I was first exposed to Sam Rami’s The Evil Dead (1981) through issue 23 of Fangoria. I remember it well. My mother, brother, and I were in a downtown bookstore and I was in the magazine section. A friend of mine had whipped out the latest issue on the bus some time earlier on a field trip to the local state park, to show me what the demon from The Incubus (1981) and the possessed from the Evil Dead looked like.
I was transfixed by the design of the Incubus but extremely repulsed by the photos of the then-to-be-coined “deadites.” I wanted that issue, but for The Incubus only. I secured it at the bookstore, along with a horror novel by Robert Craig called “Creepers”. On the trip back home I hunkered down in the backseat and was about to crack open the magazine when the car suddenly lurched and I was thrown into a corner of the backseat. When I looked up we were stalled in the middle of this intersection, the window I had been next was shattered and we were aiming in the opposite direction.
Apparently, a large vehicle had sped down the overpass and shot through the intersection, clipping the back end of the car and spinning it a hundred and eighty degrees. I remember seeing two girls I went to school with walking down the street looking at us, and a police officer casually walking towards us. I recognized him as the father of another classmate.
My brother, who was in the front seat, knocked his head against the dashboard getting a hell of a bruise on his forehead. My mother was all right. I discovered a sliver of glass embedded in my palm at the hospital. Physically, anyway, I was fine. When I got home I couldn’t look at that issue of Fangoria or that novel without becoming physically sick to my stomach. I stuck them away somewhere in my room and when I came across them some weeks later had to throw them out. They reminded me too much of that day and thus sickened me.
Years later I re-acquired that issue.
I didn’t end up seeing The Evil Dead until it debuted on DVD back in the late 90s. I avoided it for so long, not because of the accident but mostly because the memory of those photos I first saw on the bus and the truly disturbing flick they hinted at. When I eventually saw it though I loved it and didn’t think it was as disturbing as I had first thought.
Here we are, 32 years later, and Sam Raimi’s movie has finally been targeted for a remake. In this version four young friends, Mia (Jane Levy), David (Shiloh Fernandez), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) take a trip up to brother and sister Mia and David’s family cabin for a very specific reason. Mia is a drug addict and she’s agreed to come here to go cold turkey. Problem is she’s tried something like this before and gave up at the 8-hour mark. Well, unbeknownst to her, and her brother, they plan on keeping her there no matter how much she begs to be taken home.
Complicating matters immensely is the fact that during the prologue the cabin was broken into at some point and nefarious, demonic-like acts were conducted in the basement that subsequently, and predictably, went batshit wrong. It’s never fully explained, but a young girl was possessed, she killed her mother and now her father is putting things right according to what has been set forth in the “Book Of The Dead.” One of those things involves the burning of the possessed.
As in the first movie, the basement is discovered. This time, however, not only do the kids find the dreaded Book Of The Dead, but a cellar full of dead animals strung from the ceiling. The stench of which is what led to the discovery in the first place, and like in Raimi’s film one of the friends cracks open the Book and accidentally reads aloud a particular line that makes everything go batshit insane all over again.
After Mia is “tree raped,” a scene dutifully carried over from the original, Mia is quickly possessed, but for a short time her possession is interpreted as withdrawal symptoms, until we finally get to a point where things are going so demonically out of control that there’s no other choice but to believe the unbelievable. One by one the friends are possessed and compelled to either act out terrible, fleshy brutality upon themselves or the closest unpossessed person next to them—most times both—until only one is left alive at the end.
When Raimi’s movie came out it was hailed as the most grueling movie going experience to date. I remember Siskel & Ebert’s review of it on their Sneak Preview show where they stated they couldn’t show a lot of clips because of the extreme gore. I will say the remake is consistent with that original mindset. This 21st Century Evil Dead, when the shit hits the fan it is even more brutal and disturbing, making Raimi’s version look almost like a Disney film. Theses scenes easily exceeded my horror level endurance. There’s a dog that is slain in this film as well. I’m not a fan of any horror filmmaker who puts animals into their movies and then kills them off brutally. This almost turned me off more than the “Deadite-on-human” atrocities. The dog’s death thankfully was handled off screen, with only a couple seconds flashback to show what happened.
