×

Evil Dead

The rare remake that likely will be enjoyed most by diehard fans of its predecessor, “Evil Dead” often comes off as the cinematic equivalent of a cover-band concert tribute to a supergroup’s greatest hits — albeit with a lot more gore. First-time feature helmer Fede Alvarez’s blood-soaked reprise of Sam Raimi’s franchise-spawning low-budget shocker, “The Evil Dead,” boasts far better production values than the penny-pinching 1981 original and conceivably could delight genre fans who have never seen the first version or its previous remakes/sequels. But it’s bound to play best with those who catch Alvarez’s many wink-wink allusions to Raimi’s pic.

Working from a script he co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez briskly sets up his recycling of Raimi’s horror premise — five friends visit a secluded cabin in the woods where all hell breaks loose — with an aptly portentous prologue and backstory-heavy opening scenes. But Alvarez goes Raimi one better, by actually offering a logical reason why the characters don’t immediately vamoose once supernatural manifestations begin.

Mia (Jane Levy), a drug-addicted young woman trying to go cold turkey, is undergoing physically and psychologically agonizing withdrawal, and her companions — including prodigal brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and medically trained buddy Olivia (Jessica Lucas) — are loath to interrupt the recovery process. Besides, all those terrible things Mia claims to see are just hallucinations triggered by withdrawal, right?

Popular on Variety

Wrong.

Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), the academically inclined member of the group, finds in the cabin a mysterious Book of the Dead filled with horrific illustrations, mysterious symbols and ample warnings not to read aloud anything that appears in its ancient pages. Unfortunately, Eric does not heed those admonitions, awakening a familiar demon for a new generation of young victims. Mia is the first to be infected by the monstrously malignant and singularly foul-mouthed bogeyman, but it doesn’t stop there, inspiring her cabin mates to damage themselves and each other in creatively gory ways.

Alvarez repeatedly references plot elements and specific shots from Raimi’s original pic. Taking his cue from the original, he makes especially effective use of lenser Aaron Morton’s swooping, swirling camera movements, which suggest the POV of a rampaging poltergeist. But Alvarez’s tone is completely different, as the helmer rarely attempts to emulate the self-mocking, over-the-top campiness that distinguished the original “Evil Dead” from so many other cheapie creepies of the 1980s.

Actor Bruce Campbell (who’s onboard here as a producer) more or less established himself as a cult figure back in the day with his inspired overplaying of Ash, the astonishingly resilient protagonist of Raimi’s original. In Alvarez’s version, Fernandez’s David serves the equivalent role,  but he’s deadly serious.

Indeed, the only character who even gets to crack a joke is Pucci’s Eric. Asked if he’s certain that actions described in the Book of the Dead will rid them of the troublesome spirit, the frantic fellow replies, “Am I sure? Of course not! It’s not a science book!”

Levy is believably beastly as the possessed Mia, and manages the heavy lifting when her character must handle some last-act heroics. Other members of the cast do what they can with thinly written parts. For instance, it’s not really Elizabeth Blackmore’s fault that her role as David’s g.f. is so ill-defined and unimportant that some may forget she’s in the pic until she starts to make lethal use of a nail gun.

The bloody mayhem is so graphic and frequent throughout “Evil Dead,” one cannot help suspecting that alternate takes had to be shot to ensure an R rating. The emphasis on dismemberment and disfigurement should make this must-see entertainment for gorehounds, but could literally scare off auds accustomed to less explicit, PG-13 fare.

Ultimately, the new “Evil Dead” will rely heavily on existing fans of this unlikely franchise to make a killing in theatrical and homevid release. Those who get the inside jokes should be easy to spot: They’ll be the ones laughing when the onscreen carnage erupts most furiously.

Evil Dead

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Headliners), March 8, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 91 MIN.

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a TriStar Pictures presentation in association with FilmDistrict of a Ghost House Pictures production. Produced by Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell. Executive producers, Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake, J.R. Young, Peter Schlessel. Co-producers, Nicole Brown, Matthew Leonetti Jr.

Directed by Fede Alvarez. Screenplay, Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, based on the motion picture “The Evil Dead” written by Sam Raimi. Camera (color), Aaron Morton; editor, Bryan Shaw; music, Roque Banos; production designer, Robert Gillies; set decorator, Roger Guise; costume designer, Sarah Voon; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Myk Farmer; makeup and prosthetic design, Roger Murray; visual effects supervisor, George Ritchie; stunt coordinator, Shane Dawson; assistant director, Luke Robinson; casting, Mandy Sherman, Sari Knight.

With: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore.

Evil Dead

More Film

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

  • The Call of the Wild

    Box Office: 'Call of the Wild' in Surprisingly Tight Race With 'Sonic the Hedgehog'

    “The Call of the Wild” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” are in a tight race for first place at North American multiplexes, with as much as $27 million each, early estimates showed on Friday. Disney-20th Century’s launch of Harrison Ford’s “The Call of the Wild” is coming in well above pre-release forecasts, which had been in [...]

  • Hidden Away

    'Hidden Away': Film Review

    Antonio Ligabue holds an unusual place in the annals of mid-20th-century Italian art, championed by those who feel his boldly-colored, largely naive paintings are the product of a self-taught artist whose mental incapacities prove that natural spirit transcends training and intellect when wielding a paint brush. Wherever one falls on Ligabue’s talents, making a film [...]

  • The Intruder

    'The Intruder': Film Review

    Take two parts De Palma, one part Zulawski, four parts “Berberian Sound Studio” and dissolve the whole in about a million parts water, and the resultant dilute solution might approximate “The Intruder,” an oddly flavorless supernatural psycho-thriller from sophomore Argentinian director Natalia Meta. The claustrophobically close-up tale of a woman’s mental unraveling in the wake [...]

  • Matthew A Cherry Hair Love NAACP

    Lead Category in NAACP Image Awards Reflects Spike in Diversity and Artistic Caliber

    To best appreciate the competitiveness and quality of the outstanding motion picture nominees for the 51st NAACP Image Awards, which takes place on Feb. 22, check the numbers. All five of this year’s nominees — “Dolemite Is My Name” “Just Mercy” “Harriet” “Queen & Slim” and “Us” — scored well on Rotten Tomatoes. To wit, [...]

  • Mogul Mowgli

    'Mogul Mowgli': Film Review

    The last time festival audiences saw Riz Ahmed on screen, he was tearing it up on stage as a hedonistic hard-rocker before being plunged into emotional freefall by disability. As an American drummer slowly accepting the loss of his hearing in “Sound of Metal,” the British-Pakistani actor elucidated that painful arc with such furious, void-staring [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content