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Movie Review: The Evil Dead (2013)

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Evil Dead Screenshot

When I heard  1981’s The Evil Dead was being remade, I was livid. I put on my Army of Darkness shirt, sought out Internet horror forums for a little bias confirmation — and it worked. I was ready to oppose any remake of the Sam Raimi classic on the basis that the unique appeal of the low-budget original could never be captured again. The fact that the creators behind that first trip to a cabin in the woods were producing this new version didn’t seem to reduce my level of outrage. After all, so many horror classics have been butchered via modern Hollywood remakes that I had valid reason to doubt Evil Dead would be anything other than just another casualty.

I’m here to confess, having now seen the new Evil Dead twice, I was absolutely wrong. Not only does this remake please me as a huge fan of the classic series, it’s also a strong stand-alone horror film, destined to be a memorable must-see for genre loyalists.

Fans of the original will absolutely discover that this Evil Dead, directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez, has its own distinct voice. However, there are a ton of references and nods to the original, which undoubtedly will make the diehards smile with sadistic joy. Do you want haunted hands and evil eyes peeking up from trap doors? If so, you’ll have it.

The Evil Dead is a movie about an ancient book that unleashes an invisible force into the woods that systematically steals the body and soul of everyone around it. There’s tree-rape, absurd demonic dialogue, and the camera itself attacks the cabin-dwellers on more than one occasion. Both the original and the Alvarez version unfold in a similar way; however, the original Evil Dead has a black-comedy feel at its foundation, as if it’s winking to the viewer not to take the onscreen horror too seriously.

I think where Alvarez’s Evil Dead switches things up is that it seems to take itself seriously – very seriously. All the horror and violence are presented with intensity; so much intensity that it actually overcomes the silliness of the concept, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s something we’re not used to with the franchise for sure, but it’s actually kind of nice to have this fresh take. There are no moments of hilarious gore, boomsticks, or talking deer heads in this version — hell, even as the sky begins to rain blood I feel nothing but dread, despite the ridiculous nature of what’s happening onscreen.

The story involves a group of childhood friends who seclude themselves in an old cabin to help their friend, Mia (Jane Levy), get over her drug addiction cold turkey. After finding the dreaded Necronomicon in the basement, an evil demon possesses Mia, who begins harming herself and her friends in some seriously gruesome ways. After she burns her own skin off in a hot shower and shoots her brother in the arm, everyone begins to suspect Mia may not be having normal withdrawal symptoms.

I’d like to claim that there is some dark humor deep at the heart of this 2013 version; however, if the comedy is there, it’s really good at staying hidden. The premise is admittedly hilarious, but there doesn’t seem to be any laughs hidden beneath the violence, largely because this new version lacks the small-budget appeal that makes awkward-comedy of that sort more acceptable.

This isn’t to say that Evil Dead (2013) won’t make you smile. The gore in this movie is excessive and often hard to watch, but for some sick reason I found it to be weirdly entertaining. It’s very difficult for me to take the idea of a Book of the Dead too seriously, allowing me to accept the violence on screen as mere fictional fun.

I was impressed when I read that this movie contains very little (if any) CGI. That means the makeup, prop limbs, and gallons of fake blood are still more effective tools than I ever imagined. This movie looks absolutely fantastic, and the violence is disturbingly realistic, especially for something that’s apparently little more than parlor tricks.  

Alvarez’s Evil Dead is a throwback to the old way of making horror movies. The onscreen gore is reminiscent of the era of Tom Savini and George A. Romero, who crafted death without the help of computers. One scene that really blew me away involved a stabbing that featured quick cuts and unusual movement, reminiscent of the famous shower murder from Hitchock’s Psycho. Never once do you see the actual needle penetrate the victim; yet thanks to clever editing, the scene is still extremely effective nonetheless. It’s quite obvious that Fede Alvarez knows his horror movie history, and he’s certainly borrowed some useful tricks from the masters of old.

While I’m very sure that having an experienced genius like Raimi in your corner is a huge advantage, Alvarez and cinematographer, Aaron Morton, deserve individual praise for creating a damn fine film, beautifully photographed and sporting some fantastic sound design. You can hear the subtle whispers of demon voices all around, hiding in the shadows of a cabin only lit by moonlight. The filmmakers have created a sense of atmosphere unlike anything I’ve experienced from a mainstream horror movie in a long time – an accomplishment worthy of recognition.

If you’re jaded to modern horror like I am, you’ll be pleased to know The Evil Dead is made for genre fans who are tired of generic haunted house films featuring camcorder gimmicks. If you’re squeamish and can’t handle all the guts, I’d stay away from this one. But if you’re like me and you wish the NC-17 version was the one that made it to theatres, you’re going to have a hell of a lot of fun with this future classic.

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About Chad Michael Van Alstin

Chad is an award-winning libertarian opinion columnist. He's done with that now. Having earned himself a B.A. in Mass Communication, Chad now spends most of his time as a wage laborer, killing the pain by consuming as many video games and movies as possible. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadVanAlstin