I’m too aware the profitability of both remakes in general and remakes of horror classics specifically to try and fight the trend. Looking for ways to bleed new money from old concepts is a trend as old as filmmaking itself. It’s not going away so it’s no use doing anything besides maybe rolling your eyes at the latest preview promising to thrill the audience of today with the bastardization of yesterday. But still, some things are sacrosanct. Some classics are too great to be touched or trifled with in anyway. Until Friday, March 8, I held Evil Dead in that category.
The original Sam Raimi movie, despite its low budget and general campiness, remains a classic to this day. The story of Ash and his friends forced to survive the night in a secluded cabin in the woods as an ancient evil attempts to “swallow their souls” is a timeless masterpiece of independent filmmaking and creative ingenuity. With a budget of next to nothing, Raimi managed to deliver a delightfully terrifying tale that is, truly, destined to live forever.
So I have been more than a little leery for the past few years since it was first announced that Evil Dead was being remade. And though I was intrigued by the teaser trailers and previews, it still felt, somehow, wrong to mess with such brilliance. The bar had been set so remarkably high that, surely, expectations would be impossible to live up to.
With his remake of Evil Dead, director Fede Alvarez didn’t merely live up to the high expectations held by myself and others; he destroyed them mercilessly while laughing at us for doubting him. Make no mistakes about it, Evil Dead is a fantastic movie and everything a good remake should be.
The plot should sound familiar. Five friends meet at a cabin in the woods in order to get away from it all. Only this time around, they aren’t there for mere relaxation; they are there to help their friend Mia (a fantastic Jane Levy) finally kick her drug habit. Things begin smoothly enough until, by chance, they happen upon an ancient book that has been hidden away in the basement. One of them reads from the book and…well, you know the rest.
Here the similarities end. Despite obviously being the exact plot of the original movie, the script from Diablo Cody manages to be entirely its own. With her writing and the direction of Alvarez, Evil Dead takes all of the latent horror that lay dormant behind the camp and cheese of the original and push it directly and terrifyingly to the forefront. From the very first scene, Evil Dead grabs you by the jugular and refuses to relent.
Fans of the original will no doubt enjoy the subtle nods to the Raimi classic; the first time we meet Mia she’s sitting on a certain, familiar car (the sight of which caused much applause and cheers from this SXSW audience); the classic ground level shots through the woods give the film the feeling of respectful homage; and a quick but not so subtle shot of a chainsaw in the toolshed early on in the movie should make you more than a little excited for whatever might be about to happen.
In the grand tradition of modern horror, there are times when Evil Dead falls back onto gore-porn for its thrills; even still, thanks to brilliant direction and editing, the horror of the characters is undeniable and you might just find yourself sitting literally on the edge of your seat. There are plenty of quick scares and haunting images that keep you in the mood for more horror, however, and the film is wonderfully paced allowing for the slow and steady build of pure terror as the climax builds.
Evil Dead is a highly effective exercise in the merits of horror, one that horror fans will be beyond pleased with. And at no point is the film anything but reverent to its brilliant predecessor.