Released: 5 April 2013
Director: Fede Álvarez
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $17 million
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, and Randal Wilson/Rupert Degas
Mia Allen (Levy) is taken to a remote cabin by her friends and estranged brother, David (Fernandez), in hopes of forcing her to go cold turkey with her addiction to heroin. When they discover a macabre book filled with incantations in the morbid cellar, Mia is tormented by ghastly visions that turn out to be all-too-real as an ancient, demonic force seeks to brutalise and possess her and her friends.
In 1981, critics and audiences were horrified when The Evil Dead hit cinemas. The result of a collaboration between now-legendary horror director Sam Raimi and his long-time friend Bruce Campbell (as well as friends and family alike), The Evil Dead might have been a low-brow, low-budget splatter-horror film, but it was a surprising critical and commercial hit. After failing to achieve mainstream success, Raimi reunited with Campbell for the bigger and better sequel; Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987) became a cult classic thanks to its over the top gore and iconic action hero, however it was only this latter element that was expanded upon for the third film, Army of Darkness (ibid, 1993), which divided audiences due to its heavier focus on slapstick comedy. While the story continued in videogames and comic books, rumours of a remake or fourth entry circled Hollywood for years; although Campbell declared the project dead in the water in 2007, he later announced that it had found new life with a script that was more a re-imagining of the original film than a straight-up remake. Director Fede Álvarez made his feature-film debut with the remake, which he saw as a continuation of the original film; Álvarez also made the creative decision to focus on practical effects and make-up wherever possible even though it took longer and cost more. Evil Dead proved a surprising success; it made just shy of $100 million at the box office and was met with largely positive reviews that praised the brutal gore and grittier tone, though there were inevitably some who took issue with the debauched content and the absence of Campbell’s memorable protagonist. While these latter criticisms were addressed when Campbell returned for an admittedly awesome three-season spin-off, Sam Raimi teased a continuation of Army of Darkness before finally opting to produce another standalone entry in the franchise rather than a sequel to Evil Dead.
I went into great detail in my reviews of the original Evil Dead trilogy about my thoughts on the franchise; while I can respect the hustle and ambition of the first film, and there’s an appeal to Bruce Campbell’s unfiltered bravado in the third, it’s the second one that strikes the perfect tone between horror, action, and comedy that I think works best for the franchise. I’ll always recommend people go to Evil Dead II before the original and had long held the belief that The Evil Dead just hadn’t aged as well as its far superior sequel. There’s often a lot of hatred levelled at remakes, and deservedly so at times, but I would argue horror, of all genres, has fared pretty well whenever it gets a new coat of paint. After seeing the first trailers and getting over the fact that Campbell wouldn’t be returning (and, wisely, wasn’t recast), I remember being really excited for this darker, gritter re-imagining of the first film, an almost comical venture in hindsight that was in desperate need of an update no matter how highly I regard its sequel.
So, no, Ash Williams is not in Evil Dead. It would’ve been a fool’s errand to ask any actor to try and fill those shoes so, instead, we get an all new, young and sexy cast with an entirely different motivation behind isolating themselves in a creepy cabin in the woods. Like the original movie, Evil Dead features five main characters, two of which are brother and sister. Mia and David were close as children but have since grown apart and there’s a fair amount of bad blood between them since David left Mia to care for their dying mother all alone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mia has become addicted to heroin and has tried, unsuccessfully, on many occasions to kick the habit. This is the first time that David has been present for her intervention, however, and much of the film’s focus is on him trying to care for her and make amends with her as she struggles with painful withdrawal symptoms, which manifest in the form of horrific visions of a demonic force seeking to devour her. Mia is, at her core, a fundamentally broken character; she has a loving and caring support network but, despite their best efforts, none of her friends truly understand what’s going through and she feels increasingly isolated when her claims to be haunted by a malicious evil are chalked up to her going cold turkey. When they refuse to give in to her desperate demands to leave, adamant to force her to kick her destructive habit once and for all, she tries to leave by herself, only to crash and be confronted by the evil in the forest, which here takes the form of a demonic doppelgänger of herself. Targeting her as the weakest member of the group, the demon possesses her through a far more logical (though no less traumatic) version of the infamous “tree rape” scene and she’s driven to abusing herself and others through increasing violent behaviour.
