"Evil Dead" Remake Not So Groovy

I cut ties with the horror genre sometime in 2009. I quit. Cold turkey. There were several reasons I gave it up, but the onslaught of awful remakes was near the top of the list. I had seen most of the classics, so the thrill of discovery was gone. The rush I had gotten for so many years just wasn’t there anymore. It had been replaced by exhaustion. I was worn out by the excessive violence that had taken the place of atmosphere and the jump scares that had taken precedence over real suspense. It wasn’t until this year that I caught up with “Scream 4” and “Cabin In The Woods,” neither of which wowed me.

But recently, I realized that for me, a relatively young critic working hard to build an audience, it would be unwise to ignore such a popular and influential genre. In high school and college, I absolutely revered Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, so I saw the “Evil Dead” remake as a logical pathway back into horror.

1981’s “The Evil Dead” was a wonderful coalescence of a charismatic young lead (Bruce Campbell), a burgeoning first-time director with heaps of talent (Sam Raimi), and a passionate cast and crew working their asses off under less than ideal circumstances (read: no budget and awful weather conditions). The end result was a snapshot of homegrown horror at its peak, alternatively disturbing and wickedly funny.

Cut to 1987’s “Evil Dead II,” which was essentially a remake with a higher budget and more comedy. While I’ve always preferred its predecessor, “Evil Dead II” birthed Campbell’s character, Ash, as a full-grown, chainsaw-toting, catchphrase-spouting, Deadite-killing cult hero. This led to 1992’s “Army Of Darkness,” which was even sillier, but struck the perfect balance between horror, comedy, and action-adventure. It made Bruce Campbell a horror legend and affirmed Sam Raimi’s skills behind the camera.

20 years later, we have “Evil Dead,” which is, for all intents and purposes, the second remake of “The Evil Dead.” Directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez and produced by Campbell and Raimi, it’s an exercise in extreme violence and… not much else. Gone is the tongue and cheek humor of the original trilogy, replaced by Deadites (demon-possessed beings) literally slicing up their own tongues and cheeks. For the hell of it, apparently.

It’s unbelievably gruesome, and the graphic violence is the only mark the film hits because it aims for nothing else. The screenplay is abysmal, the performances are lifeless (aside from Jane Levy’s turn as Mia, the heroin-addicted lead), and Alvarez’s direction does nothing but rip pages out of Raimi’s playbook. The original may have pioneered the “haunted cabin” genre, but this iteration falls victim to all of horror’s worst clichés. Chief among them? Casting pretty actors instead of interesting ones.

The post-credit stinger is particularly sad in that it reminds us of what we liked about the original trilogy, none of which is present here. Time has been kind to the originals, enhancing the camp factor and adding a layer of grime and period-specific creepiness that can’t be replicated. That the remake is content with being so mean-spirited, so joyless, and so mechanical suggests that Campbell and Raimi don’t know what was good about “The Evil Dead” and its sequels.

But, coincidentally, the last good horror film I saw before my self-imposed hiatus was Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me To Hell,” which successfully captured the spirit of his previous work in the genre. It was (and remains) a pretty strong argument that Raimi still gets horror, so that leaves me to one conclusion – that this new “Evil Dead” is a miserable, misguided, soul-sucking cash grab. There’s no other explanation. I went in hoping to have my faith in the genre renewed, but “Evil Dead” has left it as tenuous as ever.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: April 5, 2013
Studio: TriStar Pictures (Sony)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Screenwriter: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language)