The cinematography was slick and excellent with occasional Raimi-esque touches to make fans feel like the director is honoring the material rather than just cashing in on a beloved cult classic.
I have read some comments on the web where some people took issue with the “lack of characterization.” I had no problem with it, save for the blonde, who really didn’t have any presence until she was possessed. Other than that, I found the other characters defined and relatable. I believe Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), when it came out, was also criticized for not having any well-defined characters. Characterizations in movies like these are generally gleaned through the acts and decisions made when the horror is upon them, not through any needed exposition of past experiences or flashback scenes. Having said that, in the beginning and during a brief moment within the horror of Alvarez’s version, there is some exposition that fleshes out David and Mia’s characters and how they relate to one another. It’s brief but enough for me to understand them.
Alvarez also laced his version with homages to Raimi’s Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987)—a hand possession, a workshed, a trip to a point in the road that is no longer a means to freedom, and Army Of Darkness (1993)—a waterlogged fight in a cellar, the loss of a hand, a chainsaw used by the possessor of that now “lost hand.” There might have been more, but these are the ones I instantly noticed.
I’m giving this flick a conflicted thumbs up. In one of the featurettes, Bruce Campbell states they wanted to do a movie that was disturbing and judging by how well it shocked me I’d say these guys succeeded in doing just that. Personally, I think, this was the only logical course a filmmaker could’ve taken in remaking this particular cult classic. Funny, because my reaction to it was how I expected to react when I finally saw the original Evil Dead back in the late 90s, but, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t react that way at all. The “eye trauma” in that version certainly unsettled me, but all “eye trauma” in movies do. In Fede’s movie I actually cringed inside every time the horror started to ramp up, and the last time I felt that happen was when I was a little kid and horror movies were new to me.
Whether this becomes a bona fide cult classic we won’t know for roughly a decade. I think you need that amount of time for a movie to achieve that kind of status, if it’s destined to happen. By then, though, we’ll probably have a new trilogy in existence as well, and I can’t imagine how Fede is going to top himself with any subsequent sequels. But God bless him just the same.
Before I dissect the featurettes, here are the basic specs. The 1080p High Definition 2.39:1 transfer was flawless as usual for a Sony movie. Audio configurations are as follows: English and Portuguese are both in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, while the following are 5.1 Dolby Digital only—French, Spanish and Thai. And the disc comes with an English Audio Description Service for the deaf. Subtitles are numerous (English, English SDH, Chinese, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai) and the audio commentary itself even comes with them (English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai).
First up is an audio Commentary with actors, Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas, Director, Fede Alvarez and Writer Rodo Sayagues. Not a bad one. There’s a lot of ‘oh-this-is-my-favorite-scene-and/or-shot’ kind of thing going on for a bit. Alavarez eventually dissects how the FX was done and so forth and fills us in on what shots were cut and why. He seems pretty confident about this theatrical cut, so I’ll be surprised if there’s ever an unrated version in the future.
The extra features you get are as follows: ‘Directing The Dead’ (7:25), here director, Fede Alavarez simply gives you his thinking on how he went about directing this movie. Pretty straightforward, if you ask me.
Next up is ‘Evil Dead The Reboot’ (9:50), an interesting featurette on how this remake came about. Bruce was the one who didn’t want it to happen, until he met Fede and learned his character was not going to be included. In all honesty, he really didn’t want to see another actor trying to imitate his performance. Fede’s reasoning was that Ash is iconic and only Bruce can play him. I agree with his assessment.
‘Making Life Difficult’ (8:13) covers how arduous the shoot was for the actors, specifically for Jane Levy who played Mia.
In ‘Being Mia’ (9:13) Jane Levy video chronicles a day-in-her-life on the set and what is was like being Mia.
Finally we have, ‘Unleashing The Evil Force’ (5:07), which covers the new Book Of The Dead. I found this new tome to actually be creepier than Raimi’s, in design and how it relates to what plays out in the film.
Last but not least trailers included on the disc are for Olympus Has Fallen, Breakout, Magic Magic, Dead Man Down, The Call and The Last Exorcism, Part II.
This movie comes in two forms, standard DVD and a Blu-ray/Digital Copy version, and two of those aforementioned featurettes I just covered are exclusive to the blu-ray only (Unleashing The Evil Force and Evil Dead The Reboot), as well as the commentary.