Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: "Evil Dead"

Jane Levy in Evil Dead
In 1981, director Sam Raimi and his brother Ted put together a very low budget horror movie called The Evil Dead. The movie caused a bit of a sensation, despite its terrible acting and laughable effects (it also scared the crap out of Uncle P's sister). 1987's Evil Dead II wasn't so much a sequel as a deliberately funny re-make (think The Three Stooges meet The Exorcist). Raimi's last movie in the trilogy, 1992's Army of Darkness, was a full-out horror comedy, combined with a medieval fantasy. The movies made Bruce Campbell a cult star, legitimized Raimi as a director and even spawned an hilarious stage musical. All this from the simple story of five college friends who unwittingly unleash an evil force by reading from a human skin-bound book of spells. Rumors of a fourth movie have taunted fans for decades, but Raimi was busy making the original Spider-Man trilogy, the very under-appreciated Drag Me to Hell and this year's disappointing Oz the Great and Powerful. When it was announced that he would be producing (along with Campbell) a reboot, written and directed by Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, fans were up arms. Today, Dear D and I saw the new version, and I'm happy to report that Alvarez and company (with a few exceptions) got most of it right.

Mia ("Suburgatory" star Jane Levy) is a drug addict trying to go cold turkey with the help of her brother David and their friends, who have chosen Mia and David's family cabin in the woods to seclude themselves while she goes through withdrawal. What they don't know is that the cabin was recently the site of a ritual to... well, the less said about that, the better. The performers of said ritual have left behind a dozen or so dead cats and a book wrapped in plastic and barbed wire. Unable to contain his curiosity, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), the scholar among the group, unwraps the book and reads aloud from it, opening the door for a terrible demonic entity which invades Mia and basically dooms them all.

Approaching the story as a full-out Horror movie mostly pays off for Alvarez, working from a script he wrote along with Rodo Sayagues and an uncredited Diablo Cody (Jennifer's Body). The four friends have vowed to keep Mia at the cabin, no matter how much she begs to go home. When she starts behaving strangely, they attribute it to withdrawal and ignore her pleas to leave. Of course, things quickly escalate and it is soon apparent that something is very wrong. The violence and gore escalate, with plenty of stabbing; gouging; shredding; dismemberment and enough blood to fill an Olympic pool (this isn't a movie for the faint of heart, kids). There are demonic voices, slamming doors and exploding mirrors; raping trees, scalding showers and more than a few homages to the original (Mia is first discovered sitting atop Ash's dilapidated car, for one). I was fine with all of it, until the movie went and used two truly ridiculous cliches that drive me crazy - SPOILERS AHEAD: Skip to the next paragraph to avoid them. Cliche #1: Nail guns cannot fire nails like a firearm! There is a safety catch on every nail gun ever made which makes this impossible. Cliche #2: Shooting a plastic gas can will never cause an explosion! Gasoline itself is flammable, but not explosive. Gasoline fumes are explosive, but require a flame or a spark to ignite them and neither can be achieved by shooting through a plastic container. I don't know why Hollywood continues to perpetrate these fallacies. They are insults to the audience's intelligence and they should go away forever (though I'm sure they won't). 

The actors in the new version are certainly better than in Raimi's original, with Levy going all-out to make Mia as different as possible from the character she plays on "Suburgatory." Shiloh Fernandez (Deadgirl: Red Riding Hood) is fine as David, Mia's conflicted brother. Pucci (Carriers); Jessica Lucas (Coverfield) and newcomer Elizabeth Blackmore are all more than competent in what must have been physically demanding roles. Alvarez's direction takes several cues from Raimi's original, including running shots through the woods and close-ups of painful-looking slicing and dicing. D and I both winced more than a few times at the imagined pain the characters were put through (not that she would, but my dear Q should avoid this one at all costs). Alvarez thankfully eschews CG imagery and opts for physical FX which far outshine Raimi's original efforts. All in all, I had a great time, though D was disappointed at the lack of camp. *** (Three Out of Four Stars). And fans of the original should stay for a special Easter Egg after the credits.

On a personal note, I was horrified to see a family bring a young boy who couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 to see this movie. Inappropriate on so many levels for such a young kid, I hope they are kept awake all night by the boy's nightmares. Evil Dead is rated a hard "R" for language and extreme gore, violence and horror. Anyone who brings a child to see it should be reported for abuse.

Oh - One more thing... why do filmmakers allow trailers to contain material which doesn't actually appear in the final cut? 

More, anon.

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