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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Movie Review: Evil Dead

Back in 1981, now successful director Sam Raimi (The Spider-Man Trilogy, Oz the Great and Powerful), produced and directed his first independent horror film The Evil Dead, based on his 1978 short film Within The Woods. Although the film had a somewhat mild success in it's theatrical release as a cult film, the movie prospered in the then fledgling home video/VHS market and still lives on today as a modern horror classic. Along with it's campy remake/sequel Evil Dead 2 (1987), and final chapter Army of Darkness (1993), the Evil Dead Trilogy remains a fan favorite with many horror movie aficionados and made it's B-movie star Bruce Campbell, a horror icon, it even inspired the popular Evil Dead: The Musical, now playing in Las Vegas! Now, over 30 years later, rookie, Uruguay-born, director Fede Alvarez (Panic Attack! (2009)), along with the help of producers Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert (the original Evil Dead Trilogy), brings us the ultra-bloody remake simply titled Evil Dead! When five friends come to a secluded cabin in the woods, they discover an ominous book and inadvertently unleash a demonic force that threatens to kill them and steal their very souls!
Mia (Jane Levy) is a recovering drug addict, who, along with her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and friends: Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) come to their old family cabin in the woods, long neglected after the death of Mia and David's mother, to attempt an intervention. While Mia has sworn to quit "cold-turkey", suffering through "DTs", to make matters worse, during the night, a peculiar smell and blood stains draws them to the basement. Beneath them they find the horrific remnants of a bizarre ritual and a mysterious book wrapped in barbed-wire. While David and his friends are trying to help Mia make it through the night, Eric curiously opens the "Book of the Dead" and unknowingly summons an evil presence in the woods that takes possession of Mia and the others, killing them off one-by-one in the most horrific manner!
Cover of Fangoria #322
As a devoted fan of the original trilogy (and proud owner of the Limited Edition "Book of the Dead" DVD, signed by none other than Bruce 'Ash' Campbell himself!) I was reluctant to accept yet another '80's horror remake and risk being disappointed like so many others in the past few years (i.e.  Friday the 13th (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Fright Night (2011)). Despite my reservations, I knew from the first 5-minutes that there was something that seemed very original and yet altogether unsettling about this movie. Very rarely does a horror movie really scare me, other than those original horror masterpieces like The Shining (1980), Poltergeist (1982) and of course, the original Evil Dead (1981). I must admit, even for me, there were a few scenes that were so intense, I could feel my heart pounding (and that's rare). From the very beginning, with it's unexpected and rather violent prologue, audiences are thrown head-first into what critics are calling: "The most terrifying film you will ever experience!" Overall, the movie is essentially the same as the original, even the story and plot. As we first lay our eyes on that infamous cabin, we feel like we are returning to someplace familiar. There's even a nod to the original movie when we first meet Mia, she's actually sitting on the hood of what appears to be Ash's (or Sam's) 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 "Classic" from the original movie, although now completely rusted and derelict. Despite it's differences, which are obvious as the film progresses, there are many similarities which director Fede Alvarez admitted: "Story wise, it's a remake with the same house and the same idea, but with new characters, and technically it's not intended as a sequel or a prequel." (Fangoria #322, April 2013)
As for the main "object of interest" in the movie, that being the evil tome known as "The Book of the Dead" (a.k.a. The Necronomicon ex mortis) although similar, is never really mentioned by name and it lacks the face-like features on the cover and the insides are covered with various scribbles and bloodstains, (no doubt added by other unwary readers). The character of Eric, although seemingly the smartest of the bunch and apparently a high school teacher at that, is actually the most foolish as he proceeds to read the book and even speaks the very same words that summoned the demons in the original movie. While the characters seem more real and believable, as does their seemingly justifiable reason for being at the cabin, the movie tends to focus especially on Mia.  Despite being a drug-addicted, artist with issues, it presents her as the ultimate victim and with the character of David, her brother as the savior trying to save her mind, body and eventually, soul from the things that "possess" her, whether it be drugs or "deadites". For all intents and purposes, the whole experience could merely be seen as some kind of drug-induced withdrawal hallucination! There are also some very deep emotional and psychological aspects to the movie, however they are somewhat overpowered by the gore. As for the sheer intensity and overall gory-ness of the movie, it is completely over-the-top (although not necessarily a bad thing!)! So much so, that many consider Evil Dead to have broken the R-rating! This Evil Dead does seem to do everything possible to push the limits of horror violence, particularly when it comes to the blood and gore. Then of course there is the infamous "tree rape scene" which does appear in this version, is just as disturbing, if not more so. The violence is especially brutal and bloody in many horrifying and gut-wrenching scenes. (And yes there are chainsaws involved!) For an audience that has already experienced the gory, "torture-porn" trend like with the recent Saw (2004) or Hostel (2005) movies. Evil Dead's gore seems much on the same level, however with a more supernatural element to it that goes far beyond the campy mayhem of Evil Dead 2.
Evil Dead is insanely intense and quite possibly the BLOODIEST movie I have ever seen! The reaction from movie goers and horror fan's alike have been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Following it's strong Internet promotion including the "Dare To Share Your Scare" on YouTube which included the explicit "Red Band" Trailer, audiences were given a much anticipated preview of the sheer terror and gore that was to be expected with this movie. For those horror fans that may dismiss the hype and doubters like I was, given that Evil Dead is in fact a "remake", it proves itself to those expecting just another remake. I'm actually quite impressed as to the level at which director Fede Alvarez has gone to present us with this truly terrifying and amazing experience without disrespecting the original film (and especially NOT replacing the iconic 'Ash' character!). Some of that may come from the fact that both the original producers and director of the original Evil Dead as well as Bruce "Ash" Campbell himself not only co-produced this remake, but fully endorsed it as well. With all the success that Sam Raimi has had over the years, he could have easily just remade the movie himself with a big-budget and lavish special effects. But, no! The fact that the film-makers relied heavily on practical special effects and make-up is a testament to the legacy of horror filmmakers such as Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro who have let the new generation of film-makers like Fede Alvarez take up the cause and give us "true horror"! By the way, be sure to stay after the credits for a "groovy" surprise!
"With any good remake, it's not about taking shortcuts. You don't want to do a strict copy of those who know and love the original...For the fans who really know the story, it's about giving them something new and showing them fresh ideas, because they know the old ones. For the new audience that has no idea about the original, or heard about it but haven't seen it, or claim they saw it a long time ago, which means they never saw it [laughs]...For them, it's not relevant that you use ideas from a movie they haven't seen, but as a filmmaker you feel like you want to bring those things back..." Fede Alvarez (Fangoria #322, April 2013)