Most horror movies can get away with simply being a little freaky. All you need are a few memorable jolts, some squrim-inducing kills, and an elaborate set piece or two. Sadly that's really all it takes to make a decent horror movie, and that's really all Fede Alvarez's remake of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead needed to deliver on to stand out.
But then the movie's marketing campaign had to get involved and raise the stakes, whether Alvarez wanted them to or not. The very first poster for the movie boldly claims it'll be "The most terrifying film you will ever experience."
So is it? Is Evil Dead the most terrifying film you will ever experience?
No. Of course it isn't. Saying as much was a fool's errand and the studio's marketing team had to know this. They just had to. But you know what? It doesn't matter that it fails to deliver on that promise. It doesn't matter that Evil Dead isn't going to rattle hard-core horror veterans to their very core and cause them to change their underwear after the movie. What matters is that Evil Dead aspires to be that kind of movie.
It's been far too long since Hollywood has had an event horror movie. Sure, every year there are a handful of studio-backed movies that play straight to the horror-movie base and become must-see films by forcing their way into the conversation. Franchises like Saw and Paranormal Activity do this supremely well. It doesn't matter if the movies are any good because they've established themselves as part of the horror movie vernacular. And then there are movies like A Serbian Film or Human Centipede that become events purely by notoriety. Those movies strive to be difficult to watch simply because their difficult nature is what's going to get them on your radar.
Evil Dead, however, is already on your radar. It's a remake of an immensely popular franchise and its sheer existence means that most people will see it. And, with that in mind, the filmmakers could have turned in a paint-by-numbers remake that's like a cover song hitting all the highlights, not unlike what Platinum Dunes did with its uninspired Nightmare on Elm Street remake.
Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Rob Tappert and all the others on Alvarez's Evil Dead don't care about that, though. Yes, they have a name movie that people are going to be interested in no matter what, but they're not complacent. They know that you have to go big and bold to be more than just a blip on the horror-movie radar, and that's why they've taken a serious approach to remaking Evil Dead. It's as though they made a checklist of everything fans expect from the film and then decided on what they could cross off completely to sidestep expectations, and also what they could alter in order to subvert them.
We won't say what they do in order to subvert them, but we will say that their decision to not even attempt to re-create the one of a kind that is Bruce Campbell's Ash is an incredibly wise one. The character does not exist in this film in a traditional sense. Some of his plot points and character traits are divvied up between the characters, so he exists in spirit, but Ash as we know him is not a part of 2013's Evil Dead, and that is a great thing. He wouldn't fit into this unrealistic and too-sincere-for-its-own-good plot about a drug addict going cold turkey at a cabin in the woods, anyway.
Not everything that Alvarez and his pair of screenwriters, Rodo Sayagues Mendez a
nd Diablo Cody (if you're expecting Juno-level dialogue, you're not going to get it. Cody's contributions are invisible here-- and that's a good thing (Update: Apparently they're invisible because she ended up not having an official credit on the film) do is a good thing. Their version of the tree rape, for example, is needlessly indulgent. It works in Raimi's original film because it's shocking and unbelievable and wholly amoral, but here it's like some kind of bizarre greatest hit waiting to be celebrated. A woman being raped by a tree is not enjoyable in any capacity, but the way Alvarez presents it is like he's waiting for you to give him the biggest high five ever just for not only including it, but for kicking it up a notch. It's perhaps the film's biggest misfire.
The rest of Evil Dead's horror, however, is pretty damned impressive. How it passes for an R rating is mind boggling, yet here we are with a movie that sets innocent people on fire, stabs people in the eyes, cuts open beautiful cheeks, smashes in skulls, and grinds off multiple limbs -- all with a demented smile on its face. If the thought of that makes you uneasy, you are not going to be able to handle Evil Dead. That's not hyperbole, either. Again, Evil Dead is not "the most terrifying film you will ever experience." But if your threshold for gore is low -- hell, even if it's fairly modest -- Alvarez's film is going to smash its juicy head in with a toilet lid and you may not be able to handle it. We're kind of amazed the MPAA's censor-happy members let it get by.
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