It is oddly appropriate that so many of the recent spate of horror film remakes – The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas – have touched upon cannibalism, for it is that in which the filmmakers behind such projects are symbolically participating; feasting upon the remains of once innovative works to produce uninspiring retreads, guaranteed a successful return on investment by virtue of their title. In the past decade alone, almost every iconic horror film of the ’70s and ’80s (as well as some not-so-iconic ones) have been regurgitated in shinier form – Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, The Omen, Last House on the Left, My Bloody Valentine, I Spit on Your Grave, The Fog, Prom Night. Some have been toned down to maximise their audience (The Wicker Man) whilst some have had their gore-levels amped up to eleven (Rob Zombie’s Halloween).
The Evil Dead is the latest to undergo the remake treatment, and though it carries the consent of original writer-director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell and producer Robert Taper, expectations that this Evil Dead may buck the trend of diminishing returns for remakes prove ill-advised. Plot-wise, its set up is practically identical. Five youths hole up in a cabin in the woods. An ancient tome, known as the Book of the Dead, is discovered and read aloud. A horde of demonic spirits descend on the premises, possessing the inhabitants one at a time, leading to much limb-lopping and geysers of blood before a suitably anarchic climax.
Debut director Fede Alvarez does inject some originality into proceedings by having protagonist Mia (Jane Levy) undergo a cold-turkey detoxification from heroin, rendering her vomiting bouts and erratic behaviour all the more indistinguishable from those of a recovering addict. Nonetheless, the jettisoning of plot and characterisation – which made Raimi’s film “the ultimate experience in grueling (sic) terror”, if its poster is to be believed – renders Alvarez’s Evil Dead increasingly uninvolving. Alverez also skimps on the wacky, cartoonish humour which Raimi brought to his trilogy. This deadpan approach seems especially misjudged after Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s 2009 horror satire The Cabin the Woods, a film which delighted in parodying the tropes of The Evil Dead.
Whereas Raimi’s OTT low-budget effects were enough to earn The Evil Dead a place on Britain’s notorious list of ‘video nasties’, Alverez’s opts for an explicit depiction of violence more in keeping with the sadism of the Hostel franchise than a supernatural horror film, often mistaking graphic gore for out-and-out terror. The enormous cult popularity of the Evil Dead series guarantees that this Evil Dead will draw a respectable crowd at the box office, but fans should take note – this is unlikely to enter the same pantheon of beloved horror classics that its ‘groovy’ predecessors inhabit.