In the years since its 1981 release, Sam Raimi's cabin-in-the-woods cheapie The Evil Dead has been elevated to the realm of myth. You won't find many films as near and dear to the hearts of horror nerds. The legacy isn't based on the fact that The Evil Dead had a great screenplay, because it didn't. In fact, the plot is as basic as they come: Five college students drive out to a shack in the middle of nowhere, mess with an old reel-to-reel tape recorder that plays malevolent incantations, and unleash bloody Lovecraftian hell. The film's effects were cut-rate even for the early '80s, and the acting (other than a charismatic breakout turn by lantern-jawed B-movie icon Bruce Campbell) was amateurish at best. What made it a fright flick for the ages was its 22-year-old wunderkind director's dime-store ingenuity and gonzo wit. Raimi jerry-rigged cameras onto two-by-fours and whipped them around like Orson Welles on speed. His off-kilter angles gave the movie a weird, anxious energy. It was an eye-popping debut...and a hard act for anyone to follow.
A certain subset of genre purists and Fangoria subscribers already have their knives out for the remake. But they can put them away. The new Evil Dead is not only made with an affectionate nod and a wink to the 1981 version, it's also the bloodiest, goriest, slapstickiest horror movie since, well, The Evil Dead. Directed with gutsy promise by newcomer Fede Alvarez (and produced, and thus blessed, by Raimi and Campbell themselves), the update doesn't mess with the original's bare-bones formula too much. It barrels right into the familiar story, placing five old pals in a run-down cabin, having them discover an old book filled with demonic illustrations and harrowing warnings, and once again releasing the gruesome genie from the bottle. Other than Suburgatory's Jane Levy, the cast isn't weighed down by too many familiar faces, which seems right since these are pretty much interchangeable folks lining up for the body count. And what a juicy, splattery body count it is. In Evil Dead, blood sprays in arterial geysers like the fountains outside the Bellagio in Vegas. One possessed character licks a box cutter, butterflying her tongue in half. Another has rats pouring out of her mouth like clowns piling out of a VW Bug. Eyes are stabbed with hypodermic needles, limbs are severed with electric carving knives, and chain saws do what chain saws do. Did I mention it's a comedy?
Some will have a hard time seeing it that way, I know. The audience I saw it with screamed, gasped, and buried their faces in their dates' necks. But horror films and TV shows such as The Walking Dead are like a foreign language. Either they speak to you or they don't. The new Evil Dead's delirious gross-out scenes spoke to me, and they go further than any mainstream picture I can think of. How a movie this graphic and gooey managed to finagle an R rating is a mystery. But I'm not complaining. As a diehard fan of the original and the genre, who am I to look such a wonderfully stomach-turning gift horse in the mouth? B+