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Movie Review: “Evil Dead”

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About an hour into “Evil Dead,” one of the five

Mia in the basement in Evil Dead

“We’re gonna get you… oh, by the way, your basement is flooding.”

friends, who decided that it would be a great idea to stage a friend’s intervention at a creepy, isolated cabin in the middle of the forest from hell, comes to a brilliant revelation. As he peers up at his buddy with his one good eye that didn’t recently get jabbed with a hypodermic needle, he utters slowly, with a mixture of blood and saliva dripping freely from his mouth, “Dying wouldn’t be such a bad thing right now, I just don’t wanna become the devil’s bitch.”

This about sums up the chaos that reigns throughout director Fede Alvarez’s faithful, balls-to-the-wall reimagining of Sam Raimi’s cult-classic 1981 film of the same name. Actually, Raimi’s version was called “THE Evil Dead,” but let’s not start splitting hairs here.

However, throughout the 90-plus crimson-filled, bodily fluid-soaked minutes of this film, hairs do get split in the process. Hairs… attached to heads get split, eyeballs get split, cheeks and torsos and arms and hands  and feet get split.– In fact, there’s no section of the human body that doesn’t get split. In fact, in one scene, a severed body (I won’t say who, OR if it was human or not, because truthfully I’m not so sure what it was) falls to the ground in two, equal, symmetrical halves – like a pretty little butterfly on display in a museum… in Hell.

Even though there is such a ridiculous amount of violence in this film that it makes the “Saw” movies look like “Wreck-it-Ralph,” the gross-out factor – that will keep gorehounds in a state of giddy glee – is not the film’s only selling point. It is also genuinely scary.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the horror genre and I have my own opinion of what truly makes a movie genuinely scary in the first place. It is fairly obvious that Alvarez has his own ideas of what he thinks a scary movie should be, as well. I mean, he better know what frightens people. He is the director and writer, of one of the most anticipated remake/reboots in horror flick history, after all.

Personally, I find that there are two different techniques that are employed to scare the crap out of audience members. The first technique is “the jump-scare.” That’s when something jumps into frame – usually accompanied by an abrupt musical note – and dozens of moviegoers shudder simultaneously, embarrassingly launching their popcorn into the stratosphere. Some hardcore fans find this method cheap and lazy and should be reserved for the PG-13, baby-slasher films. My motto is: “If it works, it works.” Which is disturbingly close to: “It is what it is” – which I can’t stand, but that’s another story. I have to admit, I flinched during some scenes. Just a little flinch, though, I swear.

The second scare tactic utilized in horror flicks falls into the category of disturbing imagery. It actually draws on the same level of primal fear as the jump-scare. In fact, some of the best horror directors combine both methods together effectively – like Stanley Kubrick with “The Shining”or James Wan with “Insidious.”

If there were some negatives regarding “Evil Dead,” the first one would be Alvarez relying on more of the former and not the latter. There are at least a half-dozen jump-scares in which some door slams shut. I guess this is to indicate a malevolent presence or heighten the sense of dread. There are not too many times where something will jump out of thin air to scare the audience. For instance, I’m quite thankful there is no obligatory “bait-and-switch” scene, like a meowing black cat that jumps out of nowhere into the camera’s path.

There are, however, more than enough DEAD cats hanging from the ceiling in the cabin’s creepy basement – which is only accessible by a blood-covered, trapdoor that’s hidden by a strategically-placed throw rug.

Which brings me to another negative – the stupidity of some of the characters. The film opens up with a series of tense scenes involving an unnamed, demonically-possessed, teenage girl who is tied to a post in the dead cat, cabin basement and burned alive by her understandably shaken father, right in front of a group of weird-looking hillbillies who are reading passages from some flesh-bound, book of evil.

Necronomicon

You probably should pay attention to footnotes in a book that say THIS.

 

Quick side note: If the book was that evil and dangerous enough that somebody (or somebodies) had to protect it with razor-wire. Not to mention, writing page-upon-page of deathly-serious, blood-scrawled warnings. Why in the hell did they leave it out on a table in the middle of a basement that obviously belonged to SOMEBODY. I mean, there were family portraits in every room upstairs, plus there were bikes and power tools in the basement. They had to have known, that someone would eventually come back to the cabin. Next time, if someone asks you if they should take the Necronomicon with them so they can bury it, deep in the ground, so no one can ever find it again, you say – YES!

In the film’s timeline, this event occurs before the five friends make their way to the cabin. After “Grandpa the dog” sniffs out the hidden door, David ( Shiloh Fernandez), the estranged brother of Mia (masterfully played by Jane Levy) - who’s the subject of the intervention, and the soon-to-take-a-serious-beatdown, high school teacher Eric (played by a totally smarmy Lou Taylor Pucci) make their way down to explore the creepy basement. In the first of many “Let’s-get-in-our-cars-and-get-outta-here” moments, they discover a strange, rectangular object wrapped-up in plastic and barbed-wire; not to mention a shotgun, some shells, and all of those dead-cat air fresheners. “You shouldn’t have taken anything out of that basement,” which Mia remarks after seeing all of the items spread out on the living room coffee table, might win the award for “The No-Shit Moment of the Year.”

