“Evil Dead,” written by Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues and Sam Raimi (1981 screenplay), directed by Alvarez, 91 minutes, rated R.
There’s a thin line one must walk when remaking a film such as Sam Raimi’s cult classic “Evil Dead.” Of course, you have to remain true to fans of the original series, which has become known for its excessive and often comical gore, as well as plenty of one-liners from its self-proclaimed B-movie superstar Bruce Campbell. And then there’s an audience less acquainted with Raimi’s style, coming in expecting a straight modern horror film with cheap jumps and easy scares.
So what’s a filmmaker to do? Fede Alvarez does something a little unexpected, finding inspiration in Raimi’s more recent horror work, “Drag Me to Hell.”
Book-ended with its title and big, bold letters, Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” takes us into familiar territory — a cabin in the woods, where five old friends gather to show support and help keep their drug addict friend, Mia (Jane Levy), clean. Her rock is her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who kept his distance while their mother died slowly in a mental institution.
David is back now, however, and along with his friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), he has vowed to keep his sister in the family’s abandoned cabin until she has kicked her habit cold turkey. Drugs and a fractured sibling relationship take a backseat when the five discover the cabin was used to “exorcise” a demon, and the Necronomicon, aka Book of the Dead, remains in the house.
Eric becomes fascinated with the book, bound in flesh and written in blood, and while the others are occupied with Mia’s rehabilitation, he summons a demon seeking to possess all of their bodies and steal their souls.
The first third of Alvarez’s remake lacks originality and energy — a rehash of a story we’ve seen again and again and again. Though there’s an immediate deviation to this cabin-in-the-woods horror with Mia’s addiction, it’s scant on scares and substance.
Then the Book of the Dead comes into play, and “Evil Dead” begins to feel a little more like “Evil Dead,” though Alvarez’s remake isn’t quite what I had expected. In many ways, that’s a good thing.
The original “Evil Dead” trilogy embodies something very specific. They’re the epitome of cult classics, and instead of trying to re-create something that simply can’t be recaptured, Alvarez cherry-picks story elements that work for his remake, while giving plenty of not-so-subtle nods to Raimi’s trilogy to keep the die-hard fans at bay.
Though it strays from the original in tone, “Evil Dead” is full of classic, often pulpy horror imagery similar to “Drag Me to Hell,” and enough blood to keep a fleet of ships afloat. It’s not a great horror movie, but it understands what it is. And, in an era where most horror films walk on eggshells to maintain a PG-13 rating, that’s certainly worth something.