Remaking Sam Raimi’s sheer classic is never going to be an easy feat. Equal parts hilarious, inventive and, importantly, scary, the original Evil Dead stands up as one of the most influential and significant horror films in history. Bruce Campbell holding aloft a chainsaw is an image preserved in cinematic history as a real turning point in horror, arriving in the early 80s with quick wit, an eagerness to repulse and a barrel of sick laughs. Tonally, there is so much to explore with the original, so how does this ‘re-imagining’ (certainly the last time I use that term, for my own sanity) shake things up?
Notably, the humour is gone, really quite far gone. It seems that updating Evil Dead requires dulling down the characters into moody post-teen, archetypal slabs of meat. The reason for their excavation to the cabin? Main guy (forgot his name, can’t care to look it up) has an insecure sister who is trying to kick dope, so along with bossy nurse girl, emotional glasses guy and main guy’s bimbo, they go to stay in this cabin in order to get insecure sister to go cold turkey. Fine, you’re thinking, some nice motivation there, that’s a nice touch, how nice to add a human element to what is quintessentially a load of bloody nonsense. Wrong, the nonsense is the whole point of Evil Dead. A human touch is fine if it’s purveyed with at least an ounce of believability and/or character. It would be too easy to blame the actors or the casting director, but it’s not really their fault, as the dialogue inflicted more winces than any of the fright scenes. Horror is now an extremely contrived and tired genre, but with Sam Raimi signed onto this project as a producer, it’s not unreasonable to expect more.
In some respects, more is exactly what you get. The film doesn’t necessarily look bad. In fact, technically, it’s a very competent and well interpreted piece of horror. The special effects are spot on and go some way toward forcing people to watch through their hands, so kudos must go to the make up department for doing such a good job. The sound design is also very well constructed, taking on a quiet-loud dynamic that feels like it’s hurtling you back and forth. In conjunction with the frenetic action during the high-energy scenes it works really well and is doubtlessly entertaining. This, however, is where it falls short again, as no matter how entertaining it gets during these sequences, it simply doesn’t maintain any of the tension or suspense that is built up. As a result, it just isn’t scary. Yes, it’s disgusting, people will watch main guy’s bimbo chop her arm off with a degree of shock, but is that really scary? Of course it isn’t, it’s just a bit disgusting and, due to the lack of humour and wasted suspense, has no lasting effect. Whatever happened to watching a horror film and not being able to go to sleep at night? Evil Dead has all the potential and certainly a talented director in Fede Alvarez, but it’s wasted on cheap thrills and lots of blood.
If this film were to be judged solely on technical merit then it would rank very highly in the sea of dogshit contemporary horror. Fede Alvarez has stated in interviews that this film was very fun to make, so why not transfer some of that fun onto the screen? There is a complete tonal misunderstanding of the source material and the films inability to laugh at itself is what ultimately bills Evil Dead as a disappointment. What should have been a fun genre piece full of sick laughs and deranged imagery has been warped into a moody guilt trip that takes itself far too seriously for its own good.