It’s a bloody good time. You may be squirming in your seat, but isn’t that what it’s all about? Director Fede Alvarez, with no feature films to his credit, gets the job done right. He was apparently personally selected by the film’s producer(Sam Raimi), who just happens to be the director of the original trilogy. And let’s face it, Sam Raimi, an A-list helmer after three mega-successful “Spider-Man” films, is probably incapable of making this kind of film any longer. My hopes were high when it was proposed that he’d be in the chair for a reboot, soon after the release of 2009’s super-fun “Drag Me to Hell”—which played like an “Evil Dead” homage throughout. But when considering the tepidly reviewed(but, to be fair, a box office smash)”Oz the Great and Powerful”, it would appear that the former maverick just may be past-his-prime and lost to the mainstream for good. I hope I’m wrong. Because, how deliriously wild was “The Evil Dead” when it first started cutting its way across the American film landscape when I was a teenager in the early 80’s(“The Evil Dead” premiered in Detroit in 1981, but didn’t receive a general U.S. release until 1983)? I remember renting the videocassette with my kid brother one night and being freaked-out by its audaciousness. It was a scary, gory head-trip. It was considered so disgustingly gross back then, that the owner of the mom-and-pop video store that I tried to rent the 1987 sequel(“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”)from, informed me that they wouldn’t be carrying it. She said that it was because so many of her customers complained how disturbed they were by the first one! True story, and I’ve never forgotten her face or how she said it. By the time “Army of Darkness” arrived by 1993, I felt it was a bit played out—but still thought star Bruce Campbell was super-cool. Raimi, Campbell and original producer Robert Tapert, reunited to get this sequel/reboot to see the light of day. And it does the series proud.
The film opens with a grisly prologue involving a father and his teenage daughter in the basement of the cabin with others watching on. Is the girl possessed or isn’t she? You’ll see. Then we move to the plot proper, and like the original, it begins with a bunch of young adults arriving at a creepy cabin in the woods. But here’s something fresh(and inspired too!)—one young lady is a recovering drug addict, and her friends bring her out there to help her kick the habit. Mia(a terrific Jane Levy)has overdosed before, once being revived after a “clinical death”. The rest of the group includes her brother David(Shiloh Fernandez), and friends Eric, Olivia and Natalie(Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore, respectively). Oh, and there’s “Grandpa” the family dog, too. The plan is to keep Mia at the cabin until she’s gone through withdrawals and is totally drug-free. They don’t intend to let her leave until this goal is reached, because she bailed out on them once when a similar attempt was made. And that’s the beauty of it. After some animal corpses and the famed “Book of the Dead” are found in the room below the cabin—strange things begin to occur after Eric reads from the book. But when first reported by Mia, the events are shrugged off as either hallucinations or her bullshit attempt to leave the cabin. When Mia commandeers one of the group member’s cars and attempts to drive off—the good times start to roll! That is if your idea of a good time involves self-mutilation, nail guns, electric knives, amputated limbs, scalding showers, rape-minded foliage and demonic possessions. Hey, this was #1 at the weekend box office when it opened—so, I’m not alone!
Many of you will certainly recall that some of those things are direct homage to the original films. Many images and scenes throughout follow suit, as well. And it all works like gangbusters. And if you’re a hardcore fan(like me), be sure to stay through the end credits. It’s the only way to appreciate “fake shemps” and all things being “groovy”. It’s hard to imagine director and co-writer Alvarez pulling off a better update then he has here. It’s just the right balance of fresh material and nostalgic remembrance. And the added devices of a drug-addicted girl and a sibling conflict over the handling of a cancer-afflicted parent, gives the proceedings some welcome gravitas. Honestly, the horror genre doesn’t get anywhere near the respect that it deserves. That’s understandable when considering the amount of cheap crap that is churned out on a regular basis. But it’s a crying shame, when quality like this occasionally leaves its mark. “Evil Dead” kicks ass. Don’t miss it while it’s in theaters. Grade: B+