Mia is cared for by her best friend, Olivia (Lucas), a nurse who’s suffered through Mia’s attempts to kick her habit before and is at her wit’s end with it all, especially after Mia not only previously made the same promises to quit but after legally died after overdosing in the past. Her previous experiences with Mia’s wild hallucinations mean she fails to heed her friend’s scathing warnings about the stench coming from the cellar (which is full of dead cats hanging on meat hooks!) and their impending doom after they discover the Naturom Demonto. It’s all new to David, however, who is so desperate to keep his sister safe out of a sense of guilt that he doesn’t hesitate to take her to safety after discovering her scalding her body in the shower, only to be undone by the rising evil forces in the area. Although he might not seem it, David is closer to Ash than you might think; he’s a “charming liar” who’s been through his fair share of women and has the same terrible taste in neck-wear, and he’s also a sceptic and reluctant hero whose concerns begin and end with Mia and only extend further once the shit really hits the fan. His current girlfriend, Natalie (Blackmore), is a stranger to the group and naturally quite dependant on David as a result; she’s struggles to fit in and is adamant that they should leave once things start to escalate but David remains largely dumbfounded, only really taking things seriously once Mia starts puking up red bile and mutilating her tongue with a box cutter! Poor Natalie ends up the most unfortunate victim of the horrific events at the cabin; driven to near madness by the rotting infection in her arm, she severs it in a daze before attacking her friends in a possessed frenzy and being put out of her misery. Things don’t fare much better for Olivia, who is equally driven to maim her face as per depictions in the Naturom Demonto and ending up little more than a crazed, bloodthirsty demon who needs to be beaten to death.
The demonic force that plagues these characters is significantly altered in Evil Dead; the film opens with a young girl (Phoenix Connolly) suffering from the book’s possession and the lore behind it only escalates from there. Though lacking the monstrous visage on the front cover, the Naturom Demonto is still bound in human flesh and inked in human blood but now contains helpful warnings, written in English, not to read its incantations out loud. It also contains many drawings of the fates the characters later suffer before schoolteacher Eric (Pucci), who makes no bones about chewing David out for his absenteeism and who you’d think would be one of the film’s smarter characters, decides to ignore all these warnings and read from the book, awakening the familiar evil force from the woods. While Eric suffers greatly (and comically) for his foolishness, he also acts as a source of exposition for the events occurring; this time, the book unleashes a disembodied, demonic spirit known as “The Abomination” (Wilson/Degas), which possesses a host and then sets about claiming five souls in order to take physical form in a dirge of rain. The possessed are driven into a violent daze, mutilating themselves and attacking others in a spiteful rage, while Mia cackles and looks on with glee from the cellar. While the only way to stop them is again by bodily dismemberment, the victim’s souls can only be saved from damnation using “purifying” fire, driving grieving fathers to watch their possessed daughters suffer, or a live burial. While David is able to succeed at the latter, the evil force manages to claim enough souls to burst from the ground in terrifying and gore-soaked fashion, though it appears throughout the film as a snarling, animalistic doppelgänger of Mia that delights in her torment and commits the cardinal sin of driving her to bash her and David’s beloved dog Grandpa (Inca) to death with a hammer!
Evil Dead is easily the heaviest of the entire franchise thanks to its focus on addiction; Mia has struggled so badly from the trauma of watching her mother waste away and then die that she turned to heroin for a release and this addiction has caused her nothing but further pain. Her friends, though doubtful, support her attempts to get clean but very much prescribe toe a “tough love” philosophy since she’s sworn off the drugs before and always relapsed. This, as much as anything, proves to be their downfall when they fail to take her claims seriously, resulting in her becoming more and more possessed and them suffering greatly. Another prominent aspect of the film involves David trying to make amends for abandoning Mia; the brother/sister dynamic was barely a thing in The Evil Dead but, here, it’s at the forefront of these characters. It’s because of his guilt and love for her that David tries to get Mia to safety, and that same sense of duty compels him to defend her even when she’s a cackling witch and even sacrifice himself in an attempt to safeguard her, foolish as that decision was. Thus evil Dead thematically and visually has very few links to the previous films; the tilting and rushing camera is back but the cabin and book are both very different. The cabin now has a close link to the two main characters and brings back many painful memories for both Mia and David, the former because of how hard it was to see her mother suffer and the latter because of his guilt and not being there to support them. The location isn’t quite the same and the nature of the possessed and the evil itself are also much different, though you can still spot Ash’s prized Oldsmobile on the grounds and Campbell makes a completely pointless post-credit cameo (I would’ve much preferred he had waved the kids off at the start or even if they’d stumbled upon his corpse).
As ambitious and admittedly impressive as the traditional make-up and practical effects were in the original trilogy, Evil Dead definitely reaps the benefits of modern technology, and from emphasising practical effects throughout its production. The gore on display is truly unsettling; you really feel the brutality of each wound and it’s genuinely sickening seeing Natalie’s arm drop to the floor with a wet squelch. Indeed, the movie really excels is in taking the concept and really treating it seriously; there’s very little humour in Evil Dead and the evil force is far more malevolent than playful, though elements of this latter characterisation can still be found when the possessed Mia spitefully barks at her friends. Instead, the focus is on brutal and unashamed gore; that girl is absolutely roasted in the opening sequence, Mia’s skin bubbles from the searing-hot water, and she sicks up a spew of blood bile onto Olivia, who is ten compelled by the book (and the evil force) to carve open her face with a shard of glass. Poor Natalie gets assaulted by the possessed Mia in the cellar in a disturbingly sexual way before receiving an infectious bite to her hand and being compelled to saw the diseased limb off with an electric knife in a far more gruesome scene than any of Ash’s struggles with his own infected appendage. She’s then driven to attack her friends with a nail gun, only to end up losing her other limb to a shotgun blast and bleeding out on the cabin floor! And that’s before we even touch upon Mia scalding herself, a demonic root forcing itself way down her throat, and slicing into her tongue with a box cutter! Of all the characters, it’s Eric who suffers the most abuse, however. This bespectacled dumbass sure as hell can take a licking and keep on ticking; he slips on a piece of Olivia’s skin, landing on the toilet as he falls, before being brutalised by repeated stabs to the face by a needle, riddled with nails, and ending up with his arm being bludgeoned by the possessed Natalie and a bloodied and beaten mess courtesy of her crowbar attack, and yet he still keeps breathing!
