Evil Dead. Gory? Yes. Groovy? Not so much.

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Somebody forgot to tell director/co-writer Fede Alvarez that Evil Dead was a comedy. This remake was produced by the three people responsible for the original Evil Dead trilogy: writer/director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell. I’m guessing as they watched the dailies and saw that Alvarez was taking what was essentially a series of slapstick horror comedies SERIOUSLY, they decided to be kind and let the young turk do his own thing. I commend them for their kindness and support of this new filmmaker. But the final result isn’t nearly as entertaining as its source material.

Jane Levy plays Mia, one of five people spending the weekend in this cabin in the woods. She’s a drug addict who’s decided to go cold turkey… again, and the other four are there to offer support as she goes through withdrawal. She starts to complain about a wretched odor in the cabin, which the other four don’t seem to notice (symptom of withdrawal, perhaps?), until they stumble upon a cellar door, covered in dried blood, under one of the rugs. So, of course, they go into the cellar and find the place strewn with dead cats hanging from the ceiling and an ominous-looking book wrapped in barbed wire (and as a former employee of the now defunct but never forgotten Borders Books, I gotta say, this would’ve been a fantastic way to keep theft down if all of the best sellers and DVDs were secured like this. Would have worked better than those silly security chicklets.) One of the kids opens the book anyhow (so disregard my previous parenthetical aside) and reads one of the prayers scrawled in this hideous book, and a demon lets loose on the place, starting with Mia. Because she is suffering from withdrawal, they don’t see anything all that peculiar about her increasingly erratic behavior. Some mutilated flesh, several dismembered limbs, and a bifurcated tongue later, they begin to see that this may be more than withdrawal run amuck.

Jane Levy is spectacular. She gets to play victim, tormentor, and avenger. The role is so physical and extreme; there are quiet notes and loud onslaughts that she pulls off with such skill. The rest of the actors play such one note parts, pretty much just waiting around to become victim to the possessed Mia, that it’s hard to tell if they’re actually good or not. But Levy leaves more than a mark; she is the bloody, ripped-from-the-chest heart of Evil Dead.

And kudos to director Alvarez for making the decision to use practical makeup effects instead of CGI. I grew up watching 70s and 80s horror movies where makeup effects geniuses like Dick Smith and Tom Savini would pull off these wonderfully grotesque creations, such as Linda Blair in The Exorcist and the zombies in the original Dawn of the Dead. They were magicians. You just knew there were tubes hooked up to the actors and technicians just out of view of the camera waiting to pump various colors of gelatinous goo out of the pumps and, seemingly, out of the mouths or open wounds of the actors to which the tubes were attached. It was like a child watching fireworks. Really disgusting fireworks.

But with the onset of CGI, a certain tactile quality was lost. The light doesn’t hit the fluids in the same way, or it doesn’t interact with its surroundings in the way that “real” fake blood or viscera would. Well, if you long for those days of artificial bloody yore, this remake is the Fourth of July you’ve been waiting for! Bravo to the effects department! The gore hound in me had a blast watching this for a certain amount of time. And it was almost enough for me to embrace this movie. Almost.

Director Fede Alvarez has obvious talent (check out YouTube for the short film he made called Panic Attack! Raimi saw that film and hired him to direct Evil Dead.) But without the original’s cock-eyed point of view, all the violence, like some of the performances, becomes one-note. Now granted, this movie doesn’t have Bruce Campbell, who provided a lot of the humor in the original trilogy. The way he threw his body onto every chair, bookshelf, or collapsible piece of furniture in those movies was almost valiant. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called Campbell, and I’m paraphrasing here, the Cary Grant of splatter movies. With his ridiculously square jaw and cool sense of irony, he was truly invaluable and cannot be replaced.

But another source of the original trilogy’s humor was Sam Raimi’s gonzo visual style. Alvarez does replicate the original’s visual leitmotif of the camera racing through the woods as if it’s about to pounce on whatever steps in its way. But Alvarez doesn’t have Raimi’s visual energy or sardonic point of view. I mentioned when writing about Oz the Great and Powerful how Raimi is a lot like Joe Dante. Both are smart ass tricksters with an appreciation for the ridiculous. As the original trilogy progressed, the humor became more apparent. Look at the scene in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn where Campbell fights against his own disembodied hand. Remove the gore, and you have a virtual Three Stooges routine.

Maybe we just want our horror straight these days. Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods, which was finally released last year after sitting on the shelves collecting dust, had an opening weekend box office take, according to boxofficemojo.com, of 14.7 million dollars. This remake will gross 26 million its opening weekend. The Cabin in the Woods is better this movie and is actually a better fit with Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy than this remake. Not only do Whedon and director Drew Goddard play around with the absurdity of genre like Raimi did, but they take it even further until it becomes meta. Unfortunately, The Cabin in the Woods didn’t attract an audience like this Evil Dead remake. Perhaps this is a legacy of the Saw movies; people these days want to be scared straight. I prefer to be scared silly.

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