They say if something’s not broken, don’t fix it – advice Sam Rami and Bruce Campbell might have been wise to pay more heed to. This week sees both the rerelease on Blu-ray of Evil Dead II (1987), the sequel to their cult schlocker The Evil Dead (1981), as well as the release of Evil Dead (2013), a remake (or in “Hollywood speak,” a reimagining) of the original. Though Raimi and Campbell take more back seat, supervisory roles this time around, having watched the new 90 minute gorefest one has to ask what they thought Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez could add by resurrecting the story yet again?
For anyone with even the slightest interest in horror cinema, The Evil Dead was, and still is, the “Holy Grail” of the infamous “video nasty” era. The stories which surround the making of the classic (such as how Raimi, Campbell and fellow producer Robert G. Tapert had to borrow money from friends and family in order to finish the project) are as legendary as the film itself. The fact that it was concocted by a group of young filmmakers with not much experience or backing is frequently evident. However the finished film’s beauty and enduring appeal lies in its sheer exuberance and lack of restraint from big studio conventions. It was made by people who loved film, and it shows.
The surprise success of The Evil Dead led to the inevitable sequel. Though six years may have separated them, if watched together now there’s not a lot to differentiate the two films. The cast may have changed, with Campbell’s Ash being the only character to return from the first movie for another dose of demon possession, but otherwise virtually everything remained the same. A group of young people, including Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler), find themselves in a deserted forest cabin which used to belong to a university professor. Here he taped a recitation of passages from an ancient tome called The Book of the Dead – recordings that evoke an evil spirit from the surrounding woods with devastating results for Ash and the others present.
Which is really all there is to say where the second film is concerned except to add that, uncharacteristically for a sequel, Evil Dead II is, if not better, then at least on a par with its predecessor. Admittedly nothing could have surpassed the ferocity and originality of The Evil Dead, whose black humour and cartoonesque gore both shocked and amused unsuspecting audiences in equal measure. By the time the second film came along, Raimi and his team had upped the production values, but otherwise the film was a virtual retread of the original. There may have been more blood and served limbs, but everything else from the storyline to the demon-possessed victims remained more or less unchanged. Yet fans and critics alike excused Raimi for the sin of repetition, seeing Evil Dead II as the film he would have made first time around if he’d had the money and wherewithal to do it.
Which brings us bang up to date and the release of Alvarez’s Evil Dead. Save for a largely unnecessary pre-credit opening sequence intended to explain the origin behind some of the evil which haunts the cabin, everything is more-or-less identical to Raimi’s masterpiece. Five twenty-somethings, Mia (Jane Levy), her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) head out for some quality down time in an old cabin in the woods. Unknown to the kids the seemingly tranquil haven hides a dark secret deep within its cellar – an evil which is about to unleash its full fury upon the unsuspecting group of friends.
With this twenty-first century take Alvarez has produced what amounts to a wasted opportunity. Instead of using this chance to reinterpret the Evil Dead legend for a new generation, he simply rehashes what has gone before, albeit with an infinitely more graphic use of no-holds-barred gore. Evil Dead was notorious for its visceral violence, but done with its tongue planted so firmly in its cheek that much of the carnage was more laughable than disturbing. Here though the filmmakers display no such lightness of touch, with everything from nail-gun mutilation to chainsaw dismemberment shown in full-blooded glory. The young cast, though effective, are not particularly memorable – unlike the chisel chinned Campbell whose role in Evil Dead set him on the road to horror immortality. As a result any hope of characterisation or depth in the film is soon forgotten in favour of the graphic mayhem which is relentless once it kicks in.
As pointed out Evil Dead II was a remake of The Evil Dead in all but name. Which leads one to query the logic behind resurrecting this particular sleeping corpse yet again, instead of letting it remain a happy, if grotesque, memory.
Evil Dead II was released by STUDIOCANAL in the UK on April 8, 2013. The deluxe, High-Definition Blu-ray is complemented by a host of extras including audio commentary by cast and crew, archival featurettes and the theatrical trailer.
Evil Dead opened in the USA on April 5, 2013, and is released in the UK on April 18, 2013.
Cleaver Patterson is film critic and writer based in London.
For a more positive take on Evil Dead, the remake, follow the link.