The Reel: ‘Evil Dead’ lacks original’s humor


Ben Conniff

In 1993, “Army of Darkness” effectively ended the canon of “The Evil Dead,” a trilogy of horror-farce films from the minds of “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi and B-movie legend Bruce Campbell.

For over 30 years, the original “Evil Dead” has been a cult classic for its black humor and campy, over-the-top approach to cabin-in-the-woods horror clichés.

In 2013, Raimi and Campbell have decided to personally turn the classic franchise over to younger hands in order to update it for the YouTube generation.
 Dropping the “The” and now known succinctly as “Evil Dead,” this remake tells the story of five 20-somethings who head to a remote cabin to help one of their group recover from a drug addiction.

When they discover a “Book of the Dead” stashed in the basement, the friends unwittingly summon demonic forces that take possession of each of them until only one is left to fight for survival.
 It’s essentially the same set-up as the 1981 classic, except here the story feels more fleshed out than it was before.

The characters have a substantial reason for choosing their setting, and this makes for — what seems like — stronger relationships between them.

David (Shiloh Fernandez) is there for his sister, Mia (Jane Levy), along with their other friends (Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci) to support Mia during her cold-turkey rehabilitation.

Tensions arise between David and Mia when they first reconnect, stemming from David’s neglect of his family in the wake of their mother’s death. This guilt weighs on David, and it adds a nice dimension of internal conflict that comes out later in the film when he’s taunted by the demon.

The other characters aren’t quite as richly developed because their only purpose, aside from supporting a friend, is to be picked off by the demonic presence living in the woods.
 And speaking of demons in the woods, it just wouldn’t be “Evil Dead” without fast tracking shots, possessed tree vines, people locked in the cellar, and over-the-top gore.

There’s plenty of that to go around, but this remake lacks the subversive sense of humor that the original used in its approach to the violence. Aside from one or two gratuitous moments that had me chuckling, there isn’t much to laugh at here.

This 2013 “Evil Dead” feels much more like the “torture porn” found in movies like “Saw” and less like a true “Evil Dead” film.

I still found the characters to be better-developed here than in the original, but none of the actors give performances worthy of holding a candle to Bruce Campbell’s Ash. His slapstick overacting made the original “Evil Dead” films gleefully, albeit darkly, funny.

Campbell’s presence (or, if there is one, that of any capable successor) is sorely missed.
 Overall, rookie director Fede Alvarez’s update of “Evil Dead” lacks the campy sense of humor that made the original films cult classics, and for that reason, I don’t think this remake will ever achieve that status.

But as a horror film, it boasts a stronger story, plot twists, deeper characters and more genuine, pulse-pounding terror than its predecessors.

“Groovy,” sure, but maybe not for all the reasons you’ve come to expect.