Once labelled “the number one nasty” by Mary Whitehouse, Sam Raimi’s epochal horror film, The Evil Dead, has procured something of a cult status since its release more than thirty years ago. Considered one of the most violent films of its time, The Evil Dead surprised many with its impressive box-office run, both domestically and in the UK, given its low-budget and unknown participants. Famously though, it was met with an almighty censorship row during its home video release and was dragged through the courts under obscenity charges. Its poster was, and still is, celebrated for its tagline: ‘The most ferociously original horror film of the year (as proclaimed by renowned horror novelist, Stephen King). After spawning two sequels, Raimi shelved the Evil Dead series, until announcing a new remake several years back, with a first-time director at its helm.
Those who have a soft-spot for low-budgeted YouTube shorts will recognize Fede Alvarez as the mastermind behind the incredibly popular Ataque de Pánico! (Panic Attack!), which met with a bombardment of interest from Hollywood and led to a meeting with Raimi, who offered him the chance of unearthing the ‘Naturum Demonto’ evil spirits once again.. Unfortunately for Alvarez, remakes of revered horror films have the tendency to flop upon their release. One need look no further than the disastrous remakes of The Last House on the Left or the even more perfunctory I Spit On Your Grave, both of which lacked the insight and the intelligence to justify their existence.
Jane Levy is gothic-looking twentysomething Mia, who has a severe smack problem. Returning to her parent’s decrepit cabin the woods with her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend (Elizabeth Blackmore), plus childhood friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), they get themselves into all sorts of trouble upon discovering a flesh-bound book of spells in the basement. Instead of ignoring it, Eric decides to open it and read aloud its contents – despite the fact it very clearly says “Do not read this book aloud” in blood. As a result Mia is attacked in the woods (in a reprise of the original), which also allows demons to get into their secluded cabin and one-by-one possess its inhabitants. What follows can only be described as ‘bloody hell’.
Raimi labelled his original Evil Dead as “the Three Stooges with blood and guts standing in for custard pies”. There was plenty of humour to go along with the scares (all the more when it came to Evil Dead II), but never at the expense of the latter. Unfortunately for Alvarez, however, his remake is strikingly unfrightening, instead opting for Eli Roth-style torture porn and a sensibility so straight that it becomes nothing more than an exercise in human dismemberment. The aim of the film doesn’t appear to be that of scaring its audience, but rather making them wince and flinch at the extent of its nastiness. Those who revel at projectile vomiting and the likes of nail gun and Stanley knife-inflicted pain will feel right at home with this remake – it’s at its best when the gore-factor is turned up to eleven – but those of you who require more substance to satisfy your horror needs should look elsewhere.
Thankfully, Alvarez snubs both 3D and CGI for his retelling, favouring a more realistic approach that prevents the film from becoming out-dated or mundane looking. Yet, whilst there is something admirable in this, it can’t quite save this remake from the clutches of mediocrity and only serves as a staunch reminder to its dependence on chainsaw-related dismemberment. Not that this should scare away potential sequels. Given its $25 million opening weekend gross in the US, expect this update Evil Dead to become a fully-fledged franchise in the coming years.