Movie Review: “Evil Dead”

Horror movie remakes are a staple of the Hollywood machine now days, if for no other reason than to please the increasingly gore-hungry young adult audience.

In that regard, Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” seems like it would be a good candidate for re-visiting, which Raimi himself essentially already did with “Evil Dead II.” But as directed by Fede Alvarez, this new version slaps the cult classic in the face with a bigger budget and buckets of blood, completely missing the point of a good remake. Oh sure there are nods to the original here, as well as unrelenting gore, but Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” is irredeemably bad and does nothing to distinguish itself from any other run-of-the-mill gore horror plaguing America’s big screens.

The essential element of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy is the undercurrent of humor. First of all, by casting Bruce Campbell as the iconic Ash, Raimi nails the absurdity of over-the-top horror movie acting. He also softens the intensity of the violence by staging it like the punch line of a bad joke. Sure, there is blood and guts, but you can also see the unfinished roof of the set as Ash runs through the house. It’s funny, you see.

But this new version, boy does it take itself seriously. Not only are at least two of the characters borderline sociopaths, but they are completely and utterly stupid to boot. Once things start spiraling out of control, their big plan is to flail about with kitchen knives, nail guns, chainsaws, syringes hooked to car batteries (seriously), a shotgun and another, much bigger knife. Sound like fun to you? I thought not.

Even the original “Evil Dead” story is throwaway, but this one sinks itself by going the other way and having too much plot. Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict trying to go cold turkey. Her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) meets her and some friends at their childhood vacation cabin with the intention of not leaving until Mia is sober. Why the cabin has a totally implausible amount of decay and filth after just a few years is never explained. But I suppose it looks that way because scary cabins must always look that way. Indeed, things do get very scary when the gang finds a disturbing scene under the cabin via a hidden trap door. What they find will not be mentioned by me simply because I’d like to keep my dinner down. Those familiar with Raimi’s original will recognize a book that becomes central to the story, although the book in this version isn’t utilized nearly as well, and almost becomes an afterthought in the final act.

One of the idiots, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), reads from the book and awakens some nasty demons that create some ruckus. Ruckus is the nice word for it. So demented is Eric that he doesn’t even TELL anybody when he notices that pages in the book are being fulfilled before his eyes. He pretends to be just as surprised as everyone else until he realizes that, you know, gruesome death is still death. There ain’t no coming back from that. What sets Raimi’s gore apart though is that he had a low budget and used creativity to fill in the gaps. For instance, demon vomit was actually pea soup and looked like it, too. Alvarez cranks the gore notch up to 11 and uses every makeup technique at his disposal to make each scene of carnage as disgusting as possible. Good for him, I guess.

I could go on, but those familiar with the far superior Raimi version will know about how this one ends up. My theory is that everything that happens is just imagined through Mia’s drug-induced psychosis. Heck, there is even some nasty business with a needle at one point and I heard a male in the audience at my screening say “sick.” There is your one-word review of the new “Evil Dead” — sick. No doubt it will earn its budget back in spades. Or blood. But I would urge anyone and everyone to stay away from this one. It isn’t any fun. Not without Raimi, and certainly not without Ash. Zero stars out of four. Rated R, running time: 91 minutes.