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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Why Fede Álvarez’s ‘Evil Dead’ Is a Gonzo and Gore-Soaked All-Timer

To credit Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead as the motivating force behind “Revenge of the Remakes” wouldn’t be an audacious claim. By golden template standards for reanimating beloved horror franchises, it remains a remarkable exemplification alongside titans like Maniac or The Blob. As an underworldly standalone feature, it’s one of the fiercest, scare-you-senseless releases since its April 2013 premiere. I still remember every howl, sunken gasp, and pure release of elation during my midnight showtime—”THAT’S HOW YOU EXECUTE A REMAKE,” dominating lobby chatter and ride home discussions. From there, reactionary adventures into do-over culture solidified as the investigative analysis you’ve been reading on Bloody Disgusting month after month.

Were your feathers rustled after I dared suggest 2009’s Friday the 13th understands Jason Voorhees’ mythos and fanbase better than its initial trilogy? Strap in deadheads, because this is the one where I hail 2013’s Evil Dead as King.

In fairness, there’s no tangible comparison between Sam Raimi’s Three Stooges meets Harryhausen meets an occult menagerie originals (I+II) and Álvarez’s formidably frightful spookhouse. In a matter of words? Evil Dead (1981) is the horror movie Raimi thought audiences wanted to see, Evil Dead II is the horror movie Raimi himself wished to see, and Evil Dead (2013) is the Evil Dead Raimi could never achieve. That’s not a diss slung towards Raimi, mind you—between budget and comedic signatures, Raimi’s stylistic prowess begets a very different, still outstanding depiction of jovial horror. Álvarez reaches into deeper pockets, sneaks some nerve-shredding influences, and dashes into the mouth of hellishness with a frenzied pace that is so very outside Raimi’s wheelhouse. You know, exactly how remakes should function?

The Approach

As I’ve already alluded to, Fede Álvarez’s reinvention of Necronomicon Ex-Mortis unruliness favors infinitely less camp, no hysterical mounted deer heads, and takes the capital “H” horror approach. Álvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues—with Americanization edits by Diablo Cody—crack their ensemble’s almighty “reason” by centering another cabin in the woods excursion around a focal character’s narcotics rehabilitation, which blends possession traits and withdrawal symptoms. The impetus behind doomed visitations fortifies emotional resonance before Deadites nullify any do-gooder hopes, and yet there might as well be a “Welcome Home” mat that Álvarez pans to upon his gang’s first steps inside. Structural bones are familiar between dilapidated lodging exteriors and woodland backgrounds with jagged branches surrounding the property, which feels like home sweet home.

Jane Levy steals the show as Mia Allen, who intends to kick her drug addiction cold-turkey in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by friends and family—leaning on brother David (Shiloh Fernandez)—plus the childhood memories within her family’s vacation home. In the basement, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) discovers a book—the Naturom Demonto—stitched in flesh-leather binding and reads the foreign inscriptions aloud. Something awakens in the woods, and Mia undergoes a bodily invasion while trying to flee towards civilization as her paranoia spikes. Upon Mia’s return, David begins to witness a Deadite transformation that Evil Dead faithful understand is the early stages of something far worse. To the downstairs you go, Mia’s damned soul.

It’s a film plopped between two movements in horror history—the “Torture Porn” reign of Saw imitators all but vanished, but arthouse “A24 Horror” legions had yet to coin the unspeakable phrase “elevated horror.” Of its kind, Evil Dead is one of the last outright nasty, in-your-face genre experiences to throttle extremism on a mainstream scale. Álvarez’s headliner premiered in the same year as James Wan’s The Conjuring for perspective, after which WB’s “Conjurverse” became the most prominent creepshow event for years to come. In a way, Álvarez captures the moment of transition at its height by maximizing his gore output while still respecting horror audiences enough to tell a most traumatic tale of possessions, executions, and the evilest, deadest of crowd-pleasing nightmares.

