(NEW YORK) — For many, it doesn’t get better than The Evil Dead. The 1981 original and its two sequels are the perfect blend of blood-drenched, graphic horror and B-grade camp, giving birth to one of the most abused horror movie clichés of all time: naïve college or high school kids, alone in a cabin or other secluded area, making predictably dumb decisions that will only make their situation worse.
This new Evil Dead remake (which drops the definite article from the title) is produced by original The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi and his trilogy star, Bruce Campbell. Make no mistake, these two are extremely protective about their property, have a great relationship with the franchise’s many fans and, I fully believe, wanted to deliver the best possible Evil Dead remake they could. In order to do that, they put the franchise in the hands of director Fede Alvarez. Which was exactly the right thing to do.
This time around, we find five friends gathered at a remote country cabin to help one of them, Mia (Jane Levy), kick her drug habit. Joining Mia is her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez); his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore); Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), who’s angry at David for leaving town and apparently forgetting about his friends; and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), a nurse who, supposedly, will be able to administer any sort of drug should Mia need it.
Turns out the cabin sits above a cellar once used to exorcise a demon from a young woman who was burned at the stake while surrounded by dozens of dead cats hanging from the ceiling and cast of characters who looked like they were on a break from the set of American Horror Story.
Thanks to rank odor emanating from the basement, the friends discover the creepy subterranean dwelling, where they also find the demonic book used to dispatch of the possessed girl. Clearly, Eric hadn’t seen many horror movies, because the barbed wire wrapped around the book certainly should’ve raised a red flag. And if that wasn’t a clear enough signal to stay away, the Frankenstein-like stitching of the book cover — suggesting that the book isn’t leather-bound but perhaps human skin-bound — should’ve been another dead giveaway. But NOOOO, Eric just had to know what was in that book, and when he got it open, he just had to read the various Latin phrases inscribed below the demonic pictures covered with messages written in blood.
So far, this sticks close enough to the original movie, when the recorded messages unleashed Hell, literally. Soon enough, Mia, in the throes of drug withdrawal, becomes possessed. In my opinion, it’s a pretty clever choice, since it can be difficult to distinguish between drug withdrawal and demonic possession (educated guess).
Putting Jane Levy (TV’s Suburgatory) in the role of Mia may very well be the best bit of horror movie casting since Naomi Watts in The Ring. This is a breakout performance for her. Her energy — whether it’s nervous, frenetic, scared — is infectious. Miss Levy pulls you into this disgustingly gory, graphic tale and never lets you go, making you feel as though you’re experiencing everything she is. Mr. Alvarez certainly deserves credit for utilizing his young star’s prodigious talents.
While not as funny as the original The Evil Dead, and none of the characters are quite as memorable or iconic as Bruce Campbell’s wisecracking Ash, there’s plenty of humor in this remake, most of which can’t be repeated here. Campbell promised fans a blood bath, and the team that he and Sam Raimi assembled delivers. Except it’s less a blood bath and more like a blood monsoon. But, if you’re paying money to see Evil Dead, you know what you’re getting yourself into, and you’re not going to be disappointed. While there’s room for improvement, Evil Dead is still a cathartic, nauseating (in a good way) crowd pleaser you’ll want to see more than once.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
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