By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It may not be evil, but it sure is close to dead.
Evil Dead is not the kind of movie you go to for giggles and relaxation, to be sure, but this one is for diehard horror fans only.
And they are welcome to it.
“They” would be those familiar with the Evil Dead demonic-possession franchise, which was until now comprised of The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1993), all directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell.
Raimi and Campbell serve as producers on Evil Dead, the writing duties and directorial reins for this remake of The Evil Dead having been turned over from Raimi to Uruguayan Fede Alvarez in his debut in both capacities (with uncredited Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody rumored to have contributed to the script).
In this version, five twentysomething friends –- including Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), David (Shiloh Fernandez), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) — gather at a remote cabin in an effort to help Mia (Jane Levy), David’s sister, go cold turkey and break her drug addiction.
But they discover a Book of the Dead in the basement and, ignoring the book’s warning about reading anything aloud, one of them does so with a particular incantation and inadvertently awakens a demonic presence in the nearby woods, at first attributing the strange occurrences Mia reports as her to-be-expected hallucinations.
But it’s the demon’s desire to possess and dismember that will serve as an immediate form of population control.
Alvarez’s reboot, much more generously budgeted than Raimi’s franchise-spawning original, is a lot more gory and a lot less witty. And much of the graphic footage is both shocking and just plain sickening, as opposed to simultaneously frightening and amusing, which Raimi managed rather easily as he skillfully juggled horror and slapstick.
Only when it’s being creepy and insinuating (as opposed to here-a-body-part-there-a-body-part-everywhere-a-body-part graphic — that is, only in the early reels) is the film effectively disturbing.
Later, when it goes over the top, we go out the window rather than under the table.
Alvarez references Raimi’s original with shots and plot points throughout. And he adds a narrative thrust –- the drug dependence of the central character –- that fleshes out the opening a bit.
But what’s missing is Raimi’s playful sense of humor and knowing campy excess. When Raimi went hyperbolic, it was to get laughs, not shrieks. When Alvarez pours on the jump scares and intense attacks, it’s to make you cover your eyes.
And instead of using the characters and the actors and the dialogue and the relationships to make us care about these people in danger, he merely moves them around like patio furniture during a storm.
Far more gross than scary, this empty-calories thriller spends an inordinate amount of time verging on torture porn.
So, we’ve got humorless and ultraviolent. Unless bloodletting is all you’re after, what a depressing combo.
As the horror-genre version of a shaggy dog story, this is exactly the kind of movie that last year’s Cabin in the Woods was making well-deserved fun of.
So we’ll take a chainsaw to 1½ stars out of 4 for this stomach-turning second rendition of Evil Dead, a bloodbath without a sense of humor.