The Review: Horror movies have come a long way in the last thirty years. In an era before home video had really taken hold of the world, and so consequently before censorship has taken hold as well, horror was just one step up the food chain from soft core pornography in terms of respectability. The inadvertent poster child of the early VHS years for horror was The Evil Dead, which ended up suffering from the censor’s scissors before being cautiously released. The Evil Dead had one clear intent: to mine a vein of horror deep enough to scare the wits out of you, with just the occasional fleck of dark humour thrown in. The subsequent three decades have seen almost every possible permutation of horror: torture porn such as Hostel or the later Saw movies, self-referential meta-horrors like Scream or The Cabin In The Woods, the rise of the found footage genre from Blair Witch to Paranormal Activity and horror eating itself with remakes of every franchise from Halloween to Elm St. All the while, there’s still been a healthy core of out and out horror, but none have really captured the verve, the insanity and the humour of Evil Dead II. Sam Raimi’s originals are still held with high regard, but the low budget origins of the original have dated it even more than the association with the VHS era, so surely they as much as any horror franchise were due for a remake.
Evil Dead loses the pronoun, but other than that looks to adhere reasonably closely to the template drawn out by Raimi’s original. Once again, five teenagers head to a run down shack in the middle of nowhere, and while there one of them stumbles onto a sinister book. Despite dire warnings written in a suspicious shade of red, that particular teen can’t help but recite passages from the book, unleashing all manner of unpleasantness on the five hapless youngsters. However, rather than the relaxing getaway of the original, this trip has a more direct motive, to attempt to get drug addict Mia (Jane Levy) to go cold turkey. What drives the characters to stay in the cabin is as much the belief that it’s for Mia’s own good, before the obvious evil presents itself and the blood-letting begins.
There’s a back to the original, and a back to basics, approach very much in evidence, with several motifs and moments from the original either lifted directly or teased during the early stages. The big departure from the original is the sense of reality that director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues attempt to instil in proceedings, not only with the cold turkey rationale but also with more real world influences keeping them trapped (a burst river rather than a mangled bridge, for example). There’s potential from setting horror in a familiar setting, and also from the characters facing a situation that could happen to any of us, but both are squandered here. The cabin itself is a little more squalid, but never as threatening, as the original and I’m not sure about you but it’s been a while since I had to spend a weekend helping a friend try to break their addiction in a deserted cabin, rather than seeking medical assistance for them. None of that would be a big issue if any of the main characters were in any way sympathetic, likeable or even vaguely interesting: they’re not sketched out enough to engage your attention, or even loathsome enough for you to relish their inevitable fate.
There’s one thing completely absent from this remake, and it’s any sort of a sense of humour. Admittedly it would be nigh on impossible for lightning to strike a second time in the way it struck with Evil Dead II as it’s the template of the more restrained original being adhered to here, but this remake is so po-faced that all you’re left with are the scares and the gore, and that never feels enough with a running time slightly longer than the originals. Horror films can thrill in a number of ways: even the torture porn genre shows occasional flashes of imagination, but whether it’s being scared, repulsed or generally amused the most memorable horrors – and those that have previously been remade – have moments that stick long in the memory. It was much easier for horror movies to shock thirty years ago, before they were embraced by the mainstream, and there’s very little here that marks out this Evil Dead from a number of paler imitators. The willingness to pursue traditional make-up effects rather than CGI is commendable, and the blood-soaked finale is bathed in satisfying shades of claret and crimson, but it’s difficult to envisage a world where Mia’s adventures in the woods will be being remade in another thirty years. If Alvarez and co want to take another trip to this well, more boundaries need to be pushed next time.
Why see it at the cinema: A dark room with a group of excitable, hopefully some unsuspecting, other people is always the best way to catch a horror movie, so if you’re easily scared but are looking for a buzz then head to your local rather than waiting for the DVD.
Should I stay for the credits? There’s a very deliberate nod to the origins of the franchise at the end of the credits, which will most likely either bore or frustrate hard core fans. Not worth waiting for.
What about the rating? Rated 18 for strong bloody violence, gory horror and very strong language. Apparently the US release was cut to get an R rating instead of the dreaded NC-17; a brief Google threw up no word on which cut we got, but I can’t help but feel there was a stronger take on the material in here somewhere.
My cinema experience: Seen at one of my locals, Cineworld Cambridge, on a Sunday afternoon. No projection or sound issues to speak of, but the audience in general seemed not to have enjoyed it, remaining fairly silent throughout and becoming generally grumbly on the way to the exit. Can’t say I blame them.
The Corridor Of Uncertainty: Around 25 minutes of ads, trailers and announcements, par for the course and more tolerable for a film only clocking in at 91 minutes.
The Score: 5/10