The original Evil Dead trilogy is famous for its bizarre sense of humor and gregarious protagonist, Ash (Bruce Campbell). But, much like Jason’s iconic hockey mask, those elements originated in the sequels.
The original Evil Dead was a sincere attempt to make a scary horror movie. Whatever humorous elements it had were purely unintentional.
In fact, if you’ve listened to any of the 128 commentary tracks that have been recorded for the film over the years, you’ve heard the famous story about the poster. In the basement of the cabin is a torn poster for Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. THHE similarly features a torn post of Spielberg’s Jaws. The story goes that the torn Jaws poster was middle finger to Spielberg for making such a weak horror film. Raimi and company felt that their little film was likewise much scarier than The Hills Have Eyes (to be fair, they’re both pretty even).
All of that is to say that this rebooted Evil Dead may not be what you think of when you think ‘Evil Dead,’ but it is a faithful interpretation of the original. Faithful, but elevated. This time around, the characters actually have character. They have history, and motivation, and personality. They aren’t just pasty-faced cannon fodder.
Many of the set-ups are straight out of the original (and its first sequel). The demon under the chained trapdoor to the basement, the tree root sexual assault, the hand removal; it’s all there. But new director Fede Alvares, having an actual budget to work with, is able to make them effective in a way that the rookie Raimi could only dream of.
Remakes are all about the balance. If you copy the original, then what’s the point; and if you change it entirely, then why not just make an original? You have to respect the original, but not be caged by it. Evil Dead finds that balance. In some ways, this movie reminds me of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. It honestly evaluates the original, picks out what works, discards what doesn’t, and infuses it with modern storytelling techniques that didn’t exist at the time. The result is, objectively speaking, a much better film.
Of course, the original Evil Dead has a charm to it that the new one can’t touch. You can nitpick it all day long; but what they were able to accomplish with virtually no money and no professional experience is pretty damn impressive.
But with this new Evil Dead, I think we finally have the movie that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell intended to make, if only they had the money and technique to make it happen. Alvarez has crafted a film with an oppressive sense of hopelessness that somehow manages to stay engaging, surprising, and even fun. Yes, it has an added level of polish that makes it less intimate; but as a trade off for better characterization, acting, effects, and moodiness, I think it’s an acceptable loss.
The new Evil Dead is easily one of the best horror movies to come out in many years; but more importantly, it’s a worthy addition to the Evil Dead series.