By Sam Osborn
It was inevitable that a remake of The Evil Dead would open itself up to criticism and comparisons from fans of Sam Raimi’s cult 1981 original. Did we really need to be worried? As it turns out the answer is no. The feature debut of Fede Alavarez, who was chosen for the task by Sam Raimi, the new film is simply titled Evil Dead.
As in the original, the story focuses on five college-aged friends who travel to a secluded cabin in the woods. However in this new adaptation, the isolated location has been chosen to support Mia’s attempts to detox. The cabin is owned by the parents of siblings David and Mia and, although now dilapidated, contains lots of warm and comforting memories for Mia. Or so it seems… Fairly early on, after the discovery of something untoward in the basement along with a strange item, The Book of the Dead, it becomes apparent that things are not all that they seem – and that there is worse to come.
Before the opening title we are treated to a short scene that fills in some backstory. This felt like an unnecessary addition to something that is self-explanatory throughout. Aside from this minor misstep the film is well-paced and has an almost perfect tone throughout. There are plenty of CGI gore effects for those who crave them but the scenes with the most impact were the more humdrum and identifiable injuries that befell the cast. A classic example comes when one character has a machete slice through her knee, leading to the audience’s shared sharp intake of breath reverberating around the auditorium.
Though the cast are largely inoffensive, the scenes between David (Shiloh Fernandez) and Mia (Jane Levy) begin to wear thin as what seems like a fairly large amount of time is spent explaining why their relationship is so complex and strained. At some points the characters appear a little too calm at their impending demise, although this is also true of the original in which Bruce Campbell was really the only character that I had any emotional investment in. It was disappointing that none of the cast had much of an impact, with the exception of Jane Levy who played her role straight and navigated the delicate balance of humour and terror that her character required.
One of the most infamous scenes in The Evil Dead was the tree rape scene, which included a rather graphic penetration shot. At the time this was cause for much controversy and meant the uncut version was unavailable on home video for many years. Did the original benefit from the inclusion of this scene? It would be fairly safe to say that having seen Cheryl attacked by the trees and pinned down that this ordeal could well have led to her possession without going to the extremes of this shot. This “classic” scene has been rewritten in Evil Dead along the same theme but this time instead of the forceful penetration shot we see a black gooey wormy thing wrap around Mia’s thigh and disappear into her. This scene is definitely easier to stomach than the original and its inclusion of it perhaps reflects the iconic nature of the 1981 version, even if it adds very little to the overall experience.
The use of CGI is extensive but is well done and not distracting; there are a couple of laugh out loud moments involving dismemberment of one of the cast but barely are you allowed to enjoy this before the film switches back to playing it straight and no tension is lost. Some of the cast are so severely injured, particularly Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) that it seems implausible that they are able to string a sentence together much less continue fighting their possessed friends.
For fans of the original Evil Dead there were many moments that allowed your inner film geek to chuckle gleefully. The presence of the Oldsmobile – or something that looks a lot like it – the necklace, the chainsaw and many others filled me with a sense of recognition and reward for having stuck with the franchise from the outset. The pacing resembles the original along with the inclusion of some of the same lines of dialogue, but this is done in such a way that it does not exclude those who would be new to this film.
However, it did feel as though the film was trying a little too hard to ensure that all audience members could remember and understand the situation as it unfolded. The many close ups of The Book of the Dead pages at pivotal plot moments would be a good example of this. In the original the abomination that chased our heroes through the woods was an unseen terror, left to the imagination of the viewer although from the horrified looks on the characters’ faces it was obviously something terrifying. In the remake we are given an interpretation of what the abomination looked like. I find this a less scary storytelling device and could be counted as one of the weaker elements of the film.
Which version is scarier? This is a difficult question to answer. I am a huge fan of the original but wouldn’t necessarily class it as a scary film. It’s a classic for so many reasons; the black comedy combined with the terrible special effects rightly won the film a cult status. Evil Dead has thrown out the black comedy and low budget and replaced it with slick CGI and scares. There are numerous gross out moments in the remake including a scene that involves licking a stanley knife. Neither film builds enough tension to have you clinging to the edge of your seat, so for jumping out of your skin Evil Dead wins hands down but for a more substantial and satisfying tale I’d have to continue my allegiance to the original.
As a fan of the original, I was concerned about the remake and whether the shadow cast by Bruce Campbell would prove too large to escape. This was an unfounded concern as the quality and care spent on this movie should allow it to appeal to both the mainstream and the die-hard fans. As remakes go this is outstanding and remains true to the original vision. With a sequel confirmed we can all wait with baited breath to see what else Alvarez can offer us. Groovy.
Evil Dead is on general release in the UK from Thursday 18 April.
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