When I went to see Evil Dead (2013), I hadn’t seen The Evil Dead (1981) or Evil Dead 2 (1987). However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t know anything about them – It’s hard to avoid references to the Evil Dead series if you have any interest in horror, and the trademark chainsaw and shotgun that Ash wields are now icons of the genre as a whole. Considering this pedigree, I went into Evil Dead (2013) with high expectations. The trailer had piqued my interest, suggesting that this remake would pay homage to the original while sticking to an overall darker tone, and provide some really nasty happenings along the way.
Evil Dead provided everything I anticipated, and it provided it with such glee, revelling in every second of horrific mutilation to an extent rarely seen outside of the Saw series or Final Destination. I was genuinely shocked and horrified by some scenes, especially a particularly grim moment involving an electric carving knife and an impromptu amputation.
The set-up for the story – a group of friends supporting Mia, a heroin addict, on a cold-turkey retreat to a cabin in the woods – is clever, as it provides plenty of ambiguity about exactly what is happening. Mia’s brother starts off thinking that some of her acts of self-mutilation are caused by her wish to leave the cabin and rejoin society for a nice big dose of smack. This leads to the characters having a much harder time accepting what is going on and greater feelings of remorse when killing the possessed, pushed even further by brief moments of apparent clarity from the heavily mutilated and demonic possession, where they question their poor state of health and, for example, why their boyfriend is shooting at them with a nail-gun.
There are a number of throwbacks to the original film, including a cameo from the original car, a shotgun and a chainsaw. Most of the time these hit the mark, even for someone who hadn’t seen the films but had more absorbed them by osmosis through popular culture, but the tree rape scene just doesn’t quite seem to fit in the new film. It seems that director Fede Alvarez had a check-list of things that he felt an Evil Dead film needed and, in some cases, included them just to pay homage to fans of the original regardless of whether they truly had a place in his vision.
One of the strangest decisions, and something that disappointed me, was to not include an Ash character in the group. Alvarez claims that this is because no-one could replace Bruce Campbell, and while this is undoubtedly true I feel that it would have been nice for someone to try. Two of the characters go down pretty early in the film, another is poorly developed and the remaining two are difficult to root for. The film somewhat centers around Mia’s brother, David, but his character is dull and vacant, adding little of value in any scene that doesn’t include interaction between him and his sister. Eric is hard to empathize with too, as he actually seems to go out of his way to unleash the demonic plague upon the hapless inhabitants of the cabin, reading from a book bound in human flesh covered in scrawls like “DO NOT READ THIS BOOK”. The book even comes with illustrations of exactly what will happen if you do read it, just in case you’re too thick to read properly. This doesn’t stop Eric.
In a post-The Cabin in the Woods world, this is a problem. We’ve had this kind of behaviour openly mocked, with the suggestion that people would only act like horror movie characters do if they were under the influence of mind-altering drugs, and seeing this kind of thing in good horror movies is just disappointing. The rest of the film manages to keep up a fairly realistic portrayal of how people might act in such a scenario, though David believing that Mia might just be ill after she speaks with the voice of a demon while simultaneously causing a huge gust of wind to blast the windows and doors of the cabin open beggars belief.
Overall though, the film hits much more than it misses, with an extremely gratifying and cathartic finale that rounds off the whole gory, disgusting episode nicely. Some of the series humour does remain, mainly through the scrawlings in the Necronomicon but also just in the amount of blood and gore flying around everywhere – it occasionally borders a Braindead level of bloody fun and excess, and it is a better film for it.
Fans and newcomers alike should find something to enjoy in this, but don’t go in expecting The Evil Dead (1981) again. Having caught up with the series I can confirm that some of the soul of the original is still intact. However, while the setting and general plot remain largely unchanged from the original, this is a much darker, grimmer film. The Evil Dead (1981) considered how twisted it would be to have to murder your friends due to demonic possession with a tongue-in-cheek approach, whereas Evil Dead 2 turned “twisted” into “bizzare” and ran with it. The new film plays the situation straight-faced and considers just how devastating the situation would be for all involved. Evil Dead (2013) provides gory horror with a strong atmosphere and pervasive sense of tension and dread, which is more than can be said for 90% of modern horrors that attempt the same thing. If you’ve grown bored of the Saw and Final Destination films and want something gory with a bit more meat to sink your teeth into, Evil Dead might possess the qualities you’re looking for.