REVIEW: Mayhem and Metaphor in ‘Evil Dead’
If you want fans to like your horror movie, do one thing: deliver on your promise. The genre has always operated that way. If you show a guy in a hockey mask on the poster holding a machete and menacing teenage girls in bikinis, that must happen in the movie. It’s not the same for drama or action films. A Jason Statham cardboard theater-lobby display that depicts him holding a semi-automatic is not a promise. It’s an obligation. If Daniel Day-Lewis’s face ends up on a poster, moviegoers aren’t going to walk out happy just because he waved at the camera. He has to go Lincoln on their butts.
With its lurid titles and promotional artwork, horror is the heavy metal of the movie industry. If you live up to that, chances are fans will reward you with loyalty, even if the acting is shaky and the production values low. Witness the continued reverence for the original Evil Dead from 1981, which launched the careers of B-movie veteran actor Bruce Campbell and A-movie director Sam Raimi. In an era when unscrupulous distributors would re-title and re-release any dull, flaccid exploitation flick they could find in the vaults to sucker in unsuspecting fans, Evil Dead delivered the pie. And gave you free cinnamon sticks, too.
Raimi and Campbell, filming on weekends over four years, served up an X-rated barrage terror for 85 minutes and showed acts of violence no audience had ever seen. In the intervening decades, plenty of horror flicks have gone all kinds of twisted places, to the point that no one is shocked nowadays to see a zombie’s head blown off on Saturday afternoon when AMC milks its Walking Dead cash cow with yet another marathon. In the wake of the sadistic Saw and Hostel movies, I wondered how the makers of the brand new Evil Dead remake could possibly deliver on the legend.
By giving us the absolute nastiest, most brutal R-rated film yet, it turns out. After a slow first act, someone drops a brick on the accelerator and the film heads straight for a stone wall. It crashes through that and into a giant buzz saw, but not before being set on fire, impaled, and dismembered.
Did I mention this film is violent? Twenty years ago, you couldn’t get a paper cut past the MPAA. In 2013, a character can saw her own face off with a shard of glass and it’s “no worries” from the ratings board. You thought torture porn was dead, but it was only evolving into something really epic. Now the torturer and the victim are in the same body.
Somehow, amid all the mayhem (and amusing franchise homages), first-time director and screenwriter Fede Alvarez managed to make this movie into a metaphor for drug addiction. In the 1981 version, five friends head to a cabin in the woods because that’s what people did in ‘80s horror movies. In the remake, four friends drag a fifth friend named Mia (Jane Levy of Suburgatory) to a cabin in the woods because she is an addict and they are trying to detox her. Their plan to keep her away from scoring another fix goes awry when DEMONS COME OUT OF THE WOODS AND START MUTILATING THEM.
Requiem for a Dream it ain’t. Still, the wraithlike demon that follows Mia around happens to look just like her, only after five more years of meth use. And only Mia can kill Mia’s demon. Though the message is delivered with a sledgehammer, I give Alvarez credit for attempting to add a bit of subtext.
The whole show is slick and well made, though not with the ingenuity Sam Raimi showed in the original when he was a broke college kid with a 16mm camera and a dream. The acting and dialog are spotty in places and the story, while holding together within its own universe, isn’t particularly clever. That said, I enjoyed the new Evil Dead a hell of a lot more than Raimi’s latest mega-budget directorial effort, Oz the Great and Powerful. Evil Dead promised violence, horror, and demons, and that’s what I got. I doubt Oz promised miscasting, nonsensical plotting, and almost total reliance on glitzy CGI to disguise its hollowness.
Funny. The movie about devils was the one with soul.