Holed up in a remote cabin, Mia (Levy) and friends stumble on a strange discovery in the cellar. It’s Naturon Demonto, The Book Of The Dead. Now the local demons are loose, and that infamous tool shed is about to get busy...
Texas Chain Saw. Amityville. Friday The 13th. Nightmare On Elm Street. Last House On The Left. I Spit On Your Grave. The Hills Have Eyes. Halloween. Eight titles. Pop quiz: did you a) think of the original? Or did you b) think of the remake? If you said a), we’re not entirely surprised. If you said b), you directed I Spit On Your Grave and need to start this again. Hollywood’s horror recycling project has largely produced an awful lot of androids: technically superior but lifeless doubles. This remake of The Evil Dead, one of the last titles of the video era to be reset, is helmed by an untested director and features a semi-name cast but earns more goodwill than most. Deadites Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are producing, practically on quality control.
Evil Dead 2.0 is an odd bod among remakes. It’s not a sequel, or a reboot, or a reimagining, but an episode. In a pedantic triumph of identikit production design, we’re back at the same cabin, same cellar, same dreaded tool shed. Not only is there an eerie sense of déjà view — the idea here is that Ash’s adventures appear to be just another bloody chapter from The Book Of The Dead (now printed on fire-retardant asbestos). The scenery hasn’t changed, the victims have; in fact, the group dynamic is sharper than the headless slasher chickens who’ve gone on holiday by mistake.
Logic’s never been one of The Evil Dead’s strong suits, but this puts some effort into justifying the group’s stay in hell’s own shed — supported by her brother David (Shiloh Fernadez), Mia (Jane Levy) is on a rehab retreat and her friends won’t let her leave until she’s screamed herself better. The film even dabbles with the idea that this could be a psychotic episode: one of the group has a family history of schizophrenia, another could be suffering ultraviolent cold turkey. The ambiguity doesn’t last long: the concept’s tossed out into the woods like a flapping red herring. From the moment the doomed five arrive, Fede Alvarez’s eye is on the nail gun. And, to be fair, so is yours.
Shunning CG, the decision to go old school is easily Evil Dead’s brightest move. Once hell is unleashed, the effect is like driving through a car wash of gore. Revealing a splatter movie’s routines feels a bit mean, like you’re giving away its jokes (there’s a reason visual effects are called ‘gags’). We’ll leave you to discover its razor blade-licking delights for yourself, but weirdly, the film particularly has it in for arms: stabbed, sliced, chopped, bitten. (This could be a homage to Evil Dead 2’s Hemingway gag. Or maybe Alvarez just really hates arms.) In terms of visceral impact, the splatty shocks are hardly groundbreaking or (whisper it) hugely frightening, but the multiple goregasm climax effectively puts the original’s Plasticine massacre to shame.
Still, there’s a giant puttering chainsaw in the room that can’t be ignored. Bruce Campbell’s Ash was as much a part of The Evil Dead as the hosepiping gore. Alvarez sidesteps the issue entirely by declining to side with a clear hero. The misdirection keeps you on your toes — the cost is a fuzzier dramatic focus and thinner characters, never more evident than in Elizabeth Blackmore’s disposable blonde, a role so throwaway she only comes to life when she’s dead. (Of the cast, poor Lou Taylor Pucci comes off worst, eventually reduced by the FX team to a supersize voodoo doll.)
Apart from the dashing demon-cam and the odd visual wink, Alvarez steers clear of aping Raimi, pinching scraps of J-horror (the Dead now do the neck-cricking routine from The Ring) and early Cronenberg (body horror parasites, plus a sick-up to rival Brundlefly’s drop-vomit). Alvarez borrows enthusiastically, but you sense the voice isn’t quite fully formed. You can even hear it in the indecisive score — great when it’s parping and crashing à la Bernard Herrmann, baffling when it goes James Horner, too lush and sentimental, more suited to mild fly-fishing drama than a splatter movie.
Where the film’s left wanting is in a sense of humour. In this department, Evil Dead slots right in with recent remakes: it’s so terrified of being camp, it overcompensates the moody, mean, portentous style, lurking around gloomily even during its party tricks. You could argue that, since Raimi already remade Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2, reviving his gore-toon madness is self-defeating. This remake is very much a product of the torture-prawn era, but does it have to be so hard-faced? We’ll give the final word to Mia. “Promise you’ll stay until the end,” she pleads in her opening scenes. If you’re feeling brave, take the hint — hang about after the closing credits and you might be surprised...
Prepare yourself for a shock: a horror remake that, at its best, manages to recapture the original’s hardcore nastiness. It could certainly do with laughing at itself a bit more, though.