CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: EVIL DEAD (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES is sitting at a desk, reading an ancient book. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks over his shoulder)
MA: You know you shouldn’t be doing that. It always ends badly.
LS: I know. But I feel compelled to do it.
MA: Whatever you do, don’t read aloud from it.
LS: ATA HEMPTO KEEPAP
MA: I told you not to read from it.
(The leprechaun from LUCKY CHARMS cereal appears)
LUCKY: You’ll be after me lucky charms!
MA: I beg your pardon? I don’t think so!
LS: We summoned you by accident.
LUCKY: Accident? And me in the middle of me breakfast.
LS: Go play with Toucan Sam or something.
(LUCKY turns MA into a monkey and disappears)
LS: Well, that’s an improvement.
(Monkey MA starts screeching and running around the cabin)
LS: I might as well start this week’s review.
(Monkey morphs back into MA)
MA: Nice try. What? Is the leprechaun on your payroll? Don’t answer that. Just get on with the review.
LS: EVIL DEAD is a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic (the difference in titles is that the original had a “THE” in front of it). That was the movie that put Raimi on the map—and just look how his career turned out? Now he’s directing stuff like OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. But back then, Raimi was just some unknown kid trying to make it in the movie biz. Strangely, even though all this time has gone by, THE EVIL DEAD is still my favorite of Raimi’s movies.
MA: Things work out that way sometimes. Often the first thing an artist does—or at least the first hit—remains the best.
LS: So when I heard they were giving it the remake treatment, I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t hopeful either. Raimi’s movie was low-budget, but incredibly resourceful. Despite the money limitations, the original EVIL DEAD introduced Raimi’s signature “stalking cam” where the camera shows the point of view of a creature running through the woods. Well, not exactly running. Sweeping through the woods at high speed is more the feel of it. And THE EVIL DEAD made a star of the very cool Bruce Campbell, who was Ash in the original and its sequels.
The trailer for the new version looked hopeful, and it started this ad campaign where it declared this to be “The most terrifying film you will ever experience!” Then the buzz started—a lot of it coming from the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year in Austin, Texas, where audiences loved this movie. So I started to get excited about it and really looked forward to seeing it.
But there was always the chance it could be a complete disappointment.
MA: I don’t believe ad campaigns for one minute. The most horrifying movie you will ever see? Yeah, right. Anyway, like any ad, I didn’t give this one much credence, and I put it out of my mind since I didn’t want to have this movie hindered by too high expectations.
LS: So let’s start off with the obvious question. Is this the most horrifying movie you will ever see? Nope. That’s a pretty big claim, and it’s just about guaranteed to fall short.
MA (laughing): It sounds like an ad campaigns for a movie back in the 50s. SEE the most terrifying monster ever to set foot on the earth! An ungodly horror not meant for human eyes! Too hideous! Too horrifying!
It’s a dumb add for a decent movie.
LS: There was a lot of that kind of stuff in the 70s too. I remember MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) had the ad campaign “Positively the most horrifying film ever made.” And I’m sure there were plenty of ads that copied that one.
But I’ll give the new EVIL DEAD this much credit: it sure tries hard to live up to that tag line.
MA: It gets an A for effort.
(LS again reads from the ancient book.)
LS: OOGIE TOOFIE LOOFIE
(This time CAPTAIN CRUNCH appears.)
CAPTAIN CRUNCH: Hey kids, how about helping your captain eat a healthy breakfast by—hey, wait a minute. You two aren’t kids.
MA: How observant you are.
CAPTAIN CRUNCH: Are there any kids around?
LS (rubs his stomach): Not alive, anyway.
CAPTAIN CRUNCH: In that case, how about helping this captain fill his flask, if you know what I mean? (Holds out an empty flask).
LS (pointing): The bar’s that way, in the next room. Fully stocked.
CAPTAIN CRUNCH: Mrs. Crunch is going to have a good time tonight! (Exits with a skip in his step.)
