Friday, April 5, 2013

The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror

I hope everyone involved with the Evil Dead remake has sent a Thank You card to the MPAA. Clearly this is not the same ratings board that refused to give the bloodless and purposely goofy Army of Darkness a PG-13 twenty years ago. Whatever grudge the MPAA once held against Sam Raimi and co. for bypassing their rulings on the first two Evil Deads has obviously dissipated over time.

Many have suggested that this remake is the goriest R-rated film ever. Not only can I not think of an example to prove otherwise but I'd say that it's also probably gorier than a good many unrated films as well. It's so thoroughly revolting, in fact, that I have no need of seeing the unrated cut when it hits DVD. I'm good with just what's on the screen, thanks. This splatter junkie is already satisfied.

One of the most crushing disappointments of my early horror movie fandom was when my mother failed to convince the ticket seller at our local theater that it was ok for me to see The Evil Dead. I was fourteen at the time and that was a far cry from jumping the "no one under 17 will be admitted" hurdle. In retrospect, I really don't think my mother argued my case that hard but whatever - I had to stare dejectedly at that iconic poster hanging in the lobby window as we pulled away and wait patiently for my later date with The Evil Dead on VHS. While it would've been a feather in my geek cap to say I saw The Evil Dead on the big screen, I have to say the prolonged wait didn't dim my excitement and the movie absolutely fulfilled my sky high hopes for it. That was the thing with The Evil Dead - it had the reputation of being a horror movie that didn't let you down. Raimi didn't pull any stops in trying to make a movie that would please the hardcore horror crowd. He wasn't just doling out horror in drips and drabs, he was shoveling it in the audience's face.

The best compliment I can give the new Evil Dead is that it shares that same determination to be "the ultimate experience in grueling terror."

Directed by Fede Alvarez, who co-scripted with his collaborator Rodo Sayagues (with some contributions by Diablo Cody), this Evil Dead sticks to the bare bones of the original but is made distinctive by Alvarez's crazed creative embroidery. In this film we again have a group of young people together in an isolated cabin but rather than the carefree weekend getaway of the original, here everyone is gathered to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick her long-standing drug addiction so from the start things are already tense. There's no jocularly activity to speak of, even in the early section of the film. And it doesn't take long before a discovery in the basement makes the cabin look like a seriously questionable environment to conduct any kind of healing.

As with the original, there isn't much plot past the initial set-up. The whole addiction thing and the pre-existing drama between the characters would seem to inject more depth into the scenario but it really just provides an easy excuse as to why everyone is in the cabin to begin with. Which is fine. There are moments where long simmering tensions and resentments come into play and while those moments come across just fine, this will not be a film known for its dramatic chops.

Instead it will be known for how mercilessly it put its young cast (including Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Shiloh Fernandez, and Elizabeth Blackmore) through the FX mill.

Bodily harm is served up in heaping doses, with every character suffering grievous (and sometimes self-inflicted) injuries. There's only one instance of CG that I noticed, during the reprise of the infamous "tree rape" from the original, but other than that I think it's all practical. I couldn't swear to that but that's only because I was too gob smacked by the events on screen to analyze how they were accomplished. I'm telling you, this movie is gross. If your tastes run towards subtle horror, you can safely pass on this one.

On the downside, Alvarez and Sayagues' script (I'm guessing Cody's contributions were limited to dialogue polishes) gets in the way of its own fun at times by placing too much emphasis on the Book of the Dead and how it predicts every atrocity. Raimi was wise enough to simply have the Necronomicon (a name not used here, by the way - likely for some legal reason) and the taped translation as a means to have all Hell break loose and not touch back on it much.

Here, every grisly deed that occurs comes with its own helpful accompanying illustration. You know, a possessed person can't just cut their own face off for the heck of it. No, we have to then take a moment to see how it was predicted in the book before we can move on to the next gory spectacle. In the way that many modern films tend to do, it strives to the point of tedium to connect every dot when a simple "something was unleashed" would've sufficed.

I'm also not convinced it was such a great idea to make an earlier victim of possession who pre-dates the main cast's arrival (and that we first see in a pre-title sequence) into a key embodiment of the film's evil. I'm not saying it doesn't work at all but it does create a back story situation that the original was ok without. It was better to keep it all about the core cast and how they turn demonic one by one. Bringing this other character into the mix, who so little is known about, dilutes the formula of friends vs. friends just a tad.

For the most part, though, no one can say this is a watered-down Evil Dead. You get the impression that if Alvarez could've actually hosed down the audience with fake blood, he would've. It's the only way this movie could've possibly gotten any wetter or redder.