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SXSW Review: ‘Evil Dead’ Is A Grim, Humorless, Ultraviolent Update Of A Horror Classic

SXSW Review: 'Evil Dead' Is A Grim, Humorless, Ultraviolent Update Of A Horror Classic

When the “Evil Dead” remake was first announced, everyone pretty much assumed that it was going to suck. This was something that star/producer Bruce Campbell acknowledged during the Q&A at last night’s SXSW World Premiere. But after years of being assaulted with fan questions about a fourth installment, the trio behind the original (Campbell, writer/director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert) probably felt it was their duty to give the fans what they wanted. And since they perhaps felt they were getting a little old for another go-round themselves – it’s been 20 years since the third and previously final installment “Army Of Darkness” – a remake/reboot/”rebirth” must have seemed really the only way to go.

After roughly a decade of trying to bring the series back to life, the trio eventually settled on newcomer Fede Alvarez as co-writer/director, signed on as producers and promised fans that they would not be disappointed. Unfortunately for fans, it seems that Alvarez (and by extension producers Raimi, Campbell and Tapert) may not have understood what made the originals great in the first place. Featuring truly shocking levels of violence but none of the wit or fun of the original, the new “Evil Dead” is mostly a dud. After a brief (and regrettable) prologue designed to put some horror right up front, we follow five kids into a cabin in the woods. But they haven’t come for a weekend getaway, they’re there so that one of them can detox off heroin.

The group includes the aforementioned addict Mia (Jane Levy), her friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), her brother David (Zac Efron stand-in Shiloh Fernandez), who we’re told hasn’t been there for her in years, and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). But before too long the group find the Necronomicon in the cellar and begin reading from it, awakening an evil spirit which begins to inhabit and dismember them one by one. Outside of Mia whose defining attribute in early scenes seems to be “hysterical,” to try to describe the other characters with any adjectives other than “bland” would be a disservice to the script, which doesn’t imbue any of its characters with traits that are even recognizably human. It’s not the cast’s fault. They’re clearly all game and willing to be put through the ringer here, but there just isn’t anything to work with. (To be fair, the original featured a mostly forgettable round-up of characters as well with Ash arising as the unexpected hero.)

Watching the director’s short film (“Panic Attack“), one would’ve expected a similar playful inventiveness to carry over (which is probably what convinced Raimi and co. he was right for the job) but that’s all been lost here. The original trilogy is Raimi’s DNA through and through so the question becomes, how to update it for a modern audience? Last year’s SXSW opener “Cabin In The Woods” succeeded wildly as a comedy and a rollercoaster but not really as a horror film so it seems there could still be room for a balls-to-the-wall straight rendering, but the execution just doesn’t work. While “Evil Dead” thankfully doesn’t acknowledge the cliches of the genre with a post-modern wink, they don’t go out of their way either to make the character’s stupid behavior any more plausible.

When the characters pull back a carpet revealing a giant red streak of dried blood on the floor leading into a cellar door,  all they can manage is, “is that blood?” before heading down. Other than Eric, who looks like he wandered in out of a 1970s film, we’re not even given the standard signifiers as to who the other characters are supposed to be (the jock, the slut, etc.). So long after some major shit goes down, the characters are still hanging around the cabin trying to rationalize events like someone spewing a fountain of blood is a normal thing that could happen. While we don’t have to identify with the characters, it helps if you can at least understand where they’re coming from.

Many of the genre’s greatest moments happen when we see characters living through something horrific and going absolutely out of their minds over it. Here, limbs are hacked into and hacked off but never with any real consequence. There is a fine line in horror films between those intense films that still invite the audience to have fun and those that are just a punishing experience and the new “Evil Dead” seems to share more in common with the recent-ish wave of extreme French horror (“Inside,” “Haute Tension“) than with the original. So with the overwhelming burden to compare it to the original to which it can never live up, the question becomes: how does it work on its own? And the answer is: not very well.

During the Q&A someone asked Alvarez why he felt it was okay to break the 180 degree line in the film, to which he responded that it hadn’t really occurred to him and you can see this kind of sloppiness throughout the film. He didn’t set out to break the rules, he just didn’t really understand them in the first place. On a smaller debut he could’ve worked out some of these kinks out before transitioning onto a larger effort but here his inexperience is glaring. Horror is tension and release, anticipation and delivery, so despite throwing 100,000 gallons of blood on the screen, Alvarez doesn’t seem to grasp these most basic fundamentals. Instead his film plays as a series of scenes where intense “stuff happens” and at times it’s disgusting but never scary or fun.