MA: He always seemed so innocent on those TV commercials.
LS: Maybe, but I never did trust that Crunchberry Beast.
Do you remember back when we were kids and Captain Crunch had an enemy in those cartoon commercials named Jean LaFoot? There was this whole storyline going on. They just don’t make commercials like that anymore.
Anyway, back to the movie. This one begins promisingly enough. A bunch of college-age kids meet at a cabin in the woods. In the original, it was more for a fun weekend. Here, it has a more serious motivation. Mia (Jane Levy, also the star of the current ABC comedy SUBURGATORY) is trying to get off drugs for the second time in her life, after a recent overdose that almost killed her (actually, we’re told, she did technically “die” for a moment during it). Her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), a cynical guy with long hair, and Olivia (the very stunning Jessica Lucas, who was also in CLOVERFIELD, 2008) are there, as well as the older brother Mia hasn’t seen in years, David (Shiloh Fernandez, who was also Peter in 2011’S RED RIDING HOOD) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). They’re all there to give Mia support during her attempt to kick drugs via the “cold turkey” approach. They’re there in that cabin in the middle of nowhere to see her through the rough times, keep her there, and make sure this time the “cure” takes.
MA: I liked this premise a lot. It really worked for me and made things more interesting in that these folks actually had a real reason not only for being there, but for staying there, in that they wanted to see things through to the end and truly help Mia kick her habit.
LS: Exactly. In these kinds of movies, there’s always a point where you say “Why the hell do they stay there? Why not leave?” It happens in this movie too—it’s inevitable in these kinds of horror movies—but for a little while there, everyone staying put actually makes sense. And that’s unusual.
Right away, Mia and David have issues. Mia is happy to see him, but also resents him for taking off on her when she was a kid, leaving her alone with their crazy mother, who died in a mental hospital a few years before this reunion. David clearly didn’t come back because he was trying to save his own sanity, but he’s trying to make up for his choices now, by giving Mia the support she needs.
So they go in the cabin, intent on seeing this through to the end. The friends make a pact to stay strong and not give in when Mia wants to leave. They’re going to make sure it works this time.
But the cabin has other plans.
MA: I’ll say.
LS: First off, they find a roomful of dead cats hanging from the ceiling in a secret room below the cabin (the reason the cats are there is explained in the creepy opening sequence of the film, which takes place in the past). They also find a book wrapped in barbed wire, which of course ends up upstairs with them, and of course one of them, namely Eric, has to cut the wires and open the book, and even read from it.
MA: Gee, that sounds familiar. (points his thumb at LS).
LS: As soon as he does that, he sets the demons in motion.
From here, EVIL DEAD takes on a relentless pace, as each member of the group takes turns being possessed by demonic forces. It begins with Mia, who has the main demon “attached” to her soul in the middle of the woods (with a special appearance by the ghost of the book’s previous victim), after trying to flee the cabin. When she goes back, Mia attacks the others, and then the fireworks begin.
I loved the pacing of this one. It doesn’t let up for a moment after the horror begins, and I really enjoyed that. There’s plenty of violence and gore and self-mutilation which is what you would expect from an EVIL DEAD movie. I am so glad they didn’t go the PG-13 route with this one. In fact, there are a couple of scenes that are downright amazing, including Mia using a razor to cut her tongue in half, the messy results of a shotgun blast, several people cutting off offending limbs in horrible ways, and an amazing “chainsaw to the head” moment that paints the entire screen red. So, if you happen to be a gorehound, this one is definitely for you.
In a lot of ways, this movie is almost perfect. It has a more serious tone than the first one —Raimi was famous for injecting funny moments to relieve tension, but this one is simply grim and vicious—which is in no way a bad thing. It’s also fairly faithful to the original, especially the key horrific/gross-out moments. Director Fede Alvarez (this is his first feature film, his previous movies were all short films) does a stunning job bringing this one to the screen. But there are a couple of minor gripes.
