This is going to become a habit methinks. I’m referring to me having reviewed an original film and then, later on, it’s remake. Did so with Total Recall already, here I am with Evil Dead and RoboCop is a few months away. Not to mention I’ve been planning on covering Oldboy at some point. I guess that’s just the times we live in. Everything needs to be remade. Studios want to have guaranteed returns and they feel the best way to accomplish that is to take a well known name and repackage it for the modern generation. It works too. I can’t tell you how many times I’d get a customer in my HMV days asking for a film and the conversation would go like this… “’Ave you got (insert film here)?” to which I reply “The original or the remake” and to which they stare blankly because they didn’t know the film was a remake at all because they suck at knowing stuff. Often they’d reply with “the original” at which point I take them to the original film and then they start the blank stares. Anyway, most remakes suck or miss the point. Occasionally they’re good. What about the Evil Dead? I hear none of you cry. Click the link to find out.
The original Sam Raimi directed Evil Dead is some thing of a legend. A legend that may be a little stronger here in the UK than the US due to it’s connection to the whole video nasty witch hunt that happened during the 80s, which I’ve written about a number of times on here. So picture me as a youngster wanting to see the grisliest, most violent films I can find. I grew up in the wake of the video nasty period and was actually raised by my mother to dislike the likes of Mary Whitehouse. God bless ya Mum. So I saw Evil Dead at a young age. It’s a film I’ve lived with for a large portion of my life. I love Raimi’s Evil Dead for all it’s insanity drenched in gore style. I love it for it’s comic touches and it’s determination to give you all it has. I love it cos… and God help me for sounding like Harry Knowles here (giggle)… but I love it cos it’s fucking cool!
Evil Dead 2014 is fucking cool. There, I said it. It may not have the humour of the original, but that humour was partly a by product of the campy, low budget nature of the original flick, but my God does it deliver. The story is fairly similar. A group of young guys and gals head up to a cabin in the woods (always a solid move) for the weekend. They’re goal is to get David Allen’s (Shiloh Fernandez) sister Mia (Jane Levy) to go cold turkey on her drug habit. They’re joined by their friends, a schoolteacher called Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), a Nurse called Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). They soon discover they have a pest problem in the form of a load of dead cats in their basement and… a book. A book made of some very flesh like leather. When the smartest guy in the group decides to be a dumbass and reads a prayer from the book out loud spooky goings on start taking place, beginning with Mia losing her damn mind. At first the group put Mia’s erratic behaviour down to her withdrawal symptoms. They seem to be a little more convinced that there’s more to this when the bloody starts flowing though.
So the story hits the same basic progression as the original film. You’d expect that from a remake. What you may not expect is that, despite the usual horror movie idiot plot elements, the character’s actually have personalities, depth, inter connected relationships and a general all round maturity to not feel like we’re watching absolute idiots. You can always argue the negatives of the idiot plot, the times when a character should run out the door rather than go into the basement, but it matters when they have a reason to make a bad decision. They go into the basement because Mia is there. They want to help her and they want to believe this is all just her going mad. When crazy shit starts going down they can’t just run because they can’t leave Mia, they have to find a way to stop all the horror. They can’t take Mia with them either because whatever is haunting them in the cabin has them trapped there. There is reason for them to make bad decisions because all the good ones that the flight part of your brain will scream are not the right ones.
One thing I like with the film is that it works as a remake and as an introduction to the series. This could be the first time this has ever happened at the cabin but the presence of a certain car suggest this may even be a sequel. You could logically think that at some point after the events of Evil Dead 2 David and Mia’s parents brought the cabin and fixed it up. Would have been a lot of work, to be fair… what with all the inter-dimensional portal damage and blood, but weirder things have happened there. Plus it would have had to have been moved to another state… but… whatever. The film does tread over a fair bit of the same ground but when it comes to the gory moments direct Fede Alverez does his best to either come up with new ideas or present you with twists on the old ones.
I say gory “moments”… I should be saying gory “whole second half of the film”. This is not a film for the light headed that’s for sure. Fede gives us dismemberment, puncture wounds and pure cringe inducing moments of pain. He also provides some of the goriest scenes in years, especially the finale. I won’t spoil it but man… just man. He flips the body horror from stuff that makes us squirm to pure visceral nastiness with such ease that you’d think he had years of experience doing this. He hasn’t at all. This is his first feature film having only directed a handful of short films beforehand. His eye for detail and his apparent knowledge of how to get under the viewers skin is very apparent here.
A tip of the hat must be made to the film’s effects crew. They did an incredible job using every practical film making technique they could to bring this vision of horror to life. There is barely a hint of computer effects here. When they are employed they are used for composites and wire or blood pumping tube removal only. This is horror fan heaven. There’s tongue splitting, arm removal and all sorts of gory delights to be had, all carried out in camera with minimal digital trickery. It really makes an actual difference when the blood spurting out of an arm being sawed through with an electric knife is splatting directly in the poor actress’ face all in the same shot. The effect looks real because it practically is real. I often wonder how amazing films could look now if studios didn’t get so obsessed with digital effects. This film was made for $17 million and you get every penny of that on screen. When it got to the film’s final acts I actually felt a little sorry for the actor’s involved when I started working over how many days that sequence probably took to shot and just how much corn syrup was probably sprayed about the place.
One thing the film does effortlessly is pay tribute to the previous entries in the series via the odd nod or wink. None of this is obtrusive, such as the slightly painful references made to Wrath of Khan and other Star Trek moments in Star Trek Into Darkness. This isn’t the in your face “look at what we put here!” style of referencing. This is simple suggestions and call backs, many of which may pass over even die hard Evil Dead fans. David is dressed like Ash helping indicate that he has the Ash role in this film. David gives Mia a necklace similar to the one Ash gave Linda in the original. These are all unobtrusive and certainly more subtle than Spock shouting “KHHHAAAAANNNN!!!”. God that scene was horrible.
Evil Dead may well be one of the great horror remakes. Remaking horror films is nothing new at all. We all like a different person to tell us a tale of terror from time to time. It’s the equivalent of a story being told around the camp fire being passed from generation to generation. If this is the only version of Evil Dead kids today are sneaking copies of into their house to watch when their parents aren’t around I will be happy with that. I mean, they should see the original, of course, but this film provides the same visceral thrills the original did for me as a kid. What separates this form of gore from the Saw franchise is that it has characters, it has quality dripping from every flesh wound and it’s clearly made with actual love and care. This version of Evil Dead is really fucking cool.