Relentless, pitiless, bloody and intense — that’s the remake of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
But is this Evil Dead (they dropped the “The” in the title) any good? Yes and no. It has several genuinely hair-raising moments and presents, for your edification and enjoyment, some of the most graphic horror violence ever presented on the screen.
But Fede Alvarez’s homage to the original “cabin in the woods” tale lacks the offhanded goofiness, the brittle jokes — visual and otherwise — of young people, in that wooded cabin, facing death at the hands of something supernatural. Sure, they’re scared, and some of the cast of this new Dead — Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore, in particular — get across what utter terror feels like. But the sardonic wit is lost in a sea of blood and guts.
Above all else, this Dead misses Bruce Campbell, who graduated from The Evil Dead and its sequels to become a B-movie icon.
The set-up is similar. Friends and family of Mia (Jane Levy) have dragged her from Michigan State to a remote cabin to clean her up, get her off drugs. Her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), who rarely sees her, is a reluctant intervener. But he’s brought his new girlfriend (Blackmore) along, because nothing bonds a couple like detoxing one’s sister.
The nurse Olivia (Lucas) and bookish school teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci of The Chumscrubber and Thumbsucker) are there to help, though there’s friction because David, a big-city mechanic, hasn’t been involved in any of their lives. And here they are, caring enough to clean up a mess he should deal with himself.
There’s a stench in the semi-trashed cabin. It turns out there isn’t room to swing a dead cat in the basement because it’s full of dead cats and blood stains. We’ve seen the prologue. We know what’s coming.
They’ve only seen the dead cats. But that would be enough to make a sane person leave. Which they don’t.
That gives bookish Eric a chance to find the skin-covered book of witch curses and spells, and to stir up The Other Side. As Mia is menaced and possessed by the forest, as the rains come and wash out the road and as others are injured, brutalized and tested by their first encounter with the supernatural, Eric is the one who doesn’t think everything will work out in the end.
“Everything’s going to be fine? I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but everything’s been getting worse. Every second.”
The makeup effects, with piercings, scalding, dismemberments and the like, are spectacular. You will believe that’s a human face, peeled off with a sharp object. Characters are chased, by the camera, through the woods and through this oddly roomy tiny cabin. They reach for the camera and are yanked back out of the frame, a favorite horror movie staging trick these days.
And occasionally — not often — you feel something for the dead and the doomed. None develop real empathy, and those we mourn for we do simply because nobody deserves their fate. David, in particular, is under-developed and blandly played in spite of all the tragedy and trauma happening around the character.
That transforms Evil Dead from a cut-rate romp through horror conventions into a by-the-book bloodbath, chilling at times, not the sort of film that invites a cult following the way Raimi and Campbell did back in 1981.