Blu-ray Review: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead BR CoverDistributor: StudioCanal

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jim McLarty, Elizabeth Blackmore

It was only a matter of time before somebody got round to remaking The Evil Dead (in this case just called Evil Dead). Although the pros and cons with regards to remakes is an ongoing argument that isn’t going to go away anytime soon, it seems the idea of remaking Sam Raimi’s infamous low-budget gore classic got many people choking on their entrails and wondering how a vision created with such style and energy could be interpreted for a new generation who expect certain things from their horror films, things that don’t include stop-motion special effects and retreads of old Three Stooges routines.

Although the basics of the plot are still in place from the original, it has been tinkered with a little bit. In this film five friends go to the secluded cabin for the reason of putting one of the group, Mia (Jane Levy), through cold turkey to get off drugs. Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) are the last to arrive, joining Mia and her friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and not long after Mia’s uncomfortable situation begins to manifest itself as she claims to be able to smell something terrible. Finding a trapdoor to the basement the group discover a room full of hanging cats and a book wrapped in plastic and tied up with barbed wire. Taking the book upstairs to his room, Eric begins to read some of its pages and inadvertently unleashes an ancient evil that will possess each of the group in a night of seemingly unending bloodshed.

Despite being a remake of a film that is over three decades old, Evil Dead is still a 21st century horror film and certain conventions that have become part of the make-up of modern horror films have to be adhered to. The most obvious one is the look of the possessed victims – known as ‘Deadites’ in the original series – which brings in a mixture of J-Horror influences combined with the look of the creatures from Lamberto Bava’s ’80s classic Demons, which was itself an Italian knock-off of the original The Evil Dead. These Deadites lurch around with jerky movements, much like the ghostly figures in pretty much any Japanese horror film from the last 15 years you care to mention, and their features don’t go much beyond yellow eyes and slimy green skin, which is enough to keep things unnerving. What is missing, though, is the nursery rhyme taunting that made the original film so haunting and made the Deadites more threatening. It is adhered to in one key scene, a scene where David has a tough decision to make, and the score does allude to it with a suitable piano interpretation when needed, but whereas it was a key element of the original, here it is conspicuous by its absence.

Another major thing that horror films haven’t done so well with recently is in creating characters that we give two hoots about and on that level Evil Dead does a little better than most. Keeping the number at five makes it easier to keep track of who’s who and instead of trying to emulate Bruce Campbell’s iconic Ash character it seems that the writers took the liberty of spreading out some of his character traits and plights across David, Eric and Natalie. Natalie is the one who gets the possessed hand, David takes on Ash’s emotional burdens with regards to what to do for the best and it is poor old Eric who gets stabbed, slashed, shot, bludgeoned and beaten, and it’s all done with the emphasis on brutality rather than humour. All of the actors do fine with what they’re given, with Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci probably doing the best work to gain our sympathies. Jane Levy is also noteworthy with what she has to go through, although she is more believable as a demon than she is a junkie.

Remaking an established classic with so many trademarks is no easy feat and thankfully the soul of the original The Evil Dead is still alive and well within this film as it is a fun ride when it could so easily have been an exercise in mean-spirited torture porn-style violence. That isn’t to say that the violence isn’t brutal but it is all done with a sadistic glee that wants to make you jump, squirm and giggle all at the same time. That said, the film doesn’t quite crackle with the same energy that kept the original film rolling along, which is something of a curse for any remake that’s trying to recreate something that’s already been done. Think about those bands who have gone back and recorded new versions of their old material; they can polish it with better production and superior musicianship but somewhere along the way that creative spark is absent, and although Evil Dead looks great and touches on enough familiar material for the fans whilst adding a few new twists, it doesn’t push the envelope in any way and is simply a very good horror film without being groundbreaking or inventive.

Although one way it does break what has become something of an irritating trend is that it doesn’t rely on the over-use of CGI. It is there, but mainly to back up the practical effects, which are excellent, and during some scenes involving fire. That’s probably enough to enrage most purists but even gritty throwback films like The Devil’s Rejects used CGI to enhance other effects in minimal ways, and thankfully the film never goes down the route of using black-eyed and slack-jawed zombie effects like Grave Encounters and the like.

Ultimately, Evil Dead is a very good horror film – probably one of the best for quite a while – that does succeed in giving you the shocks and gore that a film with that title should. Is it ‘the most terrifying film you will ever experience’, as it claims on the poster? Not quite, but it is aspiring to be and, possibly due to the involvement of original creators Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert, there is a lot of heart and – that word again – soul here. Evil Dead accomplishes that most difficult of things in being both a remake that pays enormous respect to its source material and a solid enough film in its own right so that if you’re not familiar with the original films you’re not going to get bogged down with nods and references to a mythology that you wouldn’t get unless you are a fanboy. As long as you’re open-minded enough to accept that this is not going to be as good as your cherished original but you can still admit to liking it anyway, it is safe to say that Evil Dead 2013 has done its job and re-interpreted an old film in a new way without selling its soul. And make sure you stay watching until the end of the credits.

Evil Dead

Release Date: 12th August 2013

Special Features: Audio commentary featuring Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues, Making Life Difficult featurette, Being Mia featurette, Directing The Dead featurette, Unleashing The Evil Force featurette, Evil Dead: The Reboot featurette.

StudioCanal – Website

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