Remake Intrinsically Baffling; Raimi Owes Apology
Review written by Robert Patrick
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez
Basically every teenage boy has, at one point in time, been drawn to their television set as Bruce Campbell’s animated, wagging tongue emitted theatrical screams out of the worn speakers of their parents’ televisions. “You have to see this film!” hoards of eighteen year olds proclaim with a wry, all knowing smile. At this point, most everyone is familiar with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (and its later iteration, Evil Dead II). The plot, as you would imagine, is pretty predictable. A group of friends descend into an eerie cabin where a strange, sadistic book enveloped in human skin starts a demonic game of cat and mouse. The image of a blood specked, boggle-eyed Bruce Campbell whirring a chainsaw as he guffaws is the franchise’s logo, even though this didn’t happen until the humor perforated sequel.
Raimi’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead II thrived off of maniacal hysteria and unbridled gallows humor (the first film unintentionally; the second with a wink). Campbell’s portrayal of a reluctant hero, in the first film, worked because of his strong features and a sense of incisor grinding uncertainty. In the second film, he employed a brow furrowing, zinger laden persona that permeated a snickering levity. All throughout the two Evil Dead films – and especially Army of Darkness, the third, most outrageous installment – ozing special effects, murky atmosphere, glowering doom and physical humor were the backbone to the franchise. Not to get into the minutia of the originals, but they were, to put it in the simplest way possible, macabre fun.
The remake, here captained by Fede Alvarez, replaces the wonky action and bone rattling terror with photo realistic blood and snapping sinews. Yes, there is a cabin. Yes, there is a weathered, curled old book with evil spirits wandering the pages. No, there is nothing else from the original. Alvarez’s vision is vapid, putrid, derivative pap that is more unsettling than stirring. To scare someone it requires a sinister sense of wit; a certain will to unearth the audience’s most acute and repressed fears. Sawing someone’s arm off with kitchen appliances isn’t scary; it’s grotesque. Alvarez’s bombardment of carnage reaches perverse levels. Needles are stabbed into eyes, limbs are severed, nails are threaded into faces, third degree burns bubble and maim. At a certain point you feel like you’re in the ER and not in a movie theater. Strangely, it took three people, including the spotty, once lionized Diablo Cody, to pen a script this bankrupt of ideas.
With all of the jetting blood and tendon mashing, you would think this was an Alexandre Aja movie – only it’s more aimless and damning. The remake is nowhere near taut, and instead takes its time sexualizing violence (in one scene a young woman is tackled by a mangy older man in a forest. The camera aims itself up her dress, of all places). And, in a reprisal of the worst sequence from the first film, a rape scene, involving tree branches, is left intact. Without the physical humor of Bruce Campbell and the audience pleasing quips and scares, the movie is basically a meat hook without a sense of comedy or morality.
Basically, as we’ve learned from many horror films, when things come back from the dead, they’re never the same. I guess the same can be said about this rock kicker of an aberration. In memory of Roger Ebert, there is a passage from a review that he wrote about The Human Centipede, that is totally appropriate for this film, that I will post here.
“I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.”