What a difference my age makes.
It’s not what you think: this isn’t going to be the ramblings of some jaded older guy going on and on about how in my day, our gore movies were classy and these new kids are just beyond the pale. Not remotely. I still loves me some splatter.
The thing that has changed, though, is how I look at the characters. As a teen, when a character got possessed by demons or zombified, I was yelling like everybody else: “Kill her! Don’t hesitate, dumbass! She’s evil!” But as life goes on, and you may find yourself at times actually dealing with people in the throes of panic attacks or drug withdrawal, where they’re cursing your name and acting psycho one moment and their sweet selves the next, and then Fede Alvarez remakes Evil Dead (no “The” on his version) as a specific allegory for drug withdrawal by having his heroine Mia (Jane Levy) trying to kick heroin…the hesitation seems like a virtue now, even if it is the character’s loss.
It’s actually kind of a brilliant way to take the subtext of the original Evil Dead mythos, and initially there even appears to be a chance that all the madness we catch glimpses of might just be in Mia’s head, which makes the tree-rape reenactment a bit more palatable. But alas for sophistication and hooray for fans: the audience probably would not tolerate the ambiguity of dual levels of reality, and soon it’s pretty clear that these Deadites may want to take off your head, but they most definitely exist outside of it.
Nobody can blame you for being suspicious: the original movies are well-loved, and the massively positive buzz coming out of SXSW should always be taken with a Texas-sized helping of salt pork, as it’s often the result of a buzz of the alcoholic variety on the part of critics there (perfectly adequate comedies like 21 Jump Street get hailed as if they’re the second coming at the Austin-based festival, for example). And let me be the first to say that this new Evil Dead is certainly not flawless – I’d happily excise the prologue, which offers a mediocre Deliverance fake-out, witch and Wrong Turn inbreds before cribbing more from The Exorcist than Sam Raimi (the whole “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!” bit). But by the time the blood really starts flying – and literally raining from the sky – I’d say most gorehounds will be satisfied. There are genuine scares in addition to fluids, but they’re the fun kind, as opposed to the painful, nerve-wrackingly drawn-out suspense of movies like Mama or Ju-on.
Alvarez also answers the classic Eddie Murphy objection – why don’t white people just leave when there’s a ghost in the house? – with a simple-enough device: Mia has failed to kick drugs before, so this time, come what may, her friends are going to keep her in that isolated cabin even if she hurts herself badly or tries to kill them. By the time they’ve figured out it’s more than delectable injectibles at play, there’s no turning back, thanks to dumbass Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), who decides that when you find something wrapped in black plastic and barbed wire in the middle of an altar full of skinned cats, the best thing to do is bust it out, and then once you see it’s a book bound in human skin, read it aloud.
There’s no character here who’s a direct Ash analogue, but we forget sometimes that in the original movie, Ash wasn’t muthafuckin’ Ash, and Bruce Campbell one of several unknowns; only hindsight makes it obvious who the survivor of the original must be, and this re-imagining (we call it a remake, but it could just as easily be a sequel; the ultimate plan is for continuities to merge in subsequent movies) follows the Joe Bob Briggs rule of anybody being able to die at any time – the main hero only becomes clear in time for the final showdown. And while there’s also no breakout cult hero here on the level of Campbell, Levy impresses the most in the dual role of junkie Mia and the Deadite doppelganger who pursues her early on, before they become one and the same (surely not a spoiler – she’s the primary Deadite in every trailer so far).
I’m hard-pushed to call this an instant classic, but it is a worthy sequel, and fans will definitely want to sit through the end credits for a hint at where things might go next. Most importantly, it’s scary without being draining, and fun without being camp. Savvy fans may half-expect Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins to be watching from behind a mirror, but for now, let us be content with appeasing the Horror Godz and keeping our world of great gore around a little longer.
Evil Dead is now playing in theaters; all Evil Dead publicity images courtesy of the offical Facebook page.