“I’ll feast upon your soul!” yells the Deadite to Mia. Mia replies, “Feast on this, motherfucker!”
My first encounter with The Evil Dead films was seeing copies of the original trilogy on VHS available at K-Mart about 15 years ago (I believe they were released by Anchor Bay). I didn’t actually get to see them on the big screen until 11 years ago. I went to an Evil Dead double feature at Lincoln Center in October 2002 as part of the Film Society’s Next Generation of Horror series (they showed a number of horror classics as well as the NY premiere of The Ring). I saw 1981’s The Evil Dead and 1987’s Evil Dead 2 for only $9.25 (what a bargain!) at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Sam Raimi was originally supposed to do a Q&A in-between the films, but he was stuck doing location scouting for Spider-Man 2 and had to cancel the Q&A a couple of weeks before the screenings. I got to see Evil Dead 2 again a year later at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, and then for a third time seven years later at a midnight showing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. It is also at the Landmark that I was able to see The Evil Dead for a second time on the big screen, and it was two years ago at this same theater that I finally got to see 1992’s Army of Darkness on the big screen. To make a long story short: I’m a big fan.
For years, fans have been awaiting a fourth Evil Dead film starring the immortal Bruce Campbell (mainly because Sam Raimi teases it every few years). Evil Dead fans were not as enthusiastic, however, about the rumors of a remake. I couldn’t blame them; horror remakes have a history of being, for the most part, incredibly awful). Some fans were more receptive to the idea when it was announced that original producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell would be producing the remake and would be involved in every aspect of its creation. Fede Alvarez was chosen by them to direct after pitching his new take on the original classic. At the NY Comic Con in October 2012, a panel featuring Campbell, Alvarez, and star Jane Levy was on hand to show exclusive footage and answer questions. I don’t know how other Evil Dead fans felt, but I was won over by that point (I was just hoping for mostly positive reviews when the film came out).
Now that I’ve seen the film, I can honestly say that I was glad it was made. Alvarez’s take was quite interesting. Jane Levy’s Mia is a recovering drug addict who’s brought to her family’s old cabin by a few of her friends and her brother so that she can get clean. One of the friends finds the dreaded Book of the Dead and, while examining it, recites a passage, accidentally unleashing an ancient demon. It takes possession of Mia, and is intent on feasting upon everyone’s souls. Part of Alvarez’s take on the original film was that the “Ash” of his film was a female (which would be Mia). Jane Levy was astounding as Mia; it’s a performance that simply must be seen. The supporting cast was terrific as well (Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore). As a fan I enjoyed the little homages to the original trilogy (the chainsaw, the necklace, the removal of a hand, the use of the “Everything is not fine” line, a drawing of a hand giving the finger, Bruce Campbell saying “Groovy”- what?! Is that last one true, or did I make it up? I guess you’ll have to see for yourself after the end credits).
Alvarez brought a distinct visual style to the film. The look of the film literally oozes evil dead. The use of blacks and reds by director of photography Aaron Morton is inspired. The makeup design by Jane O’Kane is just top notch, giving a nod to the original makeup design but making interesting tweaks to give it new life (irony?). The production design by Robert Gillies is well done; again respectful to the original film but still forges its own path (in fact, that’s a good description of the film overall; a well-deserved compliment indeed). Of course, I would be foolish to overlook the score by Roque Baños. Joseph LoDuca wrote terrific music for the original trilogy (Army of Darkness being the big highlight), but in keeping with the new vision, Baños delivered music that was beautiful and terrifying simultaneously (I especially loved the choral use).
To say I was impressed with Alvarez’s vision is an understatement. Having the female lead survive at the end may be a horror cliche, but considering the hero of the original trilogy was male, it is a nice twist on the material (it helps that Mia was a strong and well-rounded character who had a good amount of character development). I also felt that the drug rehab aspect of the story worked, giving the other characters sufficient reason to ignore Mia’s warnings until it was too late. Alvarez also doesn’t hold back when it comes to scares and gore (at one point it actually rains blood!), and he crafted one heck of a finale. Fans have good reason to see this film; Alvarez’s vision is respectful to the original but manages to create its own path. He has succeeded in re-making a horror classic that fans old and new can appreciate, and is an excellent candidate for the best horror film of 2013. If the fans are going to make one complaint, it’ll be that most of the humor from Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness have NOT been carried over (I can certainly live with that since this is Alvarez’s vision). At last year’s NY Comic Con, Bruce Campbell said he was ready to accept the apologies from every Evil Dead fan who had doubted him and Raimi about the remake. I hope he’s busy collecting those apologies, and that we’ll finally get to see Ash killing Deadites on the big screen again soon. In the meantime, congratulations to Fede Alvarez for a job well done.