‘Evil Dead’ remake a lot messier than original

Lou Taylor Pucci, left, Jessica Lucas, Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy and Elizabeth Blackmore star in "Evil Dead." SOURCE TRISTAR PICTURES
April 14, 2013

Two things have been weighing heavily on my mind that I must get off before beginning this review:

1) I will lend my voice to the chorus of those saddened by the passing of a man who I considered one of my greatest influences, Roger Ebert. I can still recall the spiral notebook I kept as a child that held reviews of all the films I had seen, even with a little star rating next to each title. In each entry, I was only concerned with the opinions of two critics at that time, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, whose directional thumbs I would sketch at the end of each review. Every weekend, they would inform me on “At the Movies” what needed to be seen and missed, both delivering opinions that were at once accessible, entertaining and literate. Thank you, Mr. Ebert, for sharing your love of film, and the world, with us all.

2) To the woman (and who I assume was her family) who decided to take her young child (I’m guessing 9 or 10, maximum) to see the most recent “Evil Dead” remake on Saturday afternoon at Midway: You are a bad parent (and grandparent, and aunt). I don’t care how you rationalize it in your head, but there is no excuse for a young, developing brain being subjected to the violence, gore, sexuality and litany of other nasty adult-only themes prevalent throughout that film. I only hope you stash cash for the psychiatry bill that will be headed your way later in life when the poor kid develops any one of a number of issues.

On to the review... What does director Fede Alvarez have against hands? After all they do for us, he seems to have one hell of a grudge against our digit holsters. Throughout his remake of “The Evil Dead,” they get stabbed, impaled, cut, halved, possessed, crushed and severed completely. It’s not that other body parts are spared - they are not - but it seems hands are the go-to source for pain and suffering.

Alvarez is the internet sensation who, for $300, created an amazing short called “Panic Attack” (actually “Ataque de Panico”), uploaded it to YouTube in 2009, and grabbed the attention of Hollywood soon after. It’s no surprise that he and Sam Raimi, the director of the original “Evil Dead,” would hit it off so well, as that film was also heralded for doing so much with so little (its budget was rumored as under half a million, and it went on to gross eight times that in its theatrical run alone).

Last year’s “Cabin in the Woods” essentially deconstructed and dismembered the whole “stupid-teens-behaving-stupidly-in-the-woods-and-paying-for-it-violently” genre). The original “Evil Dead” is one of the genre’s founding fathers, so this remake better go hard or go home. They chose the former, and, while not without its faults, the result pays off for fans in the bloodiest ways possible.

I know I may be committing horror heresy, but if you give the original a hard eye, it has not aged well. The only true standout was the inventive way Raimi spun his camera throughout the cramped, remote cabin while supernatural demons unleashed holy hell on a group of unsuspecting teens who stumbled across an ancient book of the dead. The story was stale even in the early ‘80s; the acting (save for lead Bruce Campbell) was barely passable, and the effects demonstrated their budgetary constraints. But director had passion, and it showed throughout.

The remake has sparks of that same passion from its director, as Alvarez commits to old-school effects (there’s more Karo syrup in here than in a chain of IHOPs), and he floods everything with just the right amount of atmosphere and attitude. And when it comes to getting nasty (especially to hands!), he doesn’t flinch.

Unfortunately, the cast is just as unmemorable as the original (who can name one or more of the original cast members other than Campbell?). There’s the mysterious, brooding hunk (played by Shiloh Fernandez), his screaming, model-ready girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Blackmore), and his two childhood friends: a hipster-teacher (played by Lou Taylor Pucci) and a hot nurse (played by Jessica Lucas). In this version, they are all gathered to help their sister/friend Mia (played by Jane Levy) kick a nasty dope habit.

This is a great concept that the film fails to follow through with. Are all the demons Mia witnesses just an embodiment of her withdrawal, or are they quite literal? If Alvarez paid as much attention to the story as he does severing, there could have been an interesting statement on the horrors of addiction. But too soon it all takes a backseat to creative kills.

Even though all is tossed aside to literally shower the sets with blood, there is much to still enjoy with the creative scares, gore and grime. So many remakes of ‘80s- and ‘90s-era horror are sanitized and homogenized from their grittier originals. It’s like going to the video store in that era and seeing “Stallone” on the cover, only to realize it’s Frank, not Sylvester.

This remake certainly is not afraid to get a heck of a lot messier than the original. It does not mean it’s a better film, but by not being afraid to get crazy-nasty...well, you’ve got to give them a hand.

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