First off, the movie completely pushes its R-rating to the line, and past it, as far as the gore goes. This is not a movie for the squeamish. And yet it seemed to have a puritanical streak a mile long. From a character taking a shower in her clothes early on, to other key moments that would have had a lot more impact if there was some nudity involved. And I’m not talking gratuitous nudity—I’m talking logical stuff (do YOU take a shower with your clothes on?) This odd repression didn’t ruin the movie, but it did feel like it was holding back, and EVIL DEAD should be the kind of movie that is no-holds-barred. It just continues to amaze me that violence and gore is becoming more and more mainstream, but sex and nudity are still taboos that are to be avoided at all costs.
MA: This didn’t bother me. The movie’s pacing is so intense I didn’t have time to think about the fact that there wasn’t any nudity. But something else bothered me about this one.
I agree with you that it pushes the envelope in the gore department, and I’ll even go so far to say that it’s nearly perfect with its handling of these horrific moments, in that in spite of the fact that it was in your face most of the time, it somehow didn’t go overboard. Now, all this being said, for some reason, and this is the problem I had with it, it wasn’t all that scary. I’m not sure why, because there were certainly scenes of suspense, and while I was enjoying these scenes, they really weren’t getting to me. I think it’s because there was just a familiarity about the whole thing, as a reimagining of an old movie, that it somehow lacked freshness.
Also, and I’m not sure I can properly explain this, but it didn’t really hit me in the gut. I was more entertained by this one than disturbed, which surprised me, because it is such a bloodbath throughout. Another possibility I have to consider is perhaps the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, and I didn’t care as much if they had their arms lopped off. I don’t know. I enjoyed this one, but it didn’t really have me on the edge of my seat.
LS: I think it’s a mix of two things. First, we’re jaded old guys who have seen this kind of thing a thousand times before. Extreme gore just doesn’t shock us anymore. Secondly, because this is a remake, we’re familiar with the story for the most part, so there aren’t a lot of surprises—although, Alvarez does diverge from the original story a few times. Between these two things, it’s going to be pretty hard to scare us. But for some kid who never saw the original, this might really rock their world.
MA: I guess that explains why the rest of the theater audience was screaming, while I wasn’t. At least I wasn’t laughing, which says a lot for how good this one was.
(LS looks down at the Book of the Dead)
I just can’t help myself. (Again reads from the evil book. Toucan Sam appears.)
TOUCAN SAM: I follow my nose. Wherever it goes.
LS (points): The bar’s that way. (TOUCAN SAM exits.)
MA: What’s with all the breakfast cereal characters? What is that you’re reading from, anyway? The Book of Dead Breakfast Cereal Icons?
LS (his mouth full of cereal): That’s a mouthful.
(CAPTAIN CRUNCH sticks his head back into the room.)
CAPTAIN CRUNCH: That’s what she said! (He burps).
MA: He’s bad.
LS: He’s drunk.
CAPTAIN CRUNCH: I dare say. That’s a Peanut Butter Elephant standing by the bar! (Hiccups and exits).
MA: This is weird. Let’s get on with the review.
LS: The acting is mostly good, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric.
MA: I thought Jane Levy was excellent as Mia. She nailed this role. She made for a very strong lead, and I liked that she has to fight to overcome her drug addiction, a fight that strangely disappears at one point when she’s fighting the main demon face-to-face. Could this be a case where she was—scared straight?
LS: My one acting complaint, however, is Shiloh Fernandez as Mia’s brother David. He’s ostensibly the hero of this movie, and thus the equivalent of Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the original film. But let me tell you, David is no Ash. Not even close. Campbell may have given an over-the-top performance in the original, but it was riveting, and fun as hell. In comparison, Fernandez is kind of a dud. He’s kind of one-dimensional for most of the movie, and isn’t very interesting. He just reacts to everything that is thrown at him, but doesn’t have much of a personality of his own. I just thought his performance was a letdown for such a crucial role, and that someone with more charisma could have knocked this movie out of the park.
