Everything Oldsmobile Is New Again, by Kyle Anderson
There is no reason to remake a good movie. There just isn’t one, no matter how long it’s been since the original came out or whether there’s “brand recognition” or whathaveyou. However, I am all for someone making ANOTHER one that happens to share a lot of the elements of the original, provided it’s different enough and doesn’t dumb down what people liked about it in the first place. Lots and lots of horror movies get remade, rebooted, or otherwise redone in Hollywood these days and for every Dawn of the Dead or The Hills Have Eyes, there’s a Halloween and The Thing. Hmm, perhaps it’s just John Carpenter movies that shouldn’t be remade. At any rate, they’ve done it again with what many horror fans hold as the be-all, end-all of splatter movies, Sam Raimi’s 1981 gross-out, The Evil Dead, which made a face (and chin) out of Bruce Campbell. This new version, directed by Fede Alvarez, has the blessing of the first film’s producers, and also doesn’t skimp at all on the gore… boy, does it ever not.
In this version of things, five young people make their way to the proverbial cabin in the woods for the weekend, but where the original and others like it have the kids “party down,” this version has them there to aid in another attempt to get Mia (played by Jane Levy) off of smack. Among the helpers is Mia’s estranged older brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who took off years earlier when their mother became mentally deranged. David and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) go into the cellar to investigate a horrific odor and come across a room filled with cat carcasses dangling from ropes. They also find a book wrapped in barbed wire, which Eric idiotically unwraps and, not caring that it appears to be bound in flesh, begins to look through it and, even more idiotically, reads some of the foreign incantations contained within. This releases an evil entity which needs to devour five souls before it can be released from its slumber. It does not go well for anybody, really.
This is well-trod ground for horror buffs, and especially those that have seen last year’s Cabin in the Woods, which turned the entire genre around into a series of clichés and tropes in a way more fun and yet more damning than Wes Craven’s Scream did with the slasher movie specifically. Alvarez and company very clearly knew they were playing with something at once beloved and overdone and has taken steps to ensure that his version of Evil Dead be the same enough to satisfy fans of the original but different enough to stand on its own. I think it does this surprisingly well. It sticks true to a lot of the hallmarks of Raimi’s films (the cabin, the chainsaw, the cellar, the shotgun, the presence of an Oldsmobile), but it changes the relationships, the circumstances, and, indeed, the protagonist several times.
As someone who adores Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, I got a kick out of seeing how they’d update certain things and for the most part the retreads of the originals are brief glances or circumstantially upended. Characters will do things that happened the first time around, but they’re usually different characters and for different reasons. For instance, who you assume, and who is even dressed up to look a bit like, will be the de-facto “Ash” character (none of the kids are named Ash) shares none of the usual flags of that character, save him being the brother of the girl who is first possessed (spoilers, apologies). However, many of Ash’s lines, actions, and motivations are present, but split up among all five characters at one point or another. This keeps the knowing audience guessing as to who the last person standing might be. Having known about Evil Dead long before I saw them, I always knew Bruce Campbell was the hero, but here we’re never quite sure, which is something I found very refreshing and added to the tension.
It also does not pull any punches in the gore department. This is a movie, like the original, that’s based on makeup effects and copious amounts of sticky, gruey blood and guts. I’ve gotten so tired of horror movies using CGI for things that would of course look better done practically. That was one of the many travesties of the aforementioned prequel/remake of Carpenter’s The Thing. Rob Bottin’s creature effects in the 1982 version were what made that film feel so real and to replace them with shiny, weightless computer graphics lessens the overall impact. Here, if possible, there is more blood and viscera being sloshed about than in Raimi’s original. Certainly, toward the end, the huge amount of the stuff felt more in keeping with the cartoonish Evil Dead 2, though never in a bad way. Sure, there are a few CG shots here, but they aren’t used as a crutch as much as a way to add to the horrific nature.
This is a movie that doesn’t treat its characters very well. Physically, every single person has some grievous bodily injury occur as they’re trying to deal with the whole demonic possession thing. The film also removes a key aspect to the first film’s success, which is that all five kids were supremely goofy, not simply Campbell, and so when things started going awful for them, we could chuckle at their poor handling of things as we screamed. Here, because of the serious reason for their visit to the woods, there’s not much lightheartedness for us to attach personality traits to. The two characters who are served the poorest in this way are Olivia (Jessica Lucas), about whom all we know is she’s a nurse, and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), who is David’s rather dim girlfriend. We barely get to know them at all before the bad things start happening, and while they get a moment or two to shine, they’re very much in survival mode the whole time.
That being said, however, Evil Dead is a huge amount of fun and is tonally very similar to the first film once the horror kicks off. The squeamish among us will probably have to watch through clasped fingers, but this is a movie that literally has blood raining from the sky, so if you can’t handle the sight of the red stuff, you might want to skip it. I’ll probably be heading to see it a second time very soon as it’s a world I’m always happy to visit again.