Does It Work?

If you asked Richard Roeper—who famously wrote a scathing one-star review—he’d scoff at grossness without substance. It’s not the only criticism I’ve heard of 2013’s Evil Dead, but my perspective values the struggle for rehabilitation that ultimately does “shock, scare, and provoke.” Fede Álvarez isn’t content with a shot-for-shot update benefitted (or mangled) by technological advances—he respectfully reignites the Evil Dead franchise with a cannon blast of chunky guts and paralyzing screams. It functions as a remake in that callbacks to chainsaws and severed hands trail reddened liquids, and yet expectations subvert by evolving past remake boxiness at the glimpses of Mia sitting on Ash’s Delta or other narrative tie-ins. I mean, it’s a remake—but also a reboot? In either case, mission accomplished.

I’ve gushed about Álvarez’s Evil Dead more times than Bruce Campbell has declared he’s retired from playing Ash Williams, because what “works” is an Evil Dead that feels imbued with everything from Wan’s encroaching signatures to dampened J-Horror. By tethering Mia’s substance usage to the invasive possession elements that strike with an unstoppable fierceness, there’s every reason to presume she’s a “captive,” as Mia might define. It’s no doubt that Olivia (Jessica Lucas) oversteps boundaries by proclaiming she can offer medical oversight the same as a hospital might, and this negligence indeed puts Mia in danger well before Eric utters aloud the Necronomicon 2.0’s incantation. There’s a larger message about how the population views addiction and mental illness (hit and miss impact), which emphasizes the reasons why David can’t let Mia leave—essential to the group’s inevitable demise.

As the human vessels one-by-one become milky-eyed, berserker forms of their once conscious selves, Álvarez ups the ante wherever possible. A familiar basement prison becomes a nest of sinfulness with animal carcasses hung by barbed wire. Gonzo gore contributes to several thousand gallons of fake blood being projectile vomited, rained from the heavens, and squirted from amputated limbs. It’s all immensely visceral cinematography with a command on new camera angles that are odes to Raimi’s now-iconic woodland zoomer lens, or shadowy darkness that cloaks savage scares as Deadite Mia zips towards David with a box cutter drawn. It’s nothing we’ve seen in Raimi’s franchise to date, but still wholly indebted to the Evil Dead lore from a badass protagonist warrior (albeit a late character arc swerve) to loads upon heaps of practical effects carnage—all with Álvarez’s stamp.

The Result

EVIL DEAD via Sony Pictures

Cue Slayer’s “Raining Blood” because the result is a reported seventy thousand gallons of icky fluids with an emphasis on showstopper practical craftsmanship—fifty thousand gallons in the finale drenching alone. Fede Álvarez claims artists only used CGI in post-production touchups, and optical illusions granted the solution to questions like how do we make an arm disappear? Maybe that’s why I’m so smitten by 2013’s Evil Dead—the practical spectacle is alive, whether that’s Oliva’s nauseating Chelsea Grin or Natalie’s (Elizabeth Blackmore) futile electric carving knife surgery. Deadite composition looks every bit monstrous but with swampy color tones that promote this repulsive overwash forever grimy, decaying, and like characters are drowning in titular evils. Álvarez’s approach to horror pulverizes and brutalizes on punk rock levels by today’s standards, and his effects workshop’s implementation of magician secrets makes for a massacre that damn near looks torn from a supernatural snuff film. The way Natalia saws into her arm at the bicep and leaves the meat tangling on a fibrous tendon is…perfection.

