Sam Raimi’s horror classic gets a terrifying and intense rebirth for the 21st century.
Whether it needs to exist is a moot point – we live in an era of remakes, reboots and, shudder, reimaginings, and if we have to endure a Tim Burton take on Planet of the Apes to sometimes be rewarded with a terrific retread like Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead, then so be it.
Moreover, hardcore Deadites needn’t fear the mauling of their beloved film. Necessarily, Alvarez owes much to Raimi’s original and tips the cap by way of mimicking its manic zooming, extreme gore and occult-tinged narrative.
But he’s updated the video nasty with a lean premise, gender shifts, modern prosthetics and a quite staggering amount of blood.
This ‘five friends in a cabin’ tale isn’t necessarily destined to become a cult classic and it’s not ‘the most terrifying film you will ever experience’, as the poster proclaims. But, it’s superbly entertaining and utterly relentless.
Alvarez’s trump card is escalation. From an eerie opening with a girl set upon in a foggy wood – only for our expectations to be swiftly subverted – to a growing evil in the cabin that builds from dead cats in a basement to syringes, nail-guns and sibling burial, Evil Dead never lets up.
With some outstanding sound design and voyeuristic camerawork from cellars and eaves, there’s a sense as soon as our hapless group enter the woods that nothing is going to be fine, and just how un-fine everything’s going to be will become clear in increasingly horrific and gruesome fashion.
The screenplay also plays a deft hand in this post-Cabin in the Woods landscape by creating a reason for the trip to the forest shack that’s not just an excuse for rural rumpy-pumpy.
Instead, our updated-Ash, Mia (the fantastic Jane Levy), is being forced into the forest by her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) and friends to try and beat a drug addiction.
It’s a slick move, creating just cause for a fixed location and the group’s doubt of Mia’s honesty when she (correctly, and soberly) demands that they leave.
Eric’s (Lou Taylor Pucci) insistence on looking through the Book of the Dead – even though it’s got a skin-like cover and is daubed in ‘Don’t read this’ warnings – does feel a little forced and inauthentic.
And an update of the original’s infamous ‘tree rape’ sequence is just as misguided and unnecessary as Raimi’s. While Taylor Pucci elicits a couple of good laughs, the key ingredients Alvarez has forgotten from Raimi’s first batch are humour and anarchy. There’s a definite sense of chaos to the group’s torment but none of the original’s mania.
What remains, fortunately, is an exhilarating and taut exercise in terror. It’s bloody, brutal and, if you’ve got a stomach for gore, a brilliantly wild ride.