[Movie Review] ‘Evil Dead’ Reigns In Blood
If you’re a fan of hardcore horror, you have undoubtedly already seen the new Evil Dead, easily the genre’s must-see event of the year, and if you’re not, you might as well stop reading this review now and forget you ever heard of the movie, probably the goriest film ever to receive such a wide theatrical release.
Jane Levy leads the new cast of young people into the woods for an ill-fated weekend at an old cabin, but this time the getaway is introduced as an attempt for Levy’s character to kick her drug habit and go cold turkey with the help of three friends and her brother. They have decided that when Levy’s Mia “cracks”, they will not let her leave the cabin no matter what.
When things inevitably begin to go bad, Mia’s friends all think she’s just experiencing serious withdrawals at first.
This setup grounds the new Evil Dead in a deadly serious reality much different than that of the original film it’s based on, which was horrifying in its over the top visuals and groundbreaking effects, but the satirical elements of the 1982 Sam Raimi classic often come off too comedic, especially when viewed today.
That’s not the case with the new film, which starts off dark and only goes deeper into the abyss of terror and glorious gore.
What Raimi (Spider-Man, Oz The Great and Powerful) produced with the original and its sequel (filmed in Wadesboro, North Carolina) are today regarded as the pinnacle of mid-1980s practical special effects for horror movies, recognized throughout the cinematic world as the ultimate examples of the art of gore done right and a last triumph just before the dawn of computer generated graphics (CGI).
The new Evil Dead celebrates that legacy with enough practical blood, bone, puss, and puke to please even the hungriest gorehound, and aims to claim rights as a new champion of the groteseque for a new generation. It’s surprisingly refreshing to see the actors actually get to see what it is they are screaming about and running from just as we are seeing it on screen for a change.
Levy is a marvel to watch, as she is first seen fidgeting with a cigarette and scribbling in a notebook atop an abandoned old Oldsmobile, which happens to be the same car in which the original cast arrived at the cabin in the 1982 film The Evil Dead, starring Bruce Campbell as the heroic fan favorite icon Ash.
In stark contrast to the once fun loving and ultimately battle-worn cocky Ash that Campbell brought to life so brilliantly in three films, Mia is haunted, disturbed, and already determined to do the impossible even from her opening sobriety pledge, a far cry from Levy’s much sunnier sitcom persona on ABC’s Suburgatory.
After she storms out of the cabin in a fiending fury, we feel for her stumbling stupidly into the woods because we know what she doesn’t; that one of her friends back at the cabin has read a passage from the Book of the Dead found in the old cellar that has already awakened some really nasty trees, among other unholy terrors.
Levy gets to show off a wide range of emotion, from anxiety-ridden apprehension to utter quivering fear to batshit crazy possessed throughout the course of her colorful ride through hell, and she proves absolutely up to the challenge, commanding the screen and owning every scene without ever succumbing to stereotypical druggie tropes. Her bouncy, manic chatter late in the film will haunt you for days.
Director Fede Alvarez wastes little time setting the intense tone of the film early on, and even before stuff gets really crazy with Mia and her friends, there remains an almost unbearable foreboding in the foggy atmosphere. I especially liked how the soundtrack made me actually wonder if real flies were buzzing around my ear as the kids ventured into the darkness of the chained cellar under the cabin.
Later, as the tension literally reaches a boiling point, the camera’s focus slowly follows a single line in the wood of the cabin wall until hit reaches our heroine Mia enjoying a scolding hot steaming shower. From this point on, the Dead are loose and the Evil is relentless until the final frame. As one character points out, “Things keep getting worse every second.”
Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood) plays Mia’s older brother David, who is basically the “Ash character” in this version (he even wears a blue shirt, like Campbell did), fighting to do the right thing for his little sister, only unsure if letting her dry out and sober up should mean ignoring her pleas that something supernatural is inside the cabin.
When the others around him start becoming possessed too, including his girlfriend, played by Elizabeth Blackmore (Beauty and the Beast), Fernandez goes into hero mode, only to hit one dead end after another.
Lou Taylor Pucci is great as Eric, the thoughtful elementary school teacher who is just too curious to not open that weird book from the cellar, even though it clearly says (written in blood?) “Leave This Book Alone” on page one, while Jessica Lucas rounds out a likable cast as the registered nurse who is only too sure she knows how to help Mia kick her habit once and for all.
After the first 30 minutes, the action becomes more pulse pounding with each scene, but what makes Evil Dead such an exhilirating feast for genre fans is the unabashedly creative ways that the filmmakers find to cover their attractive young cast with the most disgusting substances, and yet have it all look so dementedly beautiful.
For diehard fans of the original film, Alvarez packs numerous frames with various subliminal shout outs to the Raimi classic, including the car and book mentioned above, the shotgun, the woodshed, and even an extra groovy treat after the end credits.
Loyalists should find comfort that Raimi and Campbell, as well as original producer Rob Talbert, have each offered their own blessings to Alvarez’s extreme updated vision, as all three serve as executive producers on the new film.
The climactic image will be an iconic screensaver for horror fanatics even decades from now, as blood rains, the requisite chainsaw roars, and Evil Dead claims your soul.
Official Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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Evil Dead (rated R) is now playing at R/C KDH Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills.