“Evil Dead” (2013) – Review by Daniel Rester

Evil Dead Review

by Daniel Rester

Evil Dead (2013) is a remake of The Evil Dead (1981), a cult horror favorite and the film that put Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on the map. Now those two return as producers for the remake, with Fede Alvarez helming the project with his directorial debut. Alvarez was supposedly handpicked by Raimi because he made some Youtube videos  that impressed Raimi. And a fan of horror can see why. Alvarez is a talent behind the camera, and makes this Dead a worthy remake.

The remake uses a similar premise to that of the original. Instead of five college students taking a vacation to a cabin in the woods, though, this one has four adults (some college students) taking a friend to the cabin in order to kick heroin. The addict is named Mia (Jane Levy), who could be called the lead (in a way) in the remake. Her two friends are Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas). Joining the three of them are David (Shiloh Fernandez), Mia’s estranged brother, and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), David’s girlfriend.

After opening differently (and entertainingly), the film finds the characters in the cabin, and Eric making the mistake of reading from The Book of the Dead. Oh, by the way, this guy is a supposedly intelligent teacher and the book is wrapped in human flesh and barbwire, and features warning signs all over it; characters in horror films are so smart. Anyways, Eric makes a big mistake. Soon, demons start to possess some of the characters and all hell breaks loose.

The original Dead and its sequels are some of my favorite horror films, and are loved by many other horror fans. While the original film had its obvious flaws and low budget production values when it came out, it was an inventive and blood-splattered rollercoaster ride. And it remains fun today for horror aficionados. So when it was announced that a remake was finally being made, I had mixed feelings. I was excited because I wanted to see what Dead would be like for a new generation. But I was also scared because a lot of horror remakes are poorly constructed.

The new Dead mostly works because it pays respect to the original, not resorting to changing everything or copying everything. Instead, it establishes its own grounds while throwing in a few tributes (trees, chainsaws, clocks, Raimi cam, etc.) to Raimi’s classic. It’s also refreshing that it never makes fun of the original and it doesn’t feel like a cash-grab aimed at teenagers — like many modern horror films do. The film is actually made with care by Alvarez, and features some R-rated intensity for adults.

Dead has many things on its side that it benefits from. As said, Alvarez is strong behind the camera and obviously has care for Raimi’s films. The director feeds the fans with such things as “the tree rape,” but he also presents a few new tricks in order to keep things more lively; two things that come in to play are duct tape and nail guns. But this isn’t a reinvention like last year’s brilliant The Cabin in the Woods. Alvarez sticks to the genre platform and presents it in the best ways he can, acknowledging that the movie knows exactly what kind of movie it is. In doing this, Alvarez lets the blood fly and puts his actors in intense situations. He really puts the pedal to the metal and sticks to crafting respectably about the genre (with surprises at turns), never resorting to adding in things such as huge dramatizations or big messages. The climax is especially exciting.

But Alvarez doesn’t do everything on his own. It seems that about 95% of the film uses practical effects instead of CGI, making the gore factor more realistic, refreshing, and intense. This is a credit to Alvarez, but also to his army of makeup artists, whose creation of the various demons’ looks and other things are awesome. Two other strong things about the movie are the cinematography by Aaron Morton and music by Roque Banos. Morton gives many scenes that are both perfectly lit and framed, actually presenting many beautiful shots in the film (especially with sunlight peering through the woods). And Banos’ music helps to amp everything up, with traditional horror music mixing with a variety of colorful noises.

The cast of the new Dead, however, is a mixed bag. I applaud all of them for going through so much in presenting the movie with all of its practical effects, but that doesn’t mean that they are stellar actors. While all of them effectively show fear, only two rise above that level and become likable and worth rooting for. Those are Levy, who is believable and strong as Mia, and Pucci, whose character of Eric is an idiot but takes so much and remains a badass. Fernandez takes the lead position at times and is solid, but he never presents much personality. And Blackmore and Lucas just seem to be going through the “horror movie motions.”

The main problem with the film is the screenplay. Sticking to the genre ideas is fine as long as one pumps it out well, as described earlier – and is what Alvarez does. One doesn’t need to add a bunch of things to weigh down a script like this. That said, the screenplay should still have some strength in basic departments. Such departments would be dialogue and character development. Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues wrote the screenplay, and while they did a passable job for the most part in keeping things interesting, those two areas need some work. The dialogue (especially in the beginning) sometimes feels forced and clunky, while the character development is next to nothing, making it harder to root for anyone. Those are the main problems with the script, while a couple of small plot holes and lulling moments adding on a few annoyances too. The script also features little humor, while the original has tons of ridiculous moments that cause laughs.

Dead is a horror film for fans of how extremely bloody horror films used to be, taking one on a ride with vibrant practical effects and memorable kills. Too often today does a horror film feature lots of CGI and boring, torture-porn scenes. Dead isn’t super scary (at least it wasn’t for me), but it is exciting horror entertainment. It aims to be like and respect horror films from the past, and does so in a fine manner. I can’t say that I fully loved it, but it certainly didn’t let me down like many other horror remakes have done before.

P.S. Fans need to stay through the credits.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).

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