We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, based on the original screenplay by Sam Raimi
Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore
The majority of films being released nowadays are either updates of past films or adaptations of stories and characters that originated in other media, and this lack of original ideas has led a lot of viewers to treat every announcement of a new remake with indifference or all out hate. I admit that I had a similar reaction about a year and a half ago when it was announced that a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead was in the works. My interest in it was piqued a bit by the release of the trailer for the new version, now simply called Evil Dead, and I resolved to check it out to see how it lived up to the original. Having missed Evil Dead during its theatrical run, I recently checked it out on DVD and wound up deeply impressed with it both as an effective work of horror cinema and as a movie in its own right. It is one of the few horror remakes that successfully offers a unique twist on its original story and in many ways could be considered a better overall film than the Raimi version.
The basic plot of the remake is the exact same as The Evil Dead, which dealt with five young people staying in a remote cabin and unwittingly releasing an evil supernatural force that proceeds to murder them all in horribly grotesque ways. However, Evil Dead adds an interesting detail to the basic plot by having them all convene at the cabin to watch over their mutual friend Mia (Jane Levy), who is attempting to kick her drug habit. One of the last people to arrive at the cabin is Mia’s estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), and through their discussions we gather a little bit of their backstory involving their troubled home life with their deceased mother, who we find out was mentally ill. This detail adds a great deal of depth to what could have easily been just a by-the-numbers retelling of the original film with updated gore effects and provides a layer of humanity to at least these two characters so that we are at least given the opportunity to care about them when the demon comes calling. By letting us know that Mia is trying to kick her addiction and has a family history of insanity, the film gives us a solid reason for the group to remain at the cabin when things start to go bad for them. The event that releases the demon is just as arbitrary as it was in the original Raimi film, but nearly everything that the characters do afterwards at least makes some logical sense given their situation. As a more casual fan of horror films and a frequent detractor of how the victims act in them, I appreciated how Evil Dead gave us characters with at least some semblance of logic and intelligence, even when faced with the horror of demonic possession and graphic self-mutilation.
In addition to providing a deeper, more engrossing central story than are found in most horror films, first-time director Fede Alvarez and his co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues provide the audience with some genuinely frightening scenes, using almost exclusively practical effects and makeup. Nearly every character in the film is forced by the demon to mutilate himself or herself physically, and the film is not afraid to show each of these occurrences in full bloody detail. While these scenes are effectively scary, their effect is heightened because the script allowed us to see them more as people than as empty archetypes as found in most horror movies. While not every character is as fleshed out as Mia, their relationship to her is explored enough in the early moments of the film to add a little more drama to the moments of violent gore and dismemberment. I also greatly appreciated Alvarez and Sayagues’ decision to treat the material seriously and limit any explicit references to the original movie to a handful of subtle Easter Eggs within certain scenes. That way, they successfully please the diehard Raimi fans while still making it accessible to those who may not have seen the original.
Horror is a movie genre that gets the least amount of respect from so-called “serious” filmgoers and critics, perhaps because these movies tend to put cheap thrills and gory imagery over story development and character. Some of the more acclaimed horror films, such as The Exorcist, The Shining, and last year’s excellent The Cabin In The Woods managed to transcend what some see as the limitations of the horror genre by telling a deeper story to enhance the usual scares and gross-out moments. While the 2013 Evil Dead doesn’t delve quite as deep as those earlier films, it definitely raises the bar for its distinct style of horror and especially for horror remakes in terms of providing a new and interesting spin on a story that’s already been told onscreen. It’s obvious that remakes and/or reboots of older films aren’t going to be going away any time soon, but if they strive to be as good as this remake, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing after all. Evil Dead gets 4.5 out of 5 Split Tongues.