When it was announced that there would be a remake of the 1981 cult horror classic The Evil Dead, but that the original director Sam Raimi would not make it and that there were no plans to resurrect the film’s star Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, fans were mournful of their beloved franchise, due to be ruined at the hands of unknown Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez.
However, hopes were lifted months later when Bruce Campbell told fans on Reddit: “The script is awesome. The remake’s gonna kick ass – you have my word,” and Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert came on board as producers. At the world premiere last night at SXSW in Texas, Alvarez introduced his debut film saying, “it’s not a remake, it’s a rebirth”, and Bruce Campbell stood nearby, describing himself like a “proud uncle”.
The finished article unlocks everything that the first set of films achieved so well; a melting pot of the influences of classic horror – a little bit of Night of the Living Dead mixed with The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but also manages to keep up with the expectations of modern horror films like The Cabin in the Woods.
For any uninitiated, the first The Evil Dead (there are 3, and a musical) followed a group of students who are spending their spring break in a woodland cabin. They find the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, and unwittingly unleash an evil spirit that possesses them and forces them to kill one another. The new version of the film uses the same set up, but instead of this being a holiday, it’s rehab for its lead female Mia (played by Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) who is going cold turkey after overdosing, with a little help from her 5 friends. Once her buddy Eric opens a book covered in pieces of skin and barbed wire that says ‘keep out motherfucker’, the evil is summoned and it’s only a matter of time before they are all killed in gruesome ways.
There are a few nods to the original that fans will appreciate (including the tree rape scene) and Easter eggs that it would be cruel to spoil for you here. But what can be said is that the new Evil Dead offers a good old-fashioned blood bath as well as a mash-up of all the clichés horror fans know and love. Watch as the characters trip and fall at the worst possible time, or characters that should be dead fill you with that false sense of security when they come back to life more evil and angry than ever. Sit and count the number of household weapons used; the chainsaw, the hammer, the nail-gun, the shotgun and marvel at how it literally rains with blood and people have their limbs duck-taped together (seriously).
Evil Dead is everything you’d expect and more. New director Fede Alvarez used many of the same techniques that Raimi uses in the original films – far off objects being suddenly pulled into the foreground, extreme close-ups forcing you into the wound and high-speed camerawork through woods in the mist. Unlike a lot of other horror films, Alvarez didn’t use any CGI, and instead used camera tricks to create illusions. He said: “There’s a reason people use CGI- it’s cheaper and faster. I hate that. There’s no CGI in the movie. Everything you will see is real,” and its all the better for it. Although the acting from Jane Levy and her co-stars Shiloh Fernandez and Jessica Lewis is convincing and comical and they clearly give it their all, Evil Dead is not trying to be a standout drama. Instead it creates the kind of sensory attack that makes people jump out of the seats, grimace and revolt, scream and then choke on their own vomit.
At the end of the film, Bruce Campbell revealed that an Evil Dead 2 has already been written. This could be the start of something beautifully twisted…
This Review originally published as part of SXSW festival coverage