It’s been 32 years, yes 32, since Sam Raimi assembled a group of young misfits, took to the woods and made a horror movie using nothing but gum, the crystallised by-product of hope, and a supermarket trolley. To say that The Evil Dead was made on the fly would be over selling it. The finished film, rightly lauded as a genre classic, gives credence to the movie truism that a great film need not be slick, it only requires love and a bit of moxie. Guerrilla filmmaking, you might think, is what it’s all about: bolting together something not because you expect it to make you rich but because you’d like to see it yourself. If your friends get injured along the way, like poor Bruce Campbell was when the bike with the camera strapped to it careered into him, so be it. Injuries only last for life; movies are forever.
Evil Dead 2013 is an altogether different proposition. For one thing it has no reason to exist other than to trade on the successful brand Raimi’s hard work created but as he and that other member of the old guard, Campbell, are acting as producers, there’s more than implied consent. That or the realisation that in this current movie magpie culture, where remakes are ten a penny and inevitable, the only way to safeguard your intellectual property from the devil-may-care behaviour of squatters is to be there when they move in, reminding them to respect the place at all times.
Naturally Raimi stands to make at least a buck and a stump from Fede Alvarez’s remake, and consequently he’ll be satisfied that it’s technically accomplished, infused with an old school penchant for excess and prosthetic gore over lifeless CGI, and doths its cap to the old master, crow barring in the odd dutch angle, crash zoom and dolly through the woods, betwixt the screams and splatter. Credit must go to Patrick Baxter’s make up crew; each torn or mutilated limb, every object eked out of flesh, looks disgustingly real. If that were the only bar for success this reheated nightmare would vault over with ease but the movie’s back is broken by a familiar twin curse: inhuman casting and po-faced conception.
Raimi may have been a kid who knew nothing about anything when he dragged his friends kicking and screaming to that wood cabin but he was savvy enough to realise that characterisation may not be his strong suit and that consequently the on-screen insanity had to be supplemented with humour. There’s an unwritten rule in movie making and it’s as simple as you are: if you can’t write characters, write jokes and if you can’t do jokes, write characters. If your protagonists have a few good lines and the film’s suitably tongue in cheek, no one’s going to care that the on-screen victims are ciphers, but if, like Alvarez, you decide to play it straight and go for scares based on the juxtaposition of satanic menace with grounded, everyday younguns acting as proxies for the audience, then you better damn well make sure they’re people of interest, else you’re courting indifference to their fate on a scale that will kill your movie stone dead.
With the spirited exception of Jane Levy, the cast of Alvarez’s Evil Dead are dead weights: monstrously boring and inanimate assemblages of heads and limbs whose only interest lies in the manner of their grievously unpleasant deaths. Levy’s character, in recognition of her special status as someone we should care about, is introduced with a back story – a smack addition, but any hope that this will be integral to what follows is soon crushed as it becomes apparent it’s merely a pretext for getting her and her boring friends to that cabin and an excuse for them to dismiss her when she starts to talk about demonic possession and tree rape.
In short, with the all the emphasis on delivering the requisite level of blood and feculence beloved of the fan base, Alvarez has neglected the humanity at the heart of his sober, less animated take on Raimi’s gore-a-thon. The result is something less than the sum of its parts; in other words, the diametric opposite of that beloved original.