The Evil Dead is a near classic cult film that follows many of the tropes of that era’s horror films while turning some of them upside down and still being an homage to the horror films of the past. There’s some humor, traditional horror elements, and even a little Argento-esque gore, well a lot of gore. Bruce Campbell played Ash. He not only made the film he also crafted a character along with Sam Raimi co-writing and directing that became synonymous with the Evil Dead franchise. There were two Evil Dead films and a third called Army of Darkness that was quite a divergence in the franchise but it further elevated Campbell and his character to hero status.
There have been talks of follow up films, cross overs, and remakes for years. The true challenge in restarting this franchise is that Campbell crafted such a unique character in Ash that it would be extremely challenging to bring that character to life again in the same way and have him played by someone else. The remake seemed to be in good hands though being produced by Campbell and financed and distributed by Ghost House, a Sam Raimi company.
This version of Evil Dead starts with a brief introduction that quickly gives the book of the dead and this new cabin a bit of history. Next we quickly jump to a group of young people converging on the cabin not just on a vacation, but on a mission. The simple little “mission” element of the story gives reason for these people being willing to rough it in such a secluded spot, pretty smart thinking. Diablo Cody did one of the passes on the screenplay and I’m glad I didn’t know that going in. Her writing is usually just a little too cool for school for me. No one talks the way she makes characters talk and she seems to revel in that a bit too much. It’s like her stories are winking at us and say “hey look how clever I am”. Jennifer’s Body was just terrible and I am one of the few that doesn’t care for Juno. There are four names on the screenplay and I believe the other writers may have helped calm that irritating side of Cody down because the dialogue didn’t bother me the way it did in the other two films I mentioned.
This film owns its status as a remake and it recognizes that the fans of the original are at a cult level. By that I mean this version brings along all of the good things fans will remember from the original without winking at us too much and shutting out viewers that haven’t seen the original. This version does however take a much more serious approach to the subject. There are humorous bits, some intentional and some not but it’s tonally more serious that the 1981 classic. The first half of the film offers up all of the new additions of the story while the second half brings on all of the goods from the original including torrents of gore, more so than I expected. The first pass of this film was rated NC-17 and apparently the filmmakers only cut just enough to take it down to an R rating. Gore hounds and fans of grind house style drive-in films will not be disappointed, since I am both I was most assuredly not disappointed. In the screening I was in a group, the girls behind me were laughing in one moment and literally screaming in another which tells me the movie did was it was supposed to do.
A couple of things happen in the second half of the film that would normally induce eye rolling but since this entire film successfully pulls off the low budget grind house thing these scenes really seem to fit the overall design of the film. It’s not perfect, not in any sense of the word, but that’s one of the things that make the film so damn endearing. There’s no Ash but what is there is entertaining. It’s different, but the same, and that’s pretty damn amazing. Hardcore fans of the original franchise will need to stick around after the closing credits for a zinger that’s just for them. Those who haven’t seen the original films will probably leave the theater asking themselves and their oblivious friends “what the hell was that zinger about?” They’ll then follow that up with “this movie was awesome!” at least I hope that’s how it goes. This film is edgy, full of practical special fx (thank you) funny and scary, all the things fans of horror movies love.