What a difference a "the" makes.
The Evil Dead is a 1981 low-budget horror classic that helped create the template for fright films.
Evil Dead sans the definite article "the" is a so-so horror film, one that has so little in common with its namesake other than shared basic parameters — five 20-somethings discover unimaginable horrors in an isolated cabin in the woods — that it has been suggested the 2013 version is a sequel rather than a remake.
In the update, a junkie named Mia (Jane Levy) is kicking the habit for good, with the help of three caring friends — Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) — and a mostly absentee older brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez). Mia and David's family cabin is the perfect spot for her to decompress through the painful withdrawals.
But there are bigger problems for this bunch. A noxious smell draws them into the cabin's creepy basement, where they discover the remnants of a horrifying ritual and the Necronomicon, aka Book of the Dead. Sealed tight by barbed wire, no less, to contain the hellish dangers within, the Necronomicon proves too much of a temptation for Eric. The brainy one of the group, he can't resist unsealing the book and then writing and reading aloud an evil incantation, despite the dire warnings not to perform such acts written in the margins. Eric unknowingly releases a soul-sucking demon, which first possesses Mia and then comes after the four remaining friends one by one.
Unlike so many recent horrific horror remakes, Evil Dead isn't a quick money grab to cash in on a name-brand franchise, but a competently made horror film with impressive connections to its past. Sam Raimi, who directed and co-wrote The Evil Dead trilogy, produced this sequel-remake, along with The Evil Dead trilogy star Bruce Campbell and producer Robert G. Tapert.
Raimi also hand-picked talented first-time director Fede Alvare to helm the update, and the film's script was polished by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Coby. The Evil Dead fans will recognize homages to Raimi's films — the quirky camera shots and zooms of doom make for warm moments of nostalgia — but it's all part of a rather workmanlike movie that is too much about the past and not enough about the present.
Given that today's horror audience has grown up on The Evil Dead films and their offspring, Evil Dead is required to work that much harder than its predecessors to scare moviegoers. But it is old-school to a fault, with tried and trite scare tactics that fail to deliver consistent frights or push genre boundaries in inventive ways as did the original. It's gross, twisted, and stuffed with a macabre sense of humor, but so is most every modern horror film. Watching people self-mutilate to spare themselves an even more horrifying fate isn't as shocking as it once was. (See, there was a purpose to the Saw movies after all.)
The Cabin in the Woods was a much better film as well, one that never lost its mirthful mojo amid all the blood and guts. Evil Dead is missing the delirious sense of fun running counter to the carnage in The Evil Dead movies. The cast is fine, but are as memorable as their characters, save Levy (ABC's sitcom Suburgatory), who has a wicked time being wicked.
Notably absent from this hapless crew is Campbell's post-modern protagonist Ash, the goofy cult-film hero who can be counted on to screw up and make matters worse and generate levity in the process. Without him — or an Ash-like character — there's no break from the intense gore and horror, no ironic wink; Evil Dead is the basic nightmare tale of five doomed individuals trapped in a cabin by an evil entity. And where's the fun in that?
Directed by Fede Alvarez. Written by Diablo Cody and Fede Alvarez, based on the Sam Raimi movie. A Tristar/FilmDistrict release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language. Running time: 92 minutes.
Critic's rating: **½
Eric.................Lou Taylor Pucci
Contact Kirk Baird firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6734.