MA: I thought he was okay.
LS: My point exactly. Bruce Campbell wasn’t just okay in the original movie. He kicked ass!
MA: You’re right. He’s kind of low key, but he didn’t really bother me. However, I do agree with you that the movie would have been better with someone more charismatic, although I’m not sure if that’s simply Fernandez’ fault or a lack of good writing. The way the story plays out, the character of David doesn’t turn out to be the most effective hero, and I didn’t really like this all that much. I would have preferred a stronger hero.
LS: I also had a few issues with the ending. There’s a kind of loophole that provided a glimmer of hope toward the end of the film, that didn’t make complete sense to me. I don’t necessarily have a problem with glimmers of hope, but this one seemed forced, and that, again, goes against the whole “no-holds-barred” ethic of an EVIL DEAD movie.
Despite these complaints, I liked this movie a lot, and thought it was pretty amazing. It may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it was one of the best horror movies I have seen in a long time, and I completely recommend it to fans of the genre. You’re going to have a lot of fun with this one, even if the basic plot (guy reads book and summons demons) still seems a little silly (and, sadly, cliché, since so many people ripped Raimi off after the first EVIL DEAD).
I give it three and a half knives.
Also, if you stay until the very end (after the end credits), you’ll see a final “surprise” scene that is strictly for fans of the original film (kids with no knowledge of the original film may completely not get it). So stick around, hardcore fans.
MA: I didn’t stick around to the end, so I missed the final surprise. I liked this one a lot too, although not as much as you. And while I thought it was a very good horror movie, I wouldn’t put it above other very good horror movies of recent years. For example, I thought last year’s CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) was about the same in quality.
LS: CABIN IN THE WOODS had a completely different agenda, and Joss Whedon’s script had a lot of fun with the tropes and clichés of the genre. It was smart and funny. The new EVIL DEAD is trying to do something completely different.
MA: But in terms of quality I thought they were about the same. Both very good horror movies.
LS: By the way, the script here was by director Fede Alvarez, as well as Diablo Cody (who, you may remember, won an Oscar for her screenplay for 2005’s JUNO, and also wrote JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) and 2011’s YOUNG ADULT, the last one being a movie I liked a lot), and Rado Sayagues.
MA: I liked the acting, the pacing, and the intensity of the in-your-face gore, but something about this one lacked freshness, perhaps because it was a reimagining. I also didn’t find the characters all that exciting or even likeable, with the exception of Jane Levy as Mia. Horror fans will love it. Non-horror fans won’t.
I give it three knives.
LS: Just three? You must be smoking wacky tobacky or somethin’.
(MA looks around the cabin) I guess we’re done here. So, just what is the connection between the book you’re reading and the breakfast cereal characters?
LS: I dunno. I just started reading it and the characters showed up.
MA: Well, what’s the name of the book?
LS (looks at cover and reads): THE BOOK OF THE DEAD: A REIMAGINING. BROUGHT TO YOU BY KELLOGG’S.
MA: A reimagining?
(The door bursts open and CAPTAIN CRUNCH, TOUCAN SAM, THE LUCKY CHARMS LEPRECHAUN, TONY THE TIGER and SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP, and a bunch of other cereal characters stand there bloodied and crazed, holding knives, chainsaws, and various other brutal instruments.)
TOUCAN SAM: We’ll cut off your nose! Wherever blood flows!
MA: I think breakfast is over. Let’s get out of here.
LS: I’m sticking to corn flakes from now on.
(TONY THE TIGER roars, his face full of blood,”THEEEEY”RE GREAT!”)
(MA & LS flee while the demented cereal characters pursue them through the woods.)
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives EVIL DEAD ~ three knives!
LL Soares gives EVIL DEAD ~three and a half knives.