The only real bright spot comes near to the end when a character who had been basically wasted for the entire film comes back into the fore. Otherwise the film’s biggest achievement is with the MPAA (how this cut got an R is truly unfathomable) and for many that’ll be enough of an endorsement to check this out regardless. Gorehounds only looking for bloodletting will be satisfied with the carnage on display but for the average viewer, it’s a fairly grueling experience (but not in a good way). Diablo Cody wasn’t credited on the script (by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues), which she supposedly did a polish on, but it’s hard to see her fingerprints anywhere on this grim, humorless venture.

Coming from the cheap redo shingle Platinum Dunes, a misfire like this would be easier to swallow, but coming with the seal of approval from Raimi and co., it definitely stings. Like George Lucas with the Star Wars‘ prequels before them it seems that the creators misjudged what made their creation resonate with people in the first place. The 2013 “Evil Dead” instead arrives without any of the spark that made the original so memorable and satisfying. Compare even the tagline of that film (“The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror”) to the remake’s far less interesting “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience.” The new tagline is clearly a nod to the original and on the surface it would appear they’re both basically saying the same thing but all the personality has been robbed of the former in an attempt to appeal (and dumb down) for today’s audiences.

That’s essentially the experience of the remake in a nutshell. If the original was Raimi’s inventive soufflé of horror and slapstick, in the remake, Alvarez seems content to simply show us the ingredients: a chainsaw, the book of the dead, ‘The Classic,’ without knowing how to put them together into anything scary, involving or inventive.
For fans of the original [D]. For everyone else [C-].

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Comments

MusicLV

This movie don't reach my target demand..I thought this was a amazing film, comedian in parts, awful in parts, anxious but at the end nothing in that!!

spinkterbrain

I really liked the look, the special effects, location etc..Even thought the actors were good.
What was missing , and i think should have been essential were two things…
1. An almost complete lack of focus on 'THE BOOK'. The fundamental !
2.there was none of that classic & really spooky shivers down the spine haunted feeling. It was just visual horror & not much for the imagination.
Other than that, it did lack a full plot somehow. As if there were important chunks cut out.
Judging it solely on its own is silly because we all know what this movie is right !
Overall, i think this film will fade & die away but the original evil dead will remain a favorate…
…Nuff said.

Brooke

This movie is pure crap. Even without comparing it to the original its bad
Sloppy writing, a director who clearly has no clue how to build suspense. People trying to defend it had told me its a more realistic approach..hmmm how long does it take to bleed out from a severed limb thats left open. The acting is mediocre, it isn't really that gory which seems to be the main reason people like it.

Only reason to watch it is to say "yeah I've seen it" when someone brings it up in conversation

hitking

First things first, THE EVIL DEAD was a straight out horror movie, no goofy one-liners or tongue in cheek approach. Up to this day, my wife still refuses to watch the original again, because it's too scary and disgusting. But Evil Dead 2013 she watched without even a twitch…wonder why ? Because it just plain sucks. Campbell lied to us, Raimi did the same. Slap any other title on this piece of crap and it would have been sent straight to DVD. This movie is more like "exorcist in the woods" and not in a good way. One lame, lazy demon that possessed one kid at a time, had nearly no dialogue whatsoever and ended up as an "abomination" that looked like a second rate "The Ring" child. Watch the original and see Sheryl and Linda torment Ash…that's what cruel demons do, but this one seemed to be on the same stuff as Shiloh Fernandez…and then they claim Mia had a drug problem. But at least i learned that 3rd degree burn wounds and a split tongue can be cured by a roll in the dirt. Also demons don't need to have the ability to count. 5 souls…3 souls…it's all the same, i'll resurrect anyway, because i can ! Jane Levy has talent for this, but she was badly used by this bad excuse for a director. Same thing goes for Pucci, together with Levy the only worthy characters for a REAL Evil Dead flick.

And to think that i was even remotely excited to see Evil Dead 2 and Army Of Darkness 2…go back to making commercials and shorts, Uruguayan master director…and Raimi, continue making just Spidey movies, because by approving this monstrosity you clearly showed you don't have a clue anymore of what made the first movie so good and scary.

N

Evil Dead 2013 is far better than the original Evil Dead. I have no idea if you've ever watched the original Evil Dead, but it sucks. It contains very little humour. There are very little comical juxtapositions (bandaid in pool of blood) or bad acting/script (Ash: "WHY ARE YOU TORTURING ME" lols) which give it a very small humour element. The new Evil Dead was absolutely disgusting but that's only because of the advancements in cinema but if Raimi, had made the original Evil Dead today, it would have looked like Alvarez version (there would be no stupid clay-mation CGI/effects or pretty bad looking costumes). The original cast from the movie was absolutely terrible. They were character-less and bland as they come. The author of this article also states "we're not even given the standard signifiers as to who the other characters are supposed to be (the jock, the slut, etc.)", but who cares if these characters are given "standard signifiers". Real people are not labelled stereotypes, why would we bother even wanting something like that. The camera angles, the effects, the acting, the lighting, and the characters (although not by a small margin) were better in this movie than the original. The original tree rape scene was so tasteless and disgusting (like some kind of mucked up japanese porno) compared to the remake where it was terrifying and disgusting. My final verdict: Evil Dead (2013) > Evil Dead (1981). Although both cannot hold a candle to Evil Dead II, which is absolutely hilarious.

