Written by: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci
There are few greater joys in a movie fan's life than being proven wrong. When news of an Evil Dead remake first started circulating, my reaction was the same as I'm guessing all of yours was. “HOW DARE THEY DEFILE SUCH A TIMELESS CLASSIC!?” But then teasers and stills started coming out, and each one eroded a little bit of my curmudgeonly, reactionary movie nerd fury. Early word came back very positive indeed, and although relief that something doesn't utterly suck ass can give a false impression of greatness on first viewing, disgust gave way to guarded optimism. I missed opening weekend, but several friends whose opinions and tastes are almost identical to mine and whose words I trust saw it and gave it high praise. And I'll be good and goddamned if the remake of one of the greatest, most influential horror flicks of all time doesn't do its inspiration proud. I don't think it's going to quite join the elite of horror remakes like The Thing and The Fly, but it delivers a splattery, disgusting, delirious good time and makes the old-school fans happy while updating the story and effects to sicken and horrify the damn kids with their baggy pants and their Twitters and FaceSpaces and MyBooks and you goldurn smoochers get off my property! Where's my blunderbuss full of rock salt?
But remakes are nothing new. If Evil Dead had first been made in 1915 by Thomas Edison, and had six different versions of it made between then and 1930, another in the fifties, one in the late seventies or early eighties, and then again now, no one would be all pissed off that something cherished was being defiled. We'd just go, “Oh, another Evil Dead? Cool.” And of course the big problem aside from the time lapse issue is that just about all the recent big-budget remakes of vintage horror franchises have sucked big floppy donkey dick. Thankfully, the trend is bucked in this case.
David and his girlfriend Natalie arrive at a crusty old cabin and are greeted by his childhood friends Olivia and Eric. Sitting on the rusted hulk of a very familiar-looking Oldsmobile Delta 88 in the back yard is his sister Mia. They have gathered to help her cold turkey detox from her near-lethal cocaine habit, and have promised to all stay at the cabin with her and make sure she doesn't leave until her system is flushed of all the drugs.
She soon begins complaining of a rotten meat smell coming up through the floorboards, and at first the other four assume she's having some kind of hallucination from withdrawals, but then David's dog Grandpa pulls up an old rug and uncovers a trapdoor in the floor. Given that this was supposed to be a childhood vacation spot for David and Mia, with many of the rooms still containing relics from summers past, you'd think they would have noticed a trapdoor you could damn near drive a small car down (mysterious trap doors are like catnip to kids, after all), but it's a small nit to pick and you forget about it quickly. After all, any horror fan knows this is where the good stuff starts, and once things get going you get barely a chance to breathe until the credits roll (and you should stick around until the end of them, as there are a couple of extra little treats for us die-hards).
In the basement, the source of the smell is discovered to be several dozen rotting cat carcasses hanging from the ceiling. Right away Eric assumes witchcraft, and what he assumes, we already know. Before the title sequence we got to see the cat carcasses when they were fresh, and used as part of a ritual to destroy a girl possessed by some kind of demon (how they managed to keep the blazing fire from burning the old cabin to the ground, I have no idea). On a table against the far wall sits a package wrapped in a black garbage bag and, ominously, strand after strand of barbed wire.
Inside the package, of course, is a decidedly nasty-looking book, the Naturon Demonto, bound in human skin, which Eric begins to translate (I know I always carry a small library's worth of ancient Middle Eastern dictionaries with me when I go on vacation). His deciphering and out-loud reading of a passage that sounds just enough like, “Klaatu Verata Nikto” coincides with Mia having a meltdown and stealing one of the cars to drive back to town. She promptly crashes into a swamp avoiding a vision of a ghostly girl with yellow eyes, which then causes the nearby vines to hold Mia spreadeagled while the ghost vomits up more vines which crawl into Mia's vagina.
You all know the drill from here, although you may not expect a few of the new twists along the way. I certainly didn't. Still, as one of my friends said to another when the other guy promised not to spoil it for him, “Oh, you mean a bunch of kids don't go into the woods and find the Necronomicon and get possessed and kill each other?” I won't ruin any of the new stuff, but even if you don't care for all of it, the references to previous entries come fast and thick and should be more than enough to keep you happy. Hell, they even give a reason for that ugly-ass necklace!
Alvarez does a great job juggling the tone of the movie. For most of the time, it hews pretty close to the straight horror of the original, but once the blood really starts flowing, it definitely crosses into the twisted Tex Avery/Chuck Jones-with-gore territory of Evil Dead II, and even makes a couple of detours into Army of Darkness. While that would be really jarring in most cases, it really works to the movie's advantage here, at least from the perspective of a long-time fan. If the violence had been nothing but gritty and queasy, I think the movie would have wound up being just another forgettable modern horror flick, but the sick sense of humor shows that Alvarez and company really love the Evil Dead movies and understand what makes them so special.
This is one time I will happily admit I was wrong to pass judgment without knowing what the movie would turn out like. There is a welcome place on my shelf for this delightful surprise right next to the original classic, and I really hope Fede Alvarez has more carnage waiting for us in the dark bowers of his domain.