During the height of the 1980s ‘video nasty’ phenomenon, outspoken activist Mary Whitehouse described Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead (1981) as “the most despicable thing ever put to film.” Thirty-two years on, with the tagline ‘The most terrifying film you will ever experience’, the franchise is back with Fede Álvarez’s contemporary adaptation Evil Dead (2013) – a visceral onslaught of gore and dismemberment that seems destined to divide audiences, whether fans of the original or otherwise. This affectionate rehash begins in much the same way, with five friends heading out to a secluded woodland cabin.
The youngest of the group, Mia (Jane Levy), is attempting to go cold turkey after the death of her mother due heroin abuse. As Mia’s symptoms begin to escalate, the group look towards the mysterious Book of the Dead they discover amongst a myriad of hung, skinned cats in the cabin’s cellar, before uniting to fight this same demonic presence. Utilising the same shadowing possessed camera movements of the original, whilst exchanging the inventive special effects for contemporary gore, Álvarez has chosen to steer clear of Raimi’s own playful approach in favour of extreme violence above and beyond the modern standard for blood-letting.
However, this dependency on escalating levels of violence also pushes the film’s occult overtones to the background, culminating in a film high on thrills and splatter, yet ultimately lacking in both the originality and cheap enjoyment of its predecessor. That’s not to say Evil Dead doesn’t manage to evoke some humour however what laughs are present are evoked through nervous disgust rather than absurd chaos. Any remake will always find itself fighting a losing battle, and in Álvarez’s case, he’s fighting on three fronts. Not only does it need to find a way to appease its source material’s loyal fans, but it also has to contend with a studio-engineered poster quote and the recent success of The Cabin the Woods (2012).
Whilst having to succumb defeat on all fronts Fede Álvarez’s gore-heavy adaptation is anything but a failure – rather a mutilated corpse of a survivor fighting valiantly against the demonic origins of its creation. Balancing the craving of die-hard fans of the original with the new breed of horror fanatics (who demand the viscera be turned up to eleven), Álvarez does a fairly decent job of appeasing both, constantly attempting to out do itself in the blood and guts remit of its agenda whilst maintaining the delicate, self-deprecating tone of Raimi’s take.
To its credit, Álvarez’s Evil Dead is a perfectly functional horror reboot that far surpasses usual dire sequels, prequels and reimaginings that litter the cinema landscape.Yet the film lacks its own sense of identity and whilst the excess of violence escalates with a ferocious pace, it’s difficult to see how the franchise can continue to keep pace with this singular approach.