The Evil Dead is one of horror’s most beloved franchises. There are legions of fans that get downright giddy to go and rewatch Sam Raimi’s wacky, blood-splattered, one-liner-laden, Bruce Campbell-career-setting masterpiece of weirdness. You can’t blame them. The original flick (and really the trilogy) are amazingly fun. So in 2013, Raimi and Campbell produced a reboot to bring the much fanboyed IP to a new generation with a new director, Fede Alvarez, at the helm. How’d it go down? Read on, dear guest. Or listen on… We have a podcast for that. The button’s right there. It’s not very hard. You do you. It’s your world.
Reviewed by: Jake
Let’s start by just acknowledging that the general beats of the plot are the same as the original 1981 version of The Evil Dead. There’s a demonic possession in a cabin that causes mayhem. Horror-via-dismemberment ensues. What we’ll focus on here for a slight change of pace, is that the plot differs from the original in that they did not recreate the character of Ash. This was probably equal parts Bruce Campbell not being down with a decision like that and to distance it enough so as to not anger the legions of fanboys while still staying in the universe. In this movie, Mia (Jane Levy) is taken to a cabin in the woods by her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) and her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) for an intervention because she’s a junkie. The group is prepared to lock it down and keep her there through the withdrawal phase and ensure she doesn’t jump back to the smack. Things go poorly.
They find a basement full of decaying, hanged cats and an object wrapped in a black trash bag and barbed wire. Eric, the wise lad that he is, cuts that shit off almost immediately and finds the Naturom Demonto, a book of the dead. Naturally, he frantically tries to discover the most devastating possible secret within its pages and recites an incantation aloud. Wicked smart. This promptly possesses Mia, which the group initially chalks up to withdrawals. They believe it for some time until the possessed starts to pick off the characters via channeling evil into them and making them do terrible shit to their bodies. Olivia cuts her god damn face off before trying to kill Eric. Olivia cuts her own arm off before shooting a shit load of nails into herself, Eric, and David.
Eric eventually exposits to David that he read in the book that the possessed must kill five people (conveniently) to unleash “the abomination”. They are going to have to either adequately dismember, burn to kingdom come, or bury Mia alive to stop it. David is able to sedate and bury Mia before digging her back up and attempting to resuscitate her with some full-on MacGyver car battery paddles. They go to get the car keys so they can leave but a once-dead from a movie-full-of-wounds Eric attacks and injures David. David shoots a gas tank to destroy the possessed Eric and kill himself. Mia is left alone.
The problem with this is that because she had been dead, the five souls quota was met and the abomination is unleashed in a torrent of blood rain. Mia plays chicken with it for a bit before having her arm get caught underneath the now overturned car. She rips it off and chainsaws the abomination’s face in half down to the waistline because of course she does. Then she leaves and presumably immediately starts using again. Roll credits. Throw in Bruce Campbell saying “Groovy” at the very end for good measure. Fin.
What the Movie Does Right
GORE. There’s a number floating around out there that they used 30,000 gallons of blood in the making of this movie. THIRTY. THOUSAND. GALLONS. That’s compared to an estimated 300 gallons in the original movie. Now, I’m sure this is all highly dubious but the important thing to remember here is that all this shit’s made up anyway and the real point is that The Evil Dead is a pretty gory movie and this movie pumps an exponentially larger amount of blood than that. Bravo. We had an interesting conversation on the podcast about how this movie was edited down to become more “Acceptable”. Mark and I watched the 96 minute cut. Jack watched a 91 minute version which removed a couple of the more savory morsels. I’d be really curious to see what they chopped to arrive at the 96 minute version because damn… A scene where the possessed Mia cuts her tongue with a razor blade and then proceeds to make out with Natalie for about 2 minutes got left in and that’s pretty squirmy. This is all a long-winded way to say this movie did the Evil Dead IP right by knowing gore is important and putting the pedal to the floor on that front, achieving the necessary heights of absurdity for a reboot to be successful.
The effects are all practical as well except for some CG fire (because all fire has to be CG, I guess), so it looks super good. You can easily tell the care and attention to detail that was given when creating this and that Alvarez et al. really wanted to do the franchise a solid with their work. I think things paid off very well because of it. Sure, it had the budget to back it up (around $17 million), but I’ve seen more expensive movies look way shittier by trying to go for “good looking” CG. Take the time to do things practically, filmmakers.
Another smart thing this movie did was to distance itself enough from Ash. The general setup is actually pretty intelligent. Setting things against an intervention is both a believable reason for getting this group of people into the cabin in the woods and it is a clever way to stage the early part of Mia’s possession, as the group is easily (and rightfully) able to chalk things up to her being a junkie in withdrawal. She was bound to act crazy. On top of that, the backdrop is refreshing in that it’s not your college kids or twenty-somethings going to party and fuck in the forest. Things start somber and then get crazy. It creates a nice transition that you definitely don’t see every day in the genre.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Despite all the gore and the flat out absurdity on screen, and even when considering the nice, refreshingly different initial setup of the film, I do not look back on this and expect myself to revisit the film. I don’t want to go as far as to say I find it forgettable and it certainly wasn’t boring, but there just wasn’t enough that this did that was truly special or unique. That’s not inherently a bad thing. Folks set out to make an Evil Dead movie and I think they succeeded at making one that was different enough from the original while still striking the necessary chords, but at the end of the day, are fans going to choose to watch this one when they don’t have a full day to plow through all four films? Most likely not.
There are also plenty of rough bits of writing and dialogue at play here. I’m not going to say it was poorly acted because it wasn’t, but there are several instances where a scene just completely chugs to a halt because of the dialogue. One of the most notable is in the early, introduce-characters-via-exposition, scene outside the cabin at the well. For whatever reason, these characters are completely incapable of having a dialogue that any humans would have. This might sounds overly-critical or nit-picky but A) fuck you it’s my review, ok? And B) people don’t become nurses because they aren’t good enough at medical things to be doctors. That’s not how the world works, writers. From an immersion standpoint, I really preferred to not pay attention to anything being said by any of these characters, ever. As a result, I had a decent amount of phone-time during this watch, which is a shame, but I tuned right back in when something important seemed to be happening or when any of the aforementioned 30,000 gallons of blood were being used.
Finally, I understand what Alvarez was doing in channeling some of Raimi’s insane ADHD-type shots from the original film and I get fan service, but they didn’t look as cool in this movie and I found the zippy forest tracking shots to be overused in the early part of the film. Dial it back a bit, bud. You don’t have to try that hard.
Story: 5.5 - I’m Andy Daltoning (how much longer will we be able to use that phrase, btw?) this movie on the story front because it is a movie about bad things possessing someone and a whole lotta carnage ensuing. The general scaffolding is not new, and it’s the same as the original movie so it gets an exactly average story score from me.
World-Building / Immersion: 4 - Here’s where I’ll put the interesting differences between the original and this movie. I think the choice to set this around an intervention is a good, believable world building device and I appreciate all of the super immersive violence on display, but like I said, anytime someone opens their mouth, it’s like a magnet for me to my phone. I just couldn’t be bothered with these characters and it took me out quite a bit.
Scare-Factor: 6 - This is one of those movies that gets it scare factor score completely from the sheer, gross violence on display. I’m not sure this score could be much higher for a film garnering all of its frights this way, though.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 8 - On our podcast, Mark gave this a 9 and wondered what it was that kept him from awarding the 10. I do not hate that score AT ALL. The reason I went a little lower and gave the 8 is that despite all of the gallons of blood and the sheer insanity of the practical effects on display, there is a bit of reverse-synergy when you see the small doses of CG touch-up that are included, particularly in the case of the fire. It’s a bit of a harsh penalty on my part, but hey, my ratings...
Overall: 7 - This is a worthy addition to the Evil Dead franchise and I’d recommend it, but I think I’d also recommend it least among the movies that have been made. Chalk it up to nostalgia, I guess.