EVIL DEAD (2013) Retro Review: Remakes Don’t ALWAYS Suck – 10 Years Gone

In 1981, something was waiting in the woods, 32 years later, it returned…

The rumblings began in 2004. Would your hero, and mine, the frequently put-upon Ash Williams return for another round? Fright fans were positively starving for more Deadite action: a crossover film, a sequel, a video game, an animated series…anything!

However, horror fandom (and yes, you can be just as toxic as Star Wars fans) let out a collective groan when it was officially announced in 2011 that an Evil Dead remake, not a sequel, was in the works. Re-makes, re-boots, and re-imaginings were in full swing by then, and they, with occasional exceptions, were definitely worthy of the disdain. The moans got a little quieter when it was announced that Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and yes, Bruce-fucking-Campbell were going to be involved in the production. Things went sideways again, as they often do with horror fans when it was announced that Fede Alvarez was directing (and co-writing with Rodo Sayagues), “Who the Hell is this guy?!?!? And why is he being trusted with our beloved franchise?!?” was the battle cry on the social media.

“I know, I look like road kill”

From the opening, ominous, sounds as the image of a young girl (Phoenix Connolly) stumbling through a barren forest flash before our eyes, we’re thrown headlong into a brutal exorcism ritual (with Sian Davis, who will eventually show up again in Ash Vs. Evil Dead), the viewer instinctively knows that there won’t be any happy endings here.

David (Shiloh Fernandez) arrives at a strangely familiar cabin, with a group of mutual friends, to stage an intervention/detox for his estranged sister, Mia (Jane Levy) who is neither a typical “final girl” nor an Ash surrogate. A troubled, addicted girl with plenty of demons already, she’s the perfect vessel for the malevolent forces that are inside and out to struggle for her soul.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you people. There’s something dead, and it reeks.”

Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Mia’s close friends, are skeptical about her dedication to getting clean, and they’re also a bit distrustful of David. There’s understandably a lot of history, and they’ve obviously heard stories about the siblings’ relationship, so a great dynamic is established between the characters right away. David’s girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), who seems to be along just to do a favor for her boyfriend, is quickly pegged as the “outsider” of the group.

The character and relationship development, with everyone assigned to their “roles”, is part of what makes this film so effective when things (literally) go to Hell.

“Oh my God, what happened to her eyes?”

Mia’s eventual possession is portrayed in a great reworking of the “vine rape” set piece from the original (1981) film. There’s definitely some not-so-subtle subtext at work here—the ceremonial dumping of Mia’s heroin in the well, her painful withdrawal, the attempted escape, and her return to the cabin all factor into one demon (her addiction) being cast out and being replaced with another (the vine). Eric, reading from the book, that, in a bit of a “WTF?” moment, gave every indication that it probably shouldn’t be read, acts as the catalyst for Mia’s transition. A scene that will make you re-think taking those super hot showers after a long day follows…

“You’re all going to die tonight.”

The Evil Dead

The confrontation in the bathroom between, the now-possessed, Olivia and Eric, is one that will stay with you for a long time. Trust me. The unconventional facial? And then the toilet tank bludgeoning? Wow! And it represents just the beginning of what will be a very long evening for Eric. The sheer amount of painful abuse this guy takes in this film is the stuff of legend. It almost makes you think that they were trying to outdo Campbell’s total, over the course of three movies, in one (but I assure you, none of this falls into the “slapstick” realm)!

“Everything’s gonna be fine? Everything’s gonna be fine?? I don’t know if you noticed this, but… but nothing has been fine. And everything’s been getting worse every second.”

What can be said about Natalie’s possession scene in the cellar? Brutal and harrowing, it almost goes too far. The tongue-slicing is easily one of the top 5 cringe-inducing scenes in cinematic history. You can just feel it. For a film with virtually no CGI effects, Evil Dead soars to some lofty heights indeed!

“I had to do it. I feel much better now.”

Natalie’s fate has already been sealed after the cellar, but what happens next, in a hearkening back to Evil Dead 2 (1987), is another triumph. The matter of fact-ness of the self-mutilation, and David and Eric’s reaction, make the eventual, full-on, demonic nail gun assault more of a gut punch. It leaves the viewer wondering if anyone is going to survive.

“Dying wouldn’t be so bad right now. I just don’t want to become the devil’s bitch.”

The Evil Dead

The plan. The barely hanging-on Eric finally forces David to realize, and come to grips with, what needs to be done. Reluctantly, he forges on with his eventual reckoning with Mia. His new grasp on his “hero” role breeds a new sort of inventiveness, although he eventually does choose the easiest option the book outlines (a metaphor for his life when things get difficult), as he gives himself an “out” in the form of a home-made defibrillator (yes, it’s a stretch, but the construction set piece in the shed is a subtle homage to the “chainsaw prosthesis” from Evil Dead 2, so Mr. Alvarez, you get a pass). David’s eventual end is heartbreaking, but he does gain a measure of redemption with his sister.

“Feast on this, motherfucker.”

The Evil Dead

An epic showdown of badassery closes the film. Mia’s battle with Abomination Mia (Randal Wilson) is like a certain Slayer song set to film. And in the end, Mia is delivered. Demons, both within and without, are vanquished. The chainsaw hand is brilliantly used. Mia-1, Kandarian Demons-0. The Book, however, lives on…

Despite the initial skepticism. Evil Dead is now widely regarded by most horror fans (myself included) as a modern classic. Brutal, unrelenting, and unforgiving, it manages to be a perfect remake and energized the franchise (as a sequel, Evil Dead Rise, releases soon…) without containing one single atom of the original series’ sardonic humor. It’s full of nods to the OG films: the Delta, the cabin, the sawed-off shotgun, the shed, the magnifying glass pendant, the Michigan State references, the “Ash-like” one-liners, etc. Evil Dead was also a rousing success for Sony, grossing $97.5 million on a $17 million budget. And, it must have set some sort of record, as, reportedly, 70,000 GALLONS of fake blood were used in the production! Not too shabby for something inspired by a bunch of knuckleheads running around the woods with a Super 8 camera, 40-something years ago…

Evil Dead is available everywhere on physical media, I recommend the unrated cut, for a very cool mid-credits scene.

About Tom Gleba

A life long fan of horror and ridiculous metal, I've spent my life: watching horror films, writing about them, occasionally making them, collecting them on physical media, and struggling to find meaning in Fulci's "Manhattan Baby"...

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