Jen

'The original was Raimi's inventive soufflé of horror and slapstick…' No it wasn't. You're talking about Evil Dead 2. 'The Evil Dead' wasn't a funny movie, certainly not intentionally. It amazes me how many reviewers purport to be experts in this trilogy and yet don't seem to know the individual films at all. Sloppy journalism.

Chris

I was massively disappointed with the new Evil Dead. It wasn't remotely funny, which would of been fine and more in keeping perhaps with the intent of the original but it certainly wasn't scary either… the scariest thing in this film was the acting! In fact, I just sat there apathetic to the whole experience… 2 hours of my life lost.

Smokey

I thought this was a terrific movie, funny in parts, horrifying in parts, tense and scary and yes, definitely gory, and it also worked at a deeper level where the demon Mia is fighting is her own addiction and not just a random supernatural force. Totally disagree with this review.

eugenenijmann

The original Evil Dead was NOT funny or humorous. The only way you can say that is if you look at it with 2013 eyes, it's all funny now, but it was not back then. I saw it in 1981 in the theater and the whole audience was scared shitless because no one had ever seen the Raimi cam, the shots over the water, the strange music, the incredible soundscape with the voices, the incredible violent slauthering of the characters, the camera angels and the editing. (the remake has some serious bad editing) Not to mention the tree rape which they cowardly softened in the remake. In 1981 horror it was all new and groundbreaking and that is the difference with the remake. Nothing new, just more of the same. The remake is a good looking cliche of teenage popcorn torture porn. Nothing wrong with that but it's a bit disappointing if you are a fan of the original.

glenn

Fact the original Evil Dead was humourous, not out and out and out funny. The wit is in things like the camera angles, the exagerated atmosphere and the tropes of gothic horror. The remake is just a pile of cookie cutter mall horror for airheads, complete with a cast of "hotties". Honestly, you should support actual original horror instead seeing old films gutted by hacks and money men cashing in on thirty odd years of free advertising.

Matt

The 'wit' and 'fun' of the original? How is a girl getting raped by a tree witty and funny? I don't think we saw the same movie. Gfy for being such a shite reviewer.

Natalie

Hello.
I really liked how you grabbed us at the first line saying how many people think this remake will be hated and or stupid. I too have a blog myself that really highlights the same thing. I write about nonsense movies that have sense. I liked how you mentioned the storyline as well. Even though it gave me the creeps a little bit, I'll have to see it!

Remember if you like finding sense with nonsense movies like Napoleon Dynamite, American Pie, or Blades of Glory, Check out my page! @ http://discoveringsensewithnonsense.wordpress.com/ and tell your friends! :)

michael

"If the original was Raimi's inventive soufflé of horror and slapstick"

The author doesn't seem to know the difference between "the original" Evil Dead and it's sequel.

RamboFrogger

Seriously need to pull this review down. Indiewire just lost all credibility. How do you base a review on comparisons to the wrong film? And then leave it up and consider yourself a professional film review/news site? It is blowing my mind they haven't rushed to take this down. Farewell indiewire!

Matt

"Featuring truly shocking levels of violence but none of the wit or fun of the original, the new "Evil Dead" is mostly a dud."

The wit or fun of the original? Are you sure you aren't thinking of Evil Dead 2? As far as I can remember, the original Evil Dead was straight up horror and gore. It wasn't until part 2 that Campbell turned it in to slapstick, and very well I might add.

Bub

I haven't seen the movie yet, will do so in Amsterdam at the horror night next month, but i think the reviewer missed the point with saying the original has slapstick scenes.

He probably have never seen it since the original is 100% pure hard core horror without any (intentional) comedy bits whatsoever.

Again a reviewer who is clueless what this remake is about.

Ataeee

Is it anymore clear from this thread that horror fans are homophobe meatheads?

chris

The original was not funny. It also got reviews like this and became a classic. Fuck off.

Arch

Comments seem to focus on the humor issue. Granted it's in the title of the review but, whether the original had humor or not, it doesn't seem to be the main concern here. To use the same internet vernacular: Did you guys read the review ?

I mean, I really want to give the movie a chance (despite the obnoxious promo and the "how did you get this job" comments), I just don't see the point in an extreme make-over for the torture porn audience, ignoring ED2 and 3 altogether. Problem is: even positive reviews seem to indicate that it's what this one is about.