In comparison, Mia gets off quite lightly; she doesn’t end up having her head bashed in with a piece of ceramic and all of the injuries and ailments she suffers while possessed magically disappear after she spontaneously returns to life following David’s effort to purify her with a live burial, though she makes up for this in grisly fashion in the last act of the movie. With all of their friends dead or springing to unlife as violent and crazed demons, and with the book proving to be indestructible, David is forced to step up and protect Mia despite his best, most futile efforts to lie to himself about her condition. He ventures into the cellar to confront her and is manhandled in comical fashion by her crazed attack; it’s only thanks to one last gasp of life from Eric that David is able to bundle Mia up and bury her alive, purging her of the evil’s malicious influence and then immediately jump-starting her heart with a jerry-rigged defibrillator that he stabs haphazardly into her chest! Though this works, Eric’s possessed corpse attacks him and David is forced to sacrifice himself to keep Mia safe, setting the cabin (and himself) alight with a small explosion. This, however, proves to be the final sacrifice needed to bring the Abomination back to life; the skies literally pour blood and the creature, a twisted and demonic mirror of Mia, claws its way out of the ground in a recreation of the original film’s iconic poster. It attacks Mia with a ravenous malice scalding her skin with the lightest touch; Mia’s desperate attempts to hide and fight back also mirror Ash’s panicked escape from the unseen evil, but this finale proves easily the most unsettling sequence in the entire franchise thus far thanks to actually being able to see the blood-drenched demon as it scrambles after its prey. Although Mia severs the Abomination’s legs with a chainsaw, the gnarled demon overturns David’s truck and crushes Mia’s left wrist! Desperate and in agony, Mia has no choice but to tear her wrist free! Considering the film already showed a severed limb, I had no idea this was going to happen at the time and, even now, it’s absolutely brutal to watch! However, it’s a fantastic character moment for Mia as she finally takes charge and attacks her demons, given horrific physical form, to put an end to her misery by thrusting the stump into the chainsaw’s handle, and sawing through the Abomination’s head in a crazy fury! Defeated, the creature sinks into the ground and the blood rain promptly stops, leaving Mia a dishevelled and traumatised mess as she wanders off for help, the Naturom Demonto left forgotten and very much intact…
I remember being stunned by Evil Dead when I first watched it. Although a long-time fan of the franchise, even I would admit that the only one of the original trilogy I really enjoyed and highly rated was the second one, with the first having aged poorly and the third being too comical for my tastes. Thus, I was excited to see a gritty, no-nonsense modern take on the concept and Evil Dead certainly brought the horror back to this cult franchise! While it’s true that the film isn’t as immediately iconic without its smart-mouthed action hero, no actor could really fill Bruce Campbell’s boots and the cast we have is surprisingly strong for a horror film. Mia’s struggles with addiction and the impact it’s had on her friends is violent, tragic, and palpable, even more so for David, who is burdened by guilt at having been absent during his mother’s illness and Mia’s suffering. Of them all, Eric proved the most exasperating character; he’s constantly giving David a hard time (and rightfully so) and stupidly reads from the book despite clear warnings not to, but he make sup for it being enduring some truly horrific abuse once the shit hits the fan! And that’s what really makes Evil Dead a standout entry for me and one of the top horror remakes; it takes the source material seriously, pays homage to the originals by reconfiguring some of their most memorable moments into a gory new context, and expands on the lore in ways that are both familiar and unique to this incarnation. The film is worth the price of admission for its unrelenting, sickening gore but it proves to be a visually stunning and ominously engaging, spiteful horror that makes no apologies for its content and proudly showcases some truly disturbing moments as if in defiance of a slew of poorly-regarded PG-13 horror productions. As much as I enjoyed the spin-off TV show, it never fails to disappoint me that we never got a follow-up to the remake; it made money and proved popular but, sadly, we never got to see Ash and Mia team up as chainsaw buddies, but luckily we can also return to this gritty, unrelentingly brutal film whenever we want a good taste of visceral horror!
What did you think to Evil Dead? Where would you rate it compared to other entries in the franchise? Were you disappointed by Ash and Bruce Campbell’s absence? What did you think to the new characters and the depiction of addiction? Were you impressed by the film’s unrelenting gore and effects or is it a little too much for you? What did you think to the changes made to the lore and the depiction of the Abomination? Were you disappointed that we never got a follow-up to this film? What are some of your favourite remakes? Whatever your think about Evil Dead and its franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.
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