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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Evil Dead


EVIL DEAD (Two Stars)

U.S.; Fede Alvarez, 2013

Gore-happy, drenchingly bloody horror movies like the current Evil Dead, movies so soaked with phony blood that everybody begins to look like a Jackson Pollock splatter painting (heavy on the red), can sometimes be fun if they’re cheap and irreverent and inexpensively creative, almost as if their blood comes out of a syrup bottle, their special effects come out of somebody’s basement, and their actors are mostly desperate young unknowns trying to shriek their way to stardom. In other words, if they’re something like the original 1981 The Evil Dead, the wildly excessive and effective cheapo-terror show  that jump-started the career of its nervy young director Sam Raimi and its wildly hammy young star Bruce Campbell.

But when the shockers cost millions of dollars and have an expensive production, like  the new Dead remake by now-producers Campbell and Raimi, it helps, at least for me, if they have some acting, some ideas, a script — and a good one, not just another of those anything-for-a-shock screenplays that know no limits and make no sense.

Or maybe I’m just dreaming. Or nightmaring. The remake, which is directed and co-written by Fede Alvarez, takes place in one of those sinister cabins in the murky woods, where horrible things will happen to the five good-looking kids who have unwisely cut themselves off from society, gone to the depths of the dark forest and will soon discover, in their cabin in the woods, a Book of the Dead bound in human skin, along with body-hopping demons and all kinds of frightening new uses for common household utensils, like kitchen knives and nail-guns.

In the original, the quintet was just there for whoopee. Here, they’re on a mission of mercy. Four of them are there accompanying their dope-addicted pal, Mia (Jane Levy), to help get her though what turns out to be an unusually terrifying cold turkey session. These four guardians include Mia‘s not-too-swift brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his know-it-all pal Eric  (Lou Taylor Pucci) and friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). These five find and enter what initially seems a bare, deserted cabin (a family hideaway), but quickly becomes full of stuff, almost all of it dangerous. And things begin to go really wrong when Eric finds and reads the Necromicron,  or Book of the Dead, which is bound in human skin — and then get even worse when he unwisely says aloud a supernatural password.

What follows is an all out attack by the badly-behaved dead which eventually goes completely bloody bonkers. If you’ve seen the original, you can guess a lot of what happens. In fact, even if you haven’t seen the original, you can probably guess, since it’s been  repeated endlessly in what became the subgenre of the cabin in the woods horror film, the best of which was last year’s ingenious Cabin in the Woods. That movie revamped and revitalized the whole sub-genre. It was a movie about movies, and also about how they affected lives. and it was both scary and thoughtful.  The new Evil Dead, which is often both predictable and illogical,  has no real purpose other than to scare us silly — or scare us sillier — and its one interesting innovation is the drug problem, which it doesn’t exploit too well.

Director Alvarez (from Montevideo, Uruguay) will direct some good films some day. He and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues have some good ideas here, mostly visual, but some bad ones too, mostly verbal or dramatic. Diablo Cody (of Juno and Young Adult) did a polish, but  the characters ring  false anyway. Then again, everything about the movie is sort of false and senseless — beginning with the acoustics of the cabin, in which sheer bloody screaming murder can be going on in one room, and be apparently completely unheard by the people in the next room or just outside.

In what I guess you can safely call the now legendary original Evil Dead, there was a furious, part-satiric  energy that hurled you along  and repeatedly zinged up the movie, which was, after all,  a show begat by other movies, especially 1969‘s trail-blazing zombie nightmare Night of the Living Dead and 1974’s gruesome body-parts shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because the ‘81 Dead played around with those horror tropes with a sense of shock, but also a sense of fun, it pleased audiences, and it sparked the career of Raimi (now going full-blast with Oz), and to a lesser extent, Campbell. We won’t mention the Coen brother who worked on the crew (Joel, an assistant film editor), and who was joined by the other Coen Brother (Etan) on the script of Raimi‘s next movie, the now forgotten but not-half-bad noir comedy Crimewave.

IN this Evil Dead, the script is sometimes terrible, the acting negligible and the visuals grueling and good. The best part of the movie is the credits sequence, which features the return of Bob Dorian (as Professor Knowdy, from the first Dead). Movie buffs may remember Dorian as the old host on American Movie Classics. I‘m not kidding when I say that he gives the best performance in the movie.

The problem with a lot of today’s horror movies , and particularly the ones adapted from the ‘60s-‘70s low budget classics, is that their enlarged scale makes them seem inhuman, but not necessarily riveting and affecting.  I didn’t find this Evil Dead scary, but maybe that’s because I tend to think that life is scarier. It’s a big hit, so maybe it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make any freaking sense. And I suppose you could say that if this horrendous, ferocious, batso-nutso movie frightens one lost young soul out of doing drugs — and maybe becoming an assistant film editor instead — than all this blood-sopping insanity will not have been in vain. Meanwhile, let’s hope Evil Dead 2 (an inevitability, it seems) makes more freaking sense.


The Evil Dead Limited Edition (Three Stars)

U.S.; Sam Raimi, 1983 (Anchor Bay/Starz)  

The Evil Dead, shot by Michigan State guy Sam Raimi and other students, became the scariest movie of 1983, by following the low-budget, high-dread course laid down by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead and followed or elaborated by many others, including David Cronenberg in Shivers, and Peter Jackson in Dead Alive. Some kids are trapped in close quarters. Some unstoppable undead zombies want to kill them. They keep coming and coming. Yaaaagh! Here, a too-confident quintet face a series of shocks, beginning with the nastiest plant attack ever. Warning: This one is really bloody, really gruesome and doesn’t let up on tension or horror  for a second. Extras: Commentaries by Raimi and others, documentaries and featurettes, reunion panel, trailer.


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