I’m going to posit what I’m sure will be an unpopular opinion. The very first The Evil Dead is not a good movie. The Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness are beloved cult classics because they combined cheesy B-movie horror tropes with a witty self-awareness and intentionally campy sensibilities. Despite some of the revisionist history surrounding the first entry, it is a straight horror film, and it is neither scary nor particularly disturbing nor well-made in the slightest (though it’s clear even then that Bruce Campbell is brilliant and Sam Raimi has a distinct eye as a director). Simply put, 1981’s The Evil Dead isn’t so bad, it’s good (Rocky Horror-style); it’s so bad, it’s almost unwatchable (Valley of the Dolls style). By no stretch of the imagination does 2013’s Evil Dead remake meet the magic of the sequels, but it is also, simply put, a better constructed film than the original even if it ultimately lacks any of the magic that would make the original sequels so brilliant.
I used this metaphor on Facebook after I watched this film Saturday night with my sister and her room mate but it’s good enough that I can use it again. On a “fucked up movie” scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and 10 is Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, the Evil Dead remake clocks in at a solid 9. I have a friend who passed out, like literally fainted, when she saw this movie in theaters. My sister’s roommate started getting nauseous during the film. Gory barely begins to cover this movie, and while I’m a fairly vocal advocate of hating the “torture porn” genre of horror, Evil Dead (which is no way a “torture porn” film; it’s just extremely violent) has to get points for crossing the line not once or twice but like five or six different times. That it manages to mix sadistic violence with the franchise’s established dark humor is very impressive.
In the litany of reasons why this film is in nearly every technical way better than the first, the characters actually have meaningful backgrounds and personalities in this entry (even if they’re still horror movie thin). Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict who retreats to a cabin in the woods (side note: I really need to review Cabin in the Woods, the best horror movie since Let the Right One In) with her friends and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) so she can kick her habit. True to the original, the group finds a book in the basement of the cabin with warnings to not read it and pictures of demonic rituals on the inside. Ten bucks if you can guess what they do with this book (not really paying anyone). And when demons begin to possess the campers one by one, a bloodbath (often literally in this film’s case) begins.
I really can’t oversell how outrageously violent this movie is. It is at a Rob Zombie or Planet Terror level of cinematic sadism (though it’s not nearly as funny as Planet Terror which is the ultimate B-Movie horror throwback). I am pretty desensitized to violence in any media (whether that’s movies, television, or video games, especially video games) and I was consistently shocked at Evil Dead‘s ability to shock me with it’s level of violence and gore. But, once you get past the initial shock (though, like I said, the film constantly finds new ways to top itself), you realize that the movie becomes almost comically macabre. It enters such a range of over-the-top spectacle that there’s simply no way the film is trying to be serious. It begins to poke fun at the own shock tactics it’s been using. Still, if you have a low tolerance for blood, guts, bones, and brains, stay the hell away from this movie.
While I have a very low opinion of the original Evil Dead, it did have some things going for it. Bruce Campbell was rough in it, but you knew he was something special despite all of that, and Sam Raimi brought technical and cinematic wizardry on such a tight budget. In virtually every regard, this remake is a better, more structurally sound film than the original, but it never has that magical moment where you think, “man, this could really be something special.” There’s no stand-out element of the film other than just how far they’re willing to push the button (and the test the audience’s stomachs). I spent the whole movie thinking, “This could really use Bruce Campbell.” And, boy, if the movie had more of the comedic undertones of The Evil Dead 2, it could have been a modern cult classic in its own right.
As it is, 2013’s Evil Dead (so far the only film I’ve reviewed from this year; more will arrive I promise) is an astonishingly consistently fucked up movie that gets points for just how much it was able to get under my presumed to be desensitized skin. I’m not much of a horror fan because 95% of it is garbage. Evil Dead is probably garbage but it is entertaining/disturbing/blood-drenched garbage and you have to admire the cajones it takes to push things that far. When so much of the horror genre is brain-dead and formulaic, Evil Dead‘s willingness to stretch the boundaries of the acceptable at least makes it a semi-refreshing alternative to its genre peers.
Final Score: B
(Don’t watch this trailer if you’re sensitive to the issues I’ve outlined. It’s the Red Band trailer.)