When it comes to the “Evil Dead” franchise, the line between remake and sequel is rather hazy. The low-budget “Evil Dead 2” of 1987 was largely a reboot of the zero-budget original from six years earlier — unless, that is, the main character had somehow completely forgotten all his horrific experiences from the first film.
The third movie, “Army of Darkness,” really did continue the story forward, though not very satisfactorily. The new film, the only not directed by Sam Raimi, is billed as a remake but more closely resembles a sequel to the original trilogy.
It appears to take place in the same cabin in the woods from the first two films, and the hero’s old Oldsmobile Delta 88 even sits not far away, slowly being swallowed up by the earth. It’s as if the place was discovered and fixed up again by newcomers who repeat the whole cycle all over again, reading from a demonic Book of the Dead that unleashes hellish forces.
This film was made with Raimi’s blessing, and original star Bruce Campbell served as a producer. They tapped first-time filmmaker Fede Alvarez, who co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody. They take the same basic premise and twist it around while paying homage to the original films.
The result is as bloody as anything Raimi & Co. ever put out — and that’s saying something — but intentionally not as funny. The original trilogy registered just this side of Three Stooges slapstick at times, so it’s bracing to get back to hardcore horror roots. They even borrow Raimi’s technique of a low-angle camera careening through the woods like a nefarious spirit in search of a host.
The twist here is that the gang of comely youngsters have come to this remote place to help one of them kick her drug habit. Mia (Jane Levy) is a bit hard around the edges, having been abandoned by her older brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) to care for their dying mother. Now he’s back with new girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) in tow to help his sister go cold turkey.
Rounding out the group are Jessica Lucas as Olivia, a sensible leader with medical training, and Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric, an intellectual type. Of course, it’s Eric who discovers the evil book and starts reading incantations from it — despite it being bound in human flesh, with handwritten warnings inside like “Don’t read this!” and “You will unleash hell!” In scary movies, the nerd is always the cause of the downfall.
Alvarez starts out on a suspenseful note, with the cast discovering a gruesome spectacle down in the root cellar, the result of a deadly ritual we witnessed in the movie’s opening scene. Mia begins to see a strange girl in the woods, a downpour floods the river and cuts off any hope of escape, and the blood faucet is opened full bore.
As for the gore — you’re either a fan of this sort of thing or you aren’t. I grew up on stuff like the first “Evil Dead” films, so part of the appeal is how shocking the filmmakers can be to a jaded audience of people like myself. I’d say they did pretty well; I actually flinched a few times.
The characters are written as little more than cartoon characters, though the actors manage to instill them with a few notes. David is apparently really a fan of duct tape, believing it can solve all of life’s problems — even demonic possession and the accompanying gaping wounds.
Eric seems to have the constitution of Rasputin, his body absorbing more abuse than any human could, but he keeps coming back to save somebody else’s bacon.
The new “Evil Dead” lacks the puckish cleverness of the original two films, and if it stood on its own I doubt it’d spawn the same following. But it’s not bad as run-of-the-mill horror goes.