Here’s the bleeding obvious: All humans are greedy, Hollywood humans greedier, and nowadays no one gives a second thought to the notion of cannibalizing an old property in the hope of creating a new “franchise.” (I refuse to use that word without quotation marks — it should be reserved for Burger Kings and 7-11s, not films.) You can remake a movie, but you can’t bring back the era in which it was made and seen. Say what you will about Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, it had an urgency that came from anger and despair over the Iraq War. It wasn’t the same damn thing with new technology. Which brings me to the 1981 The Evil Dead, now remade as Evil Dead — no definite article and not much definition in other ways.
First the old one: The magic of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead had everything to do with its time, place, and resources. It was the ne plus ultra of the late-seventies/early-eighties splatter films — only handmade, kicky, exuberant where others of its ilk were plodding. Its technique wasn’t secondary — it was the whole shebang. Raimi had a skeleton crew, used friends as actors/victims, and was forced by his micro-budget to invent his own moves (such as the Shakicam, mounted on a board held by two runners). It was extravagantly icky — but you could almost hear the director cackling with every tear in the flesh, every nail slammed into an ankle. I went with a college pal to see it in Boston’s then-scary Combat Zone because I’d heard about it vaguely. (No Internet back then — viruses moved slowly.) I was disappointed by the minimal story line but turned on by the vibe. I couldn’t wait to see what Raimi would do next.
Among other things, he has co-produced this remake, directed by Fede Alvarez. The good: The actors are more professional — although you’ll miss Bruce Campbell. The gore quotient is up, through the roof, to the moon. It’s rousing in its way. Gasps, moans, general writhing — and that’s just the audience. There’s a new prologue that comes on like torture porn and takes a switchback turn: nice. I liked how you don’t know who’ll be the so-called “Final Girl” to face off against the demon.
The cleverest touch is the reason for four friends to go to that cabin in the woods in which they find the Book of Dead that opens the portal to the Big Ick. Mia (Jane Levy), the sister of the hitherto-reckless pretty boy David (Shiloh Fernandez), is a junkie who needs to kick, and her friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) are there to see she stays put. That means when Eric reads aloud from the damnable book and the demon rushes into Mia, everyone thinks it’s just an unusually nasty withdrawal. This is a farcical device — we know what they don’t — that’s not just funny but, in its way, grimly resonant. Watching someone kick really is hell. Who’ll live and become undead is rarely predictable, and it’s fun to see the way the role of principal demon-fighter is passed like a scorching torch.
But the passing of the torch from Raimi to Alvarez is not a momentous occasion. In the end, who really cares? Five years from now, will you want to watch this bloody $14 million extravaganza or Raimi’s shoestring original, which was Amateur Hour elevated to pop art? Evil Dead just bleeds money.