I almost gave Evil Dead a bad review. Well, not so much bad as indifferent. Seeing as how I never get to the theater these days (kids will do that to you), I obviously missed out on the much-ballyhooed flick upon its release, so I was forced to wait for the film’s eventual home release whilst everyone I knew who had seen it assured me of its greatness. This is a problem for me as I am almost always let down by a movie when it’s hyped as much as Evil Dead was, and, upon my first viewing of the film, that was the case. I didn’t dislike it, mind you; I was just underwhelmed by it all. I mean, sure, it’s a good gross-out flick, but it was hardly the movie that was going to save horror cinema from the endless cycle of torture porn and shitty ghost stories that currently define the genre. It was just okay, and, for me, okay just doesn’t cut it when your movie is titled Evil Dead.
So, after my first watch, I sat down and started typing up my review. As I got about five hundred words in, I realized that I’d yet to write a single negative statement about the film. I stopped and really thought about it, and, save for a few lines of irksomely expositional dialogue; I really DIDN’T have much of anything bad to say about it. This is when I stopped writing, went back into my lair, and watched the movie again on its own terms, no longer weighed down by nostalgia, hype-fueled preconceptions, or my nascent man-love for Bruce Campbell.
Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead opens with a pre-credits sequence in which a young girl is caught wandering through a misty forest. She’s rendered unconscious and awakens later, bound to a post in a dank basement, and in the midst of some sort of ritual. We soon discover that this innocent girl is possessed by an evil entity; one that is expunged by the girl’s own father with the aid of fire and shotgun blast.
We are then introduced to our new generation of Deadite fodder, who have convened at the family cabin of heroin addict, Mia (Jane Levy), as she attempts to kick the habit once and for all. Joining Mia’s hipster teacher buddy, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and nurse, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), are Mia’s estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), who skipped town for college when Mia was just a kid, and his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
Mia and David’s reunion is hardly a joyous affair, as Mia harbors a lot of resentment toward her brother, who left her to care for their dying mother, and, despite his promises, never came home see her before she passed away. The reception from David’s former friends, Eric and Olivia, is even icier, as they’ve had to watch Mia self-destruct in the time that her brother’s been away. David assures them all that he’s here for the long haul, and that he’s not going anywhere until his sister is able to put her demons behind her.
While David tries to make the rundown cabin more comfortable for their stay, Mia complains of a horrible odor in the house. The others credit this to her heightened sensory awareness brought on by the shock of sobriety, but, when David discovers a trail of blood leading into the basement, further investigation leads to the discovery of the ritual site from earlier in the film, with charred remains of cats hanging from the rafters and a mysterious, barbed-wire-bound package sitting atop a makeshift altar.
While David cleans out the basement, and Mia is in the throes of full-blown withdrawal, Eric decides to open the carefully sealed bundle, revealing an aged, flesh-bound tome filled with disturbing drawings, and scrawlings in English that, apparently, offer a loose translation of the ancient text contained within. Eric then recites a series of words that, unbeknownst to him, opens a gateway into a hellish alternate dimension, exposing all of their souls to the evil dead.
Upon second viewing, I really found myself appreciating and enjoying this remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 low-budget shocker. Alvarez proved an inspired choice (hand-picked by Raimi, himself) to helm this relaunch of the franchise as the young Uruguayan director displays the same sort of energy and ingenuity Raimi showed in his early outings, embracing the same old-school techniques, using practical effects over CGI, and all manner of in-camera trickery. It’s visually electric stuff, even if it’s not anything particularly groundbreaking or game-changing.
The performances are quite good, with Levy, Fernandez, and Pucci – whose character’s deadpan observations give us the closest thing we get to comic relief in the film- especially, shining in their respective roles. Levy, in particular, looks to have been put through the same sort of ringer Raimi repeatedly ran Bruce Campbell through, and, when listening to the film’s commentary track, you get the distinct impression that she still hasn’t quite forgiven Alvarez for the things he put her through while making the movie.
My only real issues with Evil Dead lay in its screenplay’s reliance on clumsy exposition and the somewhat anticlimactic “showdown”, which I won’t spoil here, save to say that some things are better left to the imagination.
Evil Dead comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, and is presented in a slick 2.39:1 HD transfer that looks exceptional. Alvarez went for a typically muted color palette here, but, when it calls for it, the image is quite vibrant and extremely crisp, with lots of subtle details apparent throughout. It’s a dark film, as one would expect, but the contrast is well-balanced, with no sign of digital noise or blocking. It’s a great looking transfer, but I was even more impressed by the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. This is a big, loud, expressive track that features perfect separation, and extremely immersive employment of the surrounds.
Sony loads up the disc with a nice sampling of quality bonus goodies, including the aforementioned commentary track (featuring Levy, Alvarez, Pucci, Lucas, and writer Rodo Sayagues) that is a blast to listen to. It’s very conversational, funny, and informative stuff that’ll definitely please fans of the film.
We also get a collection of short featurettes, all in HD, including Directing the Dead, an interview piece featuring which is sort of redundant in that much of what’s here is on the commentary, but it’s nice to see the faces of the cast “out of character” (especially Levy, who is just stunning).
Evil Dead: The Reboot gives us interviews with both the old guard and the new, bringing in Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell to discuss the timing and logistics of relaunching the beloved franchise. It’s a shame not to see Raimi here, but it’s nice to see Tapert and Campbell mixing it up with the youngins.
Making Life Difficult is another interview piece, this time featuring Levy and Alvarez, and the two talk about the grind of making the film, and the extremes to which Levy was pushed by her director. Once again, much of this is briefly covered in the commentary, but this featurette goes into greater detail about the specific scenes that Levy found most difficult to film.
Unleashing the Evil Force focuses on the design of the new Book of the Dead, giving us a more detailed look at the drawings and text within. Personally, I like the original much more, although, if you look closely at the book when it’s bound in plastic and barbed wire, you can sort of see what looks like the desiccated face of the original in the wrinkles of the plastic (then again, that could be my overactive imagination).
Rounding out the featurettes is Being Mia, which is a hybrid video blog/interview piece, dotted with raw behind-the-scenes footage all focusing on Levy and her approach to the Mia character.
Sony also throws in some trailers (HD) for other releases as well as the ubiquitous UV copy of the film (does anybody actually use these things?).
While I didn’t find Evil Dead “near perfect” or “astonishing” like some of my hyperbole-spewing peers, I’m glad I gave it a second viewing before committing to my review as, once free of the shackles of nostalgia and Bruce-love, I was able to appreciate what Alvarez and his cast and crew accomplished. It’s a fun, extremely bloody, and very entertaining flick that, while not in the same league as the original, is still a welcome addition to the franchise. Recommended.