Movie Review: Evil Dead is a bloody mess
Remakes aren’t easy, and I don’t envy those who have dared to remake a cult-classic like Evil Dead. The 1981 original is beloved for a variety of reasons, many of which are technically negative aspects. It’s one of those magical movies where the campiness and low-budget special effects only seem to get finer with age. That’s some complicated lightning in a bottle, and a remake isn’t going to catch that same lightning again. It can only hope to capture a fresh batch.
Watching this new take on Evil Dead, I was often left contending with my own expectations and knowledge of the original film. This remake has a more modern context for its cast of victims, but it treads a surprising amount of the same ground. There’s a cabin in the woods, an evil book, first-person shots of evil zooming through the woods, and possessed demon girls in the basement. Each callback is bathed in an extra dose of gore and modern special effects, largely to impressive, if not excessive, effect.
This new Evil Dead is a darker, grosser movie, drifting into territory reserved for only the darkest extreme horror films. At the same time it borrows quick and corny camera zooms and over-the-top demonic elements from the original film. It’s both referential and modern, utilizing B-movie camera work for effect while taking everything extremely seriously. The result is a movie I often found baffling.
With so many callbacks to the original, I began wishing that the film would play with my expectations. After all, if you’re including so many callbacks for fans of the original, it can be a lot of fun to play against those assumptions. With the references played straight, I can only assume this is intended to be like an Evil Dead version 2.0, new and improved for a modern audience.
The problem with that is that this new version simply isn’t as good. It’s an effective gore-fest, but it lacks the heart and soul of the original. The cast are still largely idiots, as is standard for these kinds of horror films, but when it’s done without a speck of campiness it’s simply a flaw rather than a flaw you can love. When Bruce Campbell got himself stuck under those bookshelves in the original film I laughed, when the characters act foolishly in the remake I just groaned.
Evil Dead is at once a victim of all the problems with most modern horror movies, while also calling back to the original in ways that it simply doesn’t live up to. I imagine that for many fans of the original film, like myself, it’ll be a harder film to enjoy, knowing that every callback is simply a redone version of a scene that was more fun or enjoyable in the original.
For those that don’t have that reverence to the original, you’re still in for characters that act in stupendously dumb ways and plot points that can be spotted a mile away. There are still more who will be turned off by the extreme gore, but for myself that was actually the most enjoyable aspect. It’s one of those films that gets so crazy you can’t help but toss it a few guilty smiles or laughs.
If there’s one area where Evil Dead succeeds it’s in comparison to the vast majority of its modern day peers. Despite the flaws, it does remain a briskly-paced and reasonably entertaining gore-fest. That’s more an indictment of horror movies than praise of Evil Dead, but I did appreciate that in referencing so much of the original and turning up the violence, it managed to feel unlike most of today’s horror films. Perhaps Evil Dead will then get a new life as a crazy horror cult-classic for a new generation of viewers, but for myself I’m content to simply rewatch the original.