As any Evil Dead fan should know, it’s dangerous to mess with ancient texts. The first of the classic horror franchise concerns a group of callow youngsters that decide to crack the spine of a mysterious ancient tome called The Book of the Dead. As you might expect, the ancient text and its spells revive a horde of undead demon spirits called Deadites, who wreak havoc on all who dared to toy with the sacred book.
Judging from the trailer for this new version, it’s unclear that the remake’s creators got the message. Director-turned-producer Sam Raimi has asked first-time feature director Fede Alvarez to take a crack at remaking the landmark horror film, and the results look remarkably uninspired. (I should warn, for those not into such things, that the red band trailer is very gory.)
So what’s the point? The original Evil Dead was a standout bit of filmmaking for two main reasons: The elaborate choreography of its spurts of blood, and the way it sold these spurts with tongue slightly in cheek, finding a match between comic timing and the timing of a good scare. In 1981, when horror-comedy was just taking shape as a subgenre, Evil Dead led the way. (Raimi further developed the form with the sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.)
Which is why it’s remarkable that the new Evil Dead is so straight-faced. It seems to replace the fresh tone of the original with the deadest clichés you can imagine. And to make matters worse, it’s not 1981 anymore: Not only was Evil Dead already loosely remade in Evil Dead II, but its tropes have just been cleverly dissected in Cabin in the Woods. In fact, this remake seems so paint-by-numbers that it looks exactly like Cabin in the Woods—except it’s not parody. And there have been several interesting spins on the subgenre besides, from Cabin Fever, another light tweak on the genre from Eli Roth, and Baghead, an entertaining mumblecore twist.
Others might point with excitement at the director, who caught Hollywood’s eye with the remarkably cost-effective 2009 short Panic Attack! That movie conjured up a robot invasion big enough to destroy Montevideo on a budget of only $300. But while I don’t want to take away from Alvarez’s achievement, it’s also worth remembering that, if you put the budget aside, the short was little more than a takeoff on movies like Transformers and Independence Day (with the requisite shaky camera).
Of course, those with a particular thirst for blood and practical effects may not care if the new remake lacks freshness and originality. They’re already counting all the callbacks to the original. But I think we can expect more from Raimi than a deadened version of the living dead.
Army of Brightness: Evil Dead II on Blu-Ray