You cannot minimize the effect Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead had on fans. Used to cheap-o terror like Friday the 13th, the cruddy quality of Raimi’s opening scenes suggested grade Z drive-in movies (it was made for less money than Spielberg spent on rides to the studio), yet it wasn’t long into the film that fans knew they were seeing something new (perhaps Joel Coen’s editing helped). The woman brutally raped by a tree gave scandal to a tree-hugging and politically correct generation, and the dingy look seemed to imply unexpected traumas lurked around every clapboard corner. Raimi’s remakes and sequels added humor and games, but the original set the grisly fun mood.
This officially sanctioned reboot substitutes gallons of gore for grimy unexpectedness. In other words, real horror fans won’t get a scare out of this new journey into the woods, but they will be impressed by the beautiful gross-outs and sheer ingenuity used on the five new kids encountering a sucker of souls. There is no Ash (Bruce Campbell), though his Pontiac rusts outside the cabin. Instead we get Mia (Jane Levy), whose vulnerability (as well as toughness) increases by the fact that she’s out in the old family cabin kicking heroin cold turkey. Wouldn’t you know, just then, some longhaired doofus finds the Necronomicon and just can’t help but pronounce those unsafe words that bring the Prince of Darkness minions back out of the woods in one scary signature tracking shot.
If there is a novel theme to this gore bonanza, it has something interesting to do with burial and rebirth, though God knows coming back isn’t always blissful. The film’s triumph is director Fede Alvarez’s beautiful filling of its screen: a burning tree, a deluge of red, red rain, and a hearty pop-up from the undead in the cellar all maintain nice levels of stylishness; it’s one part Saw to two parts Cabin in the Woods. Sure, Evil Dead isn’t going to obsess your mind, but it’s an impressive calling card from a new director out to prove yet again why you really don’t want to bury your friends alive in the wilderness.