Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead films proved that the right combination of horror, gore, humor and weirdness can lodge itself in the collective consciousness of fans as firmly as an axe in a floorboard (assuming the intended target has rolled out of the way in time). In the latest addition to one of horror’s most lauded film franchises, director Fede Alvarez serves up a remake that goes heavier on the gore and lighter on the humor. The result is a simpler dish that’ll appeal to a more limited audience than the original even as it makes its investors very, very happy.
In Alvarez’s version, the setting, plot (roughly), and a certain 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 are the same. Five friends gather at a remote cabin—in this case to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick a drug habit. After discovering a nasty-looking book, one of them (Lou Taylor Pucci) ignores explicit warnings (and common sense) and reads aloud a handy little demon-summoning phrase from it. Horror—mainly in the form of jumpy camerawork, overt musical cues and more severing than you can shake a dismembered torso at—ensues. By the time the last drops of blood rain have soaked into the ground, only one is left standing. (Or, to be precise, 97.5% of one.)
Overall, this latest iteration of possessed youth behaving badly seems a much more humorless affair than the original, but to an extent that’s unavoidable. So much of the black comedy of the 1981 film stemmed from how over the top the gore-based action was. That yielded a “Holy dismembered cow!” response that is much tougher to elicit from a modern audience desensitized by a six-pack of Saw, Hostel pairs and the like. Nonetheless, the relative absence of chuckles—and of an actor with the sheer charisma of the original Ash (Bruce Campbell)—takes its toll.
Still, for those unfamiliar with the original films, this latest Evil Dead serves well enough as a neatly packaged, delightfully repulsive gore fest that owes as much to the recently resurgent “grindhouse aesthetic” and Eli Roth-ified gruesomeness as it does to its source material. (To be fair, the former was plenty influenced by the latter.) For fans of the humor and manic energy of the original Evil Dead and The Evil Dead II, however, the experience may be more akin to buying tickets to see one’s favorite band—even though virtually none of the original members remain—only to realize the set list includes none of the hits that convinced you to come in the first place. For those fans—arguably one of the primary demographics a remake targets—this latest incarnation may prove as disappointing to see as it will be profitable for Raimi and company to have made.
With a budget around $17 million, the studio’s return on this particular maximizing of brand value will likely be six- or even seven-fold. Most movie-goers should expect more modest returns.
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writer: Fede Alvarez, Diablo Cody, Rodo Sayagues (screenplay); Sam Raimi (1981 screenplay)
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Release Date: Apr. 5, 2013