As someone with a massive hard-on for Sam Raimi's original goretastic trilogy, I was foaming with blood-spattered anticipation of Fede Alvarez's remake/reboot/re-imagining/something-beginning-with-re of the original story. The Evil Dead for the 21st century? Those creaky old porridge-and-corn syrup effects given a proper budget? A new gaggle of seething, hissing Deadites to gawp at? Yes bloody please!
I'm please to report that this revival (seems the most appropriate term, irony-laden though it is) gets most things dead right. There's gore by the literal bucketload, and a healthy appreciation of what made the 1981 original so bloody thrilling to watch. It's short, punchy and doesn't get bogged down in too much tedious exposition. That said, updating the hoary old 'teenagers go to cabin in spooky woods for absolutely no reason' conceit has been nicely and convincingly re-worked as a group of friends trying to get one of their members off a nasty old coke habit. Needless to say, the Necronomicon (here called the Naturom Demonto) is found and read, junkie Mia gets all spazzy and runs off to get freaky with the vegetation and subsequently possessed, as in the original. This intervention is certainly as good a reason as any for the remote location, and also serves as a plausible excuse for Mia's friends to write her increasingly vicious and batshit behaviour off as withdrawal shakes.
The story, such as it is, follows the original pretty closely (with one caveat I'll get to later) and that's fine by me. The intervention plot is only there to kick everything off and speed our hapless hambags to Demonsville. The characters are fine and no-one stands out as being particularly unbearable, even if they do somewhat fall into the old horror tropes of jock, blonde, be-spectacled dork who figures everything out, token black chick and pretty girl who's only failing is an annoying addiction to charlie and tree-fucking. No-one tries to take the Ash mantle - although Mr. Campbell does get a minuscule post-credits cameo crowbarred in with a hand so heavy it might as well be hewn from solid osmium, that made me simultaneously squeal like a schoolgirl and roll my eyes so far back in my head I could see my thoughts whizzing past. I suppose that if the plans to bring the original Evil Dead mythos together with this new version happen, then it makes sense to get Ash in there before too long.
One thing I will say is that this new Evil Dead is played very straight-faced, much like the original. Anyone who tries to tell you that the original Evil Dead was a comedy is a dung-headed fool. Sure, there were a few splashes of comedy so black you'd think it had just been coughed up from the ashen lungs of a terminal smoker, but most of the supposed comedy came from the rubbishy effects and less-than-stellar acting. The series didn't really mash proper jokes into the gory stew until Evil Dead 2. The comedy takes a backseat in the new version, too, with any laughs coming from the ridiculousness of the gore. Possessed Mia gets a few smirk-worthy lines, usually insulting one of her erstwhile friends before assaulting them with either a body part or bodily fluid. The emphasis is very much on the gore first and foremost, and that's the way it should be. There are countless nods to the originals as well as plenty of new takes on old faves. I particularly liked the use of an electric meat carver as a handy-dandy limb remover.
Those of you who've seen the original will remember that once the first member has been turned the film simply doesn't let up for the rest of the duration. The same is true here - in fact, it feels like the group is worked through pretty quickly by the Evil, and hugely OTT gore and impressive practical effects are the order of the day from there on. When one girl goes to hack off her rapidly putrefying arm, it genuinely looks like she saws right into her ACTUAL ARM. I'm pretty desensitised to movie gore, but even I winced a little at that part. Kudos must be given to the film-makers for doing more or less everything with practical effects and if there was any CG in there, I couldn't tell - bar perhaps a scene where Mia vomits up some huge black tendril thing. It must be said though, that if you're a splatterhouse aficionado then there isn't really anything new here, but what is done, is done well. And at least the gore here feels worthwhile - unlike the million-and-one Saw movies, which became stultifyingly dull exercises in splatter-by-numbers.
The big plot-based gripe I do have is that the Evil is given an identity. It's a 'Taker of Souls' who must feed on the souls of five victims in order to resurrect the 'Abomination' and blah, blah, blah... The original movie gave the Evil no relatable drive or personality beyond simply killing the fuck out of four teenagers and driving a fifth to complete insanity - just for shits and giggles! I liked that. I found it amusing that this pissed off force of darkness was simply getting its kicks from five human shaped bags of blood, like a cat chewing the face off a mouse JUST BECAUSE IT CAN. This leads to some nonsense about curing of possessed people and utilises the uninteresting Mia/David family plotline in ways that do nothing for the overall movie. Maybe they're planning some arching narrative for this demonic force that'll appear in future movies, but I still think it's unnecessary. Evil Dead 2 had less plot than the first, yet proved to be even better. Sometimes, directors, we just wanna watch gore and not suffer through the horror equivalent of an unpopular kid assembling a volleyball team of hopeless misfits because the big game against Popular Valley High is coming up and OH GOD JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP AND BARF MORE BLOOD ON THAT TEENAGER I CAN STILL SEE BARE SKIN.
Does the new Evil Dead successfully carry on the series fine tradition of testing teenagers pain thresholds and using blood as an impromptu wall covering medium? I believe it does, mostly. Niggling plot-based qualms aside, it certainly doesn't smear shit all over a beloved franchise in the same way the reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street did. It doesn't feel shocking - but then, in this age of Saw the Soap Opera and The Human Bloody Centipede, can anything really be shocking? Well, yes - look at A Serbian Film, for example - but then, that kind of shocking usually just ends up being really depressing. And I don't want to be depressed by an Evil Dead movie. I want my face to slowly morph into something resembling the Joker mixed with the Cheshire Cat as I watch a chainsaw turn a demon into a big, flapping flesh umbrella as it literally RAINS BLOOD.