LESTER

It sounds like your mistaking The Evil Dead 1 with The Evil Dead 2. Common mistake given that both play like an origin story, but the origina T.E.D. is pure horror while T.E.D.2 is a slapstick comedy horror film. I don't expect most people to know that distinction, but I do expect it from Indiewire – especially in a review.

SC

I read your review and like most negative reviews (3 negative to 10 positive) you seem to be confusing The Evil Dead 1981 with Evil Dead 2 Dead By Dawn. Did you even watch the original? Bruce and Raimi said it was not a comedy it only came off like that because of the budget they had to work with ,poor acting and effects. This new evil dead is what they were actually trying to make but did not have the money or actors to do it right. I just don't understand how some critics don't like the new one because it's Humorless? The first was not very funny, no one liners and Ash was not the focus until the last 15 min. Do yourself a favor, revisit the original (not 2!) and don't act like you know what your talking about when you have no clue. How you became a critic for IndieWire is beyond me. If you want something funny go watch Cabin In The Woods. But if you want an actual disturbing,gross,and just plain creepy movie this is the movie for you. P.S. As a fan of the original movie witch I saw back in 1983 in the theater with a packed house witch no one found funny at the time(most people were scared shitless) I saw the new one at SXSW and thought it was very well done and a great homage to the original. 8/10*

Sam

It was pretty easy to see they'd fuck a remake up by sheer fact that they still can't adequately explain what a Deadite is.
They're an ancient non-satanic demon race that possess people to gain a corporeal form but also eat souls and immediately maim people because… Why?
It's a fault of the original too in being very clearly based on Lovecraft (particularly Shub-Niggurath) but not really developing a context for the antagonism. Basically, just what the hell does it plan on doing after having a possession party with college kids?
Maybe we're looking at it the wrong way and it's not a demon but a benevolent spirit of the forest that wondered, "What's the life of this upright ape like?.. OH GOD! IT'S AWFUL!" *stab* *stab* *stab*

Woodey

Not sure about the "humor" in the first one. The first one was scary and it did scare the crap out of me when I watched it in the theater. I remember telling my dad when we watched the 2nd one to be prepared to be scared, we laughed instead. The first one was scary and had not a drop of humor in it, the sequels are a different story.

In regards to the review, I tend to agree that remakes are very hit (Friday the 13th) and miss (Nightmare on Elm St). I will still see this movie in the theater and hope that I am not disappointed. I do hope that there is some substance to the movie and not just full of shocking scenes. I have watched so many horror movies that its very hard for me to be shocked, I tend to want some quality to my horror and not just in your face scene after scene, it gets old fast.

Bottom line is nothing will top the original, but I don't expect this movie to. It would not be fare to hold it to such a standard and it will make me look it it in a much harsher way. I just want to be entertained and I hope it does that.

joseph

Horror hardcore fans are the worst. It can’t possibly be bad, right?

Arch

With such a comment on these mediocre french films I'll probably be on the same page as this reviewer.
For those who saw only good review they should check out Shock Till You Drop and Corey Mitchell's review on Bloody Disgusting. The movie may not be that terrible, but as Corey says at the end of his article: "[B. Campbell said] you can dust off your DVD any time you like and watch the original. Seeing this remake makes me want to do just that."

Joe

Serious question, Cory: Have you actually seen the original Evil Dead? Not Evil Dead 2, but the first one. Have you seen it? This review (and your reference to the original's supposed "humor") suggest otherwise.

Old School

So far this is the only negative review I have seen, every other has praised it and the majority have claimed "This is how to do a remake properly". This reviewer just seems butt hurt and sounds like he hasn't even seen the original.

Chad P

Dear Mr. Reviewer: please go watch the original evil dead film and tell me how many humorous scenes or one liners are in it. I'm so sick of ignorant people who don't recall the the first film is straight up horror and gore, no comedy at all.

Jim

Inside and Haute Tension were both excellent horror films. If Evil Dead is like those then count me in! The original Evil Dead was a rather serious horror movie and it was pretty disturbed. Sounds like the remake is spot on.

whatwhat

The original was not meant to be humorous whatsoever. Bruce Campbell himself even said the only funny moments were due to bad acting, bad effect, etc. It was meant to be a straight-up horror film.

Joshj

Saw it, agree. Horror ppl with boners over gore will love it though. Empty though.

Sam

Shocker. This looked like crap from minute one.

tristan eldritch

If memory serves, wasn't the original Evil Dead nastier and much less humorous than the sequel though?

Mike

The first Evil Dead is mostly humorless, though with some great inventive camera work. Part 2, is a remake of one but with comedy. I'm pretty sure these guys targeted the first one.

a

So it's basically Evil Dead sapped of personality.

Bryan

Excellent review and commentary! I think they did lose sight on what made the originals great to begin with.

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