Cabin Fever

‘Evil Dead’ Remake Pays Homage to a Horror Cult Classic

Jean Trinh on how the Raimi-sanctioned reboot, in theaters today, compares to the beloved original.

TriStar Pictures

It’s not an easy task remaking a cherished horror cult classic, especially when it’s The Evil Dead—one of the most terrifying movies in history.

The Evil Dead screened at the 1982 Cannes film festival and inspired a devout following, leading to two campy sequels—Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness—a videogame, a comic-book series, and even a musical. It was an impressive feat for director Sam Raimi (Oz the Great and Powerful, Spider-Man), who was only 22 when he helmed the seminal scary flick with producer Rob Tapert (Drag Me to Hell, The Grudge). A franchise rose from a shoestring budget and launched cult superstar Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice) as the celebrated chain-saw-wielding hero, Ash. Even horror-genre royalty Stephen King gave his nod, calling it the “most ferociously original horror film of the year.”

When news seeped out that a reboot was in the works, loyalists were skeptical, even indignant. Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell—who all share producer credits in the new version—tried to assuage resistant diehards’ fears. “These are the original producers making this movie, not some fat slob producer looking for a cheap property to get their hands on,” Campbell told The New York Times.

Fans were still getting over Joss Whedon’s highly acclaimed The Cabin in the Woods, which paid homage to The Evil Dead with a similar plot—albeit in more of a comedic sense—just a couple of years ago.

So, is the entertainment industry already saturated with the overplayed story of a group of unassuming youth falling prey to the demons of a haunted house?

Despite these challenges, the team handpicked the adaptation’s director, crowning Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez based on his impressive viral short, Panic Attack! The young director—a huge fan of the original—has pointed out that the idea for the remake came from Raimi. Alvarez, along with his partner Rodo Sayugues, wrote the script for Evil Dead—out in theaters today—giving a younger, modern voice to the over-the-top gross-out flick and dropping the article in the title. The movie is touted as “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.”

It’s a bold statement in tepid waters, and Alvarez has to prove to fans that he is able to keep true to the essence of a film that helped define the horror genre while providing a fresh spin on the story.

In Alvarez’s reworking—which premiered at South by Southwest this year—he keeps to the meaty core of the predecessor, with the narrative of five longtime friends traveling to the middle of nowhere to an empty cabin in the forest—far from any semblance of civilization. However, he cleverly adds a plotline that Mia—played by Jane Levy (Suburgatory)—is a heroin junkie who decides to go cold turkey once and for all, making a pact with her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and friends, tossing her bag down a well. This makes the storyline more believable when the group turns on Mia, who vehemently argues that something is horribly amiss in the house; they insist she is merely going through withdrawal—a positive upgrade from the original screenplay.

But audiences will be disappointed that Ash isn’t in this remake, and it’s an audacious move to remove such a cultural icon. David, who proves to be better eye candy than Ash, lacks the charisma of a true horror hero. However, the audience has Mia to look forward to as the female protagonist—a modern and welcoming twist.

When the scholar of the group, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), opens a copy of the Book of the Dead bound by chicken wire and unwittingly reads passages that awaken the merciless demon, the bloodletting commences. Evil Dead revels in the gruesomeness of grotesque amputations, revealing pulled tendons and muscles and some cringeworthy uses of knives. It’s a delicate balance to not teeter over to the torture-porn genre of the Saw franchise, and Alvarez manages to not stretch it too far. If the 1981 version had a larger budget and today’s technological advances, it probably would have straddled that thin line as well. Alvarez wanted to keep a sense of realism and refrained from using CGI effects wherever he could, relying heavily on prosthetics and makeup and accenting the reign of blood in the scenes. When it rains, it pours blood in this movie.

Evil Dead in a way is a love letter to its forefathers by including pivotal scenes from the original, from the use of chain saws to the infamous girl-gets-raped-by-a-tree scene and even the circular-emblem necklace Ash gives to his girlfriend—which David gives to his sister in the reworked conception. There’s an essence of déjà vu here, but the demonic possessions of the friends occur in a different fashion—a refreshing take on how a string of horrible events transpire for this group. Audiences will laugh raucously at Eric’s comedic relief and the ridiculously bad choices each of these friends makes—a respectful homage to the campiness of the original.

Although Evil Dead has a screenplay that is flawed at times, it pays tribute to a classic with poise and respect and effectively shocks the audience with a sea of bloody gore. Alvarez gives fanatics a way to newly enjoy the franchise 30 years later, pulling in revered moments from the original, but mildly reworking the plot to give bloodthirsty fans a chance to squirm and laugh together.

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During a panel at WonderCon this year, Alvarez announced plans for Evil Dead 2, and Raimi is working with his brother Ivan on the screenplay for Army of Darkness 2—bringing Ash back—all to result in a crossover of the two worlds in Evil Dead 7 if everything goes according to plan, as reported by MovieWeb. There are a lot of moving parts to these plans, but fans know there will be more to look forward to—and this isn’t the last they’ll see of Ash and his chain saws.