Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. If you grew up in the ‘80’s, there’s a good chance you saw it for the first time at a sleepover party. This is a cult classic whose reputation literally grew out of basements. Simply put, it’s a testament to the DIY inventiveness of horror. Given that The Evil Dead II kind of serves like a bit of remake itself, an actual remake seemed unnecessary. But then along came Fede Alvarez. From that first trailer, you knew Alvarez nailed it. So what does it take to remake a horror classic?
The Evil Dead is a Masterpiece of ‘80’s Horror
The Evil Dead is many things. Aside from being one of the best horror movies ever made, it’s emblematic of the decade in which it was released. Though it plays things a little more straight than its sequel, The Evil Dead set the ground rules for how to blend outrageous horror and humour. Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, John Gulager’s Feast, and even Raimi’s own Drag Me To Hell reference The Evil Dead. It was the VHS cover that grabbed your attention in video stores. This was the movie you snuck out at sleepovers when your parents weren’t paying attention.
But perhaps more than anything, Raimi’s 1981 gorefest is a triumph of low-budget movie-making. Younger horror fans may snicker at some of the special effects. And yes, to some extent, several effects are clearly dated. In spite of its budgetary limitations, Raimi doesn’t shy away from the subject matter. There’s a zany creative energy in how Raimi frames the movie with no shortage of clever camera work. And the practical gore remains as delightfully disgusting as ever. Besides, The Evil Dead was the movie that gifted us Bruce Campbell. The pencil stabbing the ankle, the bodily dismemberment, the bloods-spurting – no amount of CGI could improve on this movie.
Evil Dead Remake ‘Possesses’ Just Enough of What Made the Original Work
Both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell supported the remake, so it’s not surprising how well it turned out. Unlike other recent remakes, like Pet Sematary, director Fede Alvarez doesn’t concern himself with recreating each major event from the source material. Yes, Evil Dead has a ‘cabin in the woods’ where the ‘Book of the Dead’ awakens a host of carnage. After all, it is an Evil Dead remake. But while Evil Dead clearly shares the same DNA as the original, Alvarez does different things within that template. In other words, the remake doesn’t feel like it’s slavishly devoted to mimicking Raimi’s movie like a checklist.
…Alvarez crafts wall-to-wall mayhem that honours the original while avoiding being an outright copy.
Specifically, Alvarez shakes things up in two regards. First, Alvarez gives his characters a bit more of set-up and background. Obviously, an Evil Dead remake isn’t going to be a character study. But Jane Levy’s drug addicted ‘Mia and her estranged relationship with brother, David, offers a departure along with genuinely sympathetic characters. Second, Alvarez crafts wall-to-wall mayhem that honours the original while avoiding being an outright copy.
Fede Alvarez Doesn’t Compromise on the Gore
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead was ‘lightning in a bottle’. No one was ever going to perfectly replicate everything that made it a horror classic. Rather than trying to outright imitate Raimi’s tone, Alvarez plays the material more straight. But the remake knows what fans expect. And from its riveting opening prologue, Evil Dead delivers buckets of blood and gore. In fact, Evil Dead may be one of the goriest ‘mainstream’ horror movies in recent memory. It’s a full on assault of insanely brilliant practical effects. The beating Lou Taylor Pucci’s ‘Eric’ takes in the film is a sublime combination of brutality and dark humour that made Raimi’s movie work so well.
A Rare Remake That Compliments Its Source Material
Too many horror remakes either mindlessly imitate their predecessor or water down the material beyond recognition. Thankfully, Fede Alvarez’s remake compliments Raimi’s original movie, working as both remake and companion. It’s a more polished looking movie, but never sacrifices the gore and over-the-top violence you expect. I’d happily sign up for more adventures of Jane Levy’s ‘Mia’ fighting demons. Or even better – Ash and Mia on screen together.