, and — through its ceaseless tension and overwhelming gore — what it achieves.

A remake of the early ’80s cult classic was a risky endeavor — Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead stands as a horror staple, with a charmingly low budget, a banquet of pitch black camp, and an eerie anxiety that has earned it the idolization of horror fans worldwide. Flirting subtly with the idea of self-awareness, The Evil Dead can be attributed with an edging in of a new breed of horror: its follow-ups Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness maintained fear alongside self-parody, inspiring later self-sendups like the Scream movies, Drag Me to Hell, and the grand master of the lot, The Cabin in the Woods.

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The new Evil Dead, three decades and a fully evolved genre later, could not hope for this fresh voice, and as such could never have wished to become what its Bruce Campbell-led predecessor was. Putting this expectation out of mind and simply heading to the theater for a hard-hitting gross-out slasher flick (as was the original intention of those who bought tickets to Raimi’s Evil Dead in ’83) is the only way you’ll enjoy a remake. And this remake lives well up to that promise.

In many ways, the new Evil Dead surpasses its source material. Instead of entrusting our investment in a group of teens who just head out into a wooded wasteland on an unspecified whim, we have reason to care about this new bunch and why they need to be where they are at this time: at the center of the horror is Mia (Jane Levy), a recovering junkie who has rallied her two closest friends Olivia and Eric (Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci), her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), and his new girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) to the old family cabin to kick her habit once and for all. Sibling tensions are high after the death of Mia and David’s mother and David’s extended evasion of all family matters — meanwhile, Olivia and Eric are hell bent on seeing Mia through this latest cold turkey expedition, demanding that they confine her to the perimeter until the storms of her cravings have passed.

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That’s the most interesting facet of Evil Dead, in fact: it is the group itself that is keeping the group from leaving the cursed grounds. Their will to see themselves through an important episode is what stops them from fleeing to freedom, even in the presence of otherworldly happenings. Flying far and beyond that of its predecessor is the new Evil Dead‘s emotionality. Beyond just hoping they make it to safety, we want to see Mia overcome her addiction, and the grief over her mother’s death. We want to see the siblings, hurt by one another but whose mutual love is palpable, reconcile. Some of us, of course, want to see a bunch of blood and bodily harm and trees coming alive and committing sexual assault. Those people will not be disappointed, either.

After setting up its heavier premise, Evil Dead piles on the disgusting. The scares are limited to a few jumps here and there — which some horror fans might find disappointing — but the tension maintains throughout over the thought of what new piece of grotesque imagery is waiting in the next scene. The shudder- and cringe-inducing exploits shoot out from a bottomless supply, raising hairs and turning stomachs. For some, this overwrought recipe will be nothing but fun. For others, a masochistic, frightening delight. For many, just plain unpleasant — and that community (you know who you are) should avoid Evil Dead at all costs. The mutilation does not come sparingly; you will be challenged.

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And though living corpses popping out from the mud might launch you from your seat, Evil Dead doesn’t offer many surprises. The film operates under the traditional formula lain out by the horrors of past. Even marginally well-versed fans of the genre can anticipate the plot points before they happen. It’s the emotional turns, the character work, that actually separates this movie from the lot. That and the lengths it will go to in order to make you retch and curl up in a fetal position.

These bodily reactions, while perhaps not the efforts of “high art cinema,” are what Evil Dead wants from you. At New York Comic Con, Evil Dead producer Bruce Campbell told that he hoped the film will “have a few walkouts,” calling this “the sign of a good horror movie.” While Evil Dead might not live up to the phenomenon of its predecessor, we don’t imagine it will have any trouble living up to this expectation.


Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter

[Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures]

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