In terms of performances, Jane Levy belongs in the same discourse of “if the Academy recognized horror actresses” notables like Toni Collette (Hereditary) or Elijah Wood (Maniac). As the struggling heroin user, her tailspin into sweats and bodily quivers reveals the tumultuousness within Eric, David, and her appointed saviors. As “Deadite Mia,” her raspy threats of roasting souls over satanic embers are punctuated by the nefarious cackles of a madwoman who’d fork her own tongue under possession influences (sealed with a kiss). As the reincarnation of an Ash hero type whose inescapable tragedy becomes the fuel for a crimson-soaked warrior, she tears off her hand and punches the tissue stump into a chainsaw that slices her manifested demons in two with such a hurrah of victoriousness. Every facet, all personas, pushes Levy’s performance to the brink, and yet she rises higher and higher as she’s forced further through a gauntlet of physical and mental obstacles.

It’s an Evil Dead film that respects Raimi’s roots but refuses to replicate. Ash’s narrative confirms a tie-in because presumably, he’s still collecting dust like his rusting vehicle—but it’ll always be a remake in my eyes. As 2009’s Friday the 13th remake highlights how fanbases misremember the original trilogy, Álvarez does the same. Callbacks to a severed hand, revving weapons, or ungodly literature are recognizable as Evil Dead II nods, yet Evil Dead typically gets the credit. I see Evil Dead (2013) as a distillation of the iconic madness Raimi creates through two cabin visits that ultimately smashes boundaries Raimi himself quantified. Anything Raimi touches carries this chipper-chaotic sitcom humor, and Bruce Campbell’s physical comedy expertise in Evil Dead II is some of the best of its kind since Charlie Chaplin—Álvarez had no business trying to trump either element, so he conjures an Evil Dead no one could expect. A vision that holds the audience hostage from an introductory scene that lets onlookers know they’re watching an Evil Dead film, but it ain’t your grandpappy’s Evil Dead.

The Lesson

EVIL DEAD via Sony Pictures

As a fan of every Evil Dead entry to varying degrees, the lesson here is simple: keep an open mind. There’s no room for gatekeeping based on nostalgia or fearing unknowns that “threaten” what old guards hold precious. Fede Álvarez accepts an unenviable task by signing onto an Evil Dead remake; ravenous fans of the cult-worshipped original wouldn’t speak of an Evil Dead sans Ash Williams—and yet? Jane Levy bursts onto the scene like the Necronomicon just dispatched gale-force winds to blow another flimsy wooden door off its hinges, anchoring an Evil Dead reboot with sharper claws, gnarlier mutilation, and yucks traded for razor-sharp horror redesigns. I refuse to call myself any less of a franchise fan because I regard this remake so highly, just like how appreciating Friday the 13th (2009) makes me no less of a Friday the 13th appreciator (that was a fun article to receive feedback on).

So what did we learn?

  • For the zillionth time, I remind remake filmmakers—value your unique vision. A remake should never feel like recycled content. Take your swings, plant your flags, revamp with originality.
  • There’s no such thing as an “untouchable.” Evil Dead is so iconic because of Sam Raimi—that doesn’t mean other landmark iterations can’t exist based on reinterpretations.
  • The remake bug will come for us all. It’s inevitable. We can only hope for something as genuinely intentioned as Evil Dead (2013).
  • Let Jane Levy do all the horror she wants.
  • Practical gore will save us all (and your remake). No one is waiting for their favorite practical horror applications to be redone in modern CGI (cough The Thing cough).

Maybe I’m throwing myself to the wolves here, but Evil Dead (2013) is an all-timer both within franchise limits and against any outside competitors. I don’t say that flippantly or to instigate “haters.” I proclaim this with confidence and purpose because too many voices still use their platforms to denounce the necessity of remakes as a practice, and Evil Dead will forever be my quickest retort. Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness continue to endure because of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Rob TapertEvil Dead (2013) earns its place as a disciple of their teachings but generates conversation on its own merits thanks to Fede Álvarez. All exist harmoniously, fans only benefit, and the horror universe remains just as groovy as always.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on June 2, 2021.

Welcome to Revenge of the Remakes, where columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.

The post Why Fede Álvarez’s ‘Evil Dead’ Is a Gonzo and Gore-Soaked All-Timer appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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