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Evil Dead Review: A Blissfully Excessive, Gore-Soaked Little Treat

Well, that was something. It goes without saying that when it comes to potential fanboy fury, early Sam Raimi projects are to be approached with a level of trepidation akin to pulling on the tail of an ornery crocodile. But with a significant budget allocation for fake blood and committed-bravado (to the excessive) director Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead update, while not a revamp of the “boom-stick” variety, is a wickedly gore-soaked little treat.  More than anything, Evil Dead is a masterstroke of technical proficiency, delivering practical special effects (mostly of the gruesome variety) unrivalled in any horror film I’ve seen before. Despite the film’s flaws (which I’ll get to later) I would, ironically, sell my soul to have been present behind the scenes when some of these sequences were, uh, executed. Equally impressive are the film’s musical cues and score which achieve the rare balance of being both apparent but also perfectly organic. Raimi himself showed a similar approach in Drag Me to Hell and simply, the collection of sounds ranging from clangs and clashes to an air horn is genius.  Now please be warned. This coming from a man desensitized to on-screen violence to the point of near-indifference, from a gore perspective Evil Dead is not for the squeamish, not for the ordinary bloke, not for the bold, not even for most avid admirers of the horror genre. If even I was sometimes forced to pull back and wince at what was on screen, that means it’s a film watched either with preparation or one from behind intertwined fingers. With the parental chat concluded, let’s get onto the meat and bones (man, these are easy) of Evil Dead. In many ways, both more subversively and purposely imitative way, is loyal to Raimi’s 1981 groundbreaker (as does the basic setup: teens, cabin, cursed book, evil spirits). The latter sees Alvarez employing the iconic ground-skittering camera throughout the possessed woods and shots from the perspective of the demonic force at large, while the former nods to elements like the all-important wielding of a chainsaw, the removal of an appendage and even an image in the book of the dead which references the original’s poster.  In spite of these winks, 2013’s Evil Dead is its own entity entirely and dives head deep into a pool of various fluids ranging from blood, to vomit to general ooze. The gore is all-encompassingly excessive but manages to sidestep the sadistic tendencies employed by equally cutthroat films from the torture porn subgenre. I suppose if you decide that your film is going to crank the obscene up to 11, you may as well go to 12 and then keep twisting until the knob snaps off.  Unfortunately the bloodshed does get a tad monotonous, especially when the same weapon is being utilized or the same body part being forcibly (or voluntarily) removed. It’s weird to be analyzing the film on these merits but I’ll be damned if Evil Dead doesn’t deserve it. Furthermore (and even while I’m not much persuaded by camp horror – being more of a satire admirer when it comes to the kitschier subgenres) this remake was in dire need of some more silly humour, or even more dark laughs. Missing in Evil Dead versus Raimi’s effort (at least in desired frequency) are the winning “demon smack-talk” sequences which saw the imprisoned possessed trying to get under the skin of its captors to wonderfully batty results. In fact the screenplay as a whole is more than a tad underwhelming, failing to offer much personality either to its leads or through any kind of humour, let alone of the goofy variety.  Such a gap is made more perplexing given that Oscar-winner Diablo Cody was handed the pen. Now, I would have dreaded venturing some sort of Juno­-cabin in the woods conglomeration but given her incredibly dark and wry work on the hugely underrated Young Adult, this script just seems like autopilot. Given, there are moments of black humour, usually in proximity to a kill or when our leads point out elements to their situation, but they’re few and far between the crimson havoc.  While the absence of substantial charm was unfortunate, the inclusion of numerous insanity-inducing clichés (particularly near the climax) is close to unforgivable. Early on I was ready to accept that conventions were going to be present and that, winkingly, they were going to be subverted, either through commentary or somehow through the gore. The dilapidated cabin was necessary given the original as was the setup, and I began to overlook scenes where people wandered off or collectively decided not to leave despite the circumstances. Then we had the fumbling of keys, characters only partially hiding and then opting to lie still instead of running and having useful tools set up all too conveniently. With Alvarez also contributing to the script, I wonder who fumbled these aspects. Was it Cody who doesn’t have much experience (or perhaps a deep connection) with the genre or simply our first-time director’s inexperience? Whoever the culprit, those blatant clichés in a post-The Cabin in the Woods era (and in an effort overseen by the orchestrator of the franchise) should have been poked and prodded, if not avoided completely.  But then, as I began to look away (not because of the blood ironically) something magical happened and Evil Dead delivered one of the greatest final kills in the history of horror, potent even more for the craft behind the shot. The composition, choice of colours, timing, use of positive and negative were all out of this world. Bravo!  So as a whole, Evil Dead is a flawed if weirdly ambitious film with a commitment to blissful overindulgence that has yet to be rivalled. Its leads do fine work; lead by Shiloh Fernandez who shows he is not in fact dead inside (contrary to his atrocious work in Red Riding Hood) and Alvarez is as visually proficient a first-timer as we’ve seen. By god not for everybody (but it turns out for me – mostly) Evil Dead is an unpretentious, but bombastic exercise in vehemence.  


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