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According to legend, Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead used so many gallons of fake blood that the crew had to cart a corn syrup-drenched Bruce Campbell home from the set each day in the back of a pickup truck. It’s that kind of absurdity, coupled with Raimi’s understanding of horror’s underpinnings, that helped his scrappy 1981 film—-along with its two sequels, 1987’s Evil Dead II and 1992’s Army of Darkness—-reach apotheosis among horror fans. The director’s self-aware combination of camerawork, blood splatters, and clichés as dialogue took horror to a place it hadn’t been before.
In the Raimi- and Campbell-produced update of the original Evil Dead, director Fede Alvarez retains the film’s gore, grittiness, and guts, but doesn’t capture its playfulness and comedic bravado. Reformatting the “teens go to the woods for a weekend of unsupervised debauchery” premise to better suit its deranged new tone, this new bout centers on David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his childhood friends as they reunite to bring David’s junkie sister Mia (Jane Levy) to the old family cabin—-conveniently located in a remote part of the woods—-in order to wean her off heroin. It’s a clever setup that believably pardons the group’s obliviousness when Mia begins spouting gibberish about ghastly visions—-that’s just the withdrawal talking, they think.
By the time the crew realize Mia’s ramblings aren’t what they seem, the only road home has been flooded, several gallons of blood have been spilled, and Mia’s already well on her way to demonic possessionville. For this cast, escape is not in the cards.
It’s at this point that Evil Dead—-which feels like the latest victim of Michael Bay’s horror production company, Platinum Dunes (responsible for atrocious remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, among others)—-kicks the ick factor into high gear: Bodies are dismembered, tongues are split open, possessed tree branches get rapey. The scenes are as skeevy to watch as they are to write about.
Raimi’s Evil Dead transcended its predecessors, like the subversive The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and early slasher films like Halloween, and landed somewhere near the crossroads of schlock and schtick. Alvarez’s film misses this mark completely, to the point at which its few gags feel like an attempt to meet a required minimum. Raimi excels at blending no-holds-barred gore with slapstick comedy, inviting the audience to laugh to keep from screaming. This new Evil Dead just wants us to look away in disgust.