Well, they did take something out of the basement and because every movie has a dumbass that does a dumbass thing for unknown dumbass reasons, Eric decides to rip open the plastic, snip the barbed-wire, and start studying the book. I mean he is a teacher for goodness sake. Although, there are multiple notes that are scrawled in blood throughout the book that read, “Do not read this, do not speak this, etc,” guess what Eric does… I’ll give you a hint… that’s why he’s a dumbass.

I won’t give away the film’s best scare-filled scenes – both of the first and second method variety – or its plot, but you can probably figure out what happens once Eric reads from the book. Or, if you’ve seen Raimi’s original, you don’t have to guess. That being said, if you have seen the 1981 version – have no fear, that frisky tree is still here.

In fact, Alvarez is a self-admitted, huge fan of Raimi’s vision, so he does include a number of homages to those films. Among other easter eggs, look for the classic Oldsmobile, the chainsaw, the porch swing, the “Michigan” sweatshirt (although, here it’s Michigan State), the necklace (along with the chain being in the pattern of a skull when picked up towards the end), the inclusion of “fake shemps” in the film’s credits, plus the Necromnomicon and the official “words” that Eric unwisely speaks. However, there is no Ash/Bruce Campbell cameo in the actual film, BUUUUT stay tuned until the credits are done and you might get a “groovy” surprise stinger.

The tone of the film is definitely more “The Evil Dead, “ than “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness.” Make no mistakes, this is a seriously dark and stormy film. This is not a horror movie with comedic moments like Raimi included in the second and third films of his trilogy. Alvarez creates an insanely, intense atmosphere dripping with organic elements that are usually associated with fear. This includes such horror flick essentials as fog, smoke, steam (you can practically smell some of the environments due to use of this), and don’t forget the gallons of blood, water and other bodily fluids that keep things all nice and slimy and wet.

The biggest asset that the film has, when you see on the big screen with a bunch of frightened people, is the sound design. I had a chance to see this film twice – the first time in a stadium-style, mega-theater with a state-of-the-art, kick-ass sound system and the second time in an older, quainter theater with an archaic sound system. There is no comparison as to which experience was scarier and more disturbing than the other. The scenes with Eric and know-it-all nurse Olivia (played by Jessica Lucas) on the nasty, bathroom floor and demon-fodder girlfriend , along for the ride Natalie (played by Elizabeth Blackmore) and an electric carving

Should I? or Should I not?

I fought the knife and… guess who won.

knife on the nasty, kitchen floor will have you cringing even before you actually SEE what is happening.

Alvarez also takes a pretty fair amount of liberties with the story, though. He fleshes out (pun intended) the actual idea of the Necronomicion’s demonic possession by giving it some rules and guidelines to follow. This works in most places, but it also takes a little bit of the chaos factor out of the horrific events that befall these kids. I like Mia and David’s back story of the crazy Mom in the insane asylum and also like the choice of having the whole point of going to the cabin as being a cold turkey, heroin-stoppage mission on Mia’s part, with all of her friends and family assisting her. This allows Olivia’s character to have medication and needles on hand – which come in handy, plot-wise, later – as well as trying to explain why they would isolate themselves from civilization in the first place.

I wasn’t crazy about having Eric purposely read from the book and speaking the words, instead of Ash’s character in the original accidentally playing a recording of the words being spoken. This makes Eric almost more than a dumbass, it makes him almost evil himself. He had to have known (again, he’s a teacher. Hello?) that speaking those words wouldn’t be a prudent move. It almost made him an expert on what was happening in later scenes, as well, and I liked the original better – when they didn’t KNOW what was happening to them. It made it slightly scarier.

Eric studying the book did open up a whole world of rituals and the promise of rising demons that gave the evil spirit’s soul-swallowing motives a little clarity. However, I’m a little torn on the ending scene. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. Maybe I need to see it a third time.

All in all, the movie is far from perfect, but what film is. I mean, it’s not as good as, let’s say, a “High Tension” or a “Martyrs” (not the dubbed versions, though – don’t you ever mention the word dubbed to me again – ya hear me?), however, it’s still an ambitious and well-constructed, creepy-ass, fun film. Alvarez, does a great job creating a jump-out-of-your-chair, popcorn-spilling, splatter fest, with plenty of disturbing visuals and audio that will “attach to your soul like a leech” for days and days after you’ve viewed it. Again, just make sure you see it in a crowded movie house with an awesome sound system.

And if you find a flesh-bound book, wrapped in plastic and barbed-wire, under your theater seat, please don’t open it and/or read from it. Please alert the nearest usher or theater manager. They’ll immediately put it in the candy display window, next to the Raisinets, in the snack line…

…for safe keeping.

 

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