40×40: Evil Dead (2013)

Directed by Fede Alvarez.

“I can smell your filthy soul!”

Why Did I Get This?

Like the Friday The 13th DVD, this was another gift from my lovely friend and Late Reviewer contributor Vikki Layton. It’s a film I saw when it was first released, but haven’t really revisited.

I like the original Sam Raimi movie and its sequels and have them all knocking about (somewhere on a long-forgotten shelf is a special edition of the first movie encased in a rubbery, flesh-like Necronomicon), though haven’t revisited any of them for a while – I probably should do though, because some of the Bruce Campbell movies I have revisited for this blog have been less-than amazing.

What I remembered about 2013’s Evil Dead is that it was surprisingly good and that the injuries were really nasty and, frankly, more realistic than some of its predecessors (though saying that, the pencil through the ankle in the original lives rent-free in my head!). I also remember there were some pretty interesting updates to the ‘kids get terrorised in a cabin in the woods’ angle, so really keen to see how it holds up.

Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

Mia (Jane Levy), is a drug addict who wants to kick the habit. Her friends take her to a remote cabin in the woods where she hopes to go cold turkey, but when one of the party reads passages from a book that’s bound in human flesh and written in blood, things take a very nasty turn.

Some horror films start soft, lulling you into a false sense of security before shit goes sideways.

Not this one.

From the opening shot of an injured girl walking and bleeding in misty woods, before she’s tied to a stake in a cellar and set on fire and shot by her father, you know you’re in for a wild ride.

Admittedly, things do settle down a little to give us chance to get to know (and mostly like), our characters – but when a movie’s runtime is less than 90 minutes, these things are forced to rattle along at pace.

That’s certainly not a bad thing though, as you’re left permanently either on edge or gritting your teeth at whatever demonic horror is about to ruin someone’s day.

I thought the decision to update the ‘young, good looking types visit a cabin in the woods’ trope away from a group of party animals to a support group helping a friend kick their drug habit was a brilliant idea – not just because it steers away from a story you’ve seen in a hundred cheap imitations, but because it adds an extra level of uncertainty and unease to proceedings. Mia is terrified by visions of ghouls in the forest, turns up hurt, and kills a dog with a hammer, and urges her brother to take her home, but her friends all think this is part of her cold turkey process. Honestly, what normal person would experience that and immediately think ‘yup, she’s possessed’?

Except, this group is made up of people who discover a book written in blood and bound in human flesh wrapped in barbed wire in a cellar containing more dead cats than Prime Minister’s Question Time, and decide to read excerpts from it. So maybe they’re not exactly normal people. Looking at you, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), you prick.

The redesign of the Necronomicon is great, in my opinion, and the narrative gag that shows a page relating to what each member of the group is about to experience is a solid addition – it telegraphs the unpleasantness, from self-mutilation to burning oneself, to removal of limbs, giving the faint of heart an idea of what’s about to happen (and when to look away).

And when the unpleasantness happens, it’s genuinely a tough watch – not in a ‘torture porn’ kind of way, but in a reasonably realistic way. The (mainly), practical effects and makeup are excellent, but the sound design means that every slash, stab, snap or cracking jaw feels like it hurts. Couple that with the brutal editing of some of the possession/attack scenes and a sparing use of CG to enhance certain effects (licking a box cutter, for example), and you’re wincing with each incident – throw in some Raimi-esque angles and zooms (particularly in the nail gun attack towards the end), and it’s an impressive, tough and fairly exhausting watch.

The possessions themselves are treated almost like fits or medical episodes, again with weird, unsettling clicking jaws and mainly sluggish movements – less cartoonish than the original, but definitely more in keeping with the modern aesthetic.

I say modern, it’s deliberately unclear when this movie is actually set – nobody has a cellphone, none of the vehicles look particularly flash or new, and it’s set in the middle of the woods. Spotting Raimi’s yellow Oldsmobile rusting and covered in moss outside the cabin is the only suggestion that 2013’s Evil Dead may be a sequel to the original rather than completely unrelated… well, that and the post-credits sting of Bruce Campbell turning to camera and saying “groovy”, seemingly for no reason other than fan service.

There are also a couple of nice toolshed tooling up moments that nod to the original (and Evil Dead 2), without being slavishly reverential – as the movie rushes towards its climax, David (Shiloh Fernandez), heads to the shed and looks for a second towards a chainsaw, before grabbing a bunch of other bits and MacGuyvering himself a defibrillator to bring his sister back from the (un)dead.

Before long, everyone except Mia is dead, the cabin’s on fire and it’s raining blood for some reason, leading to the big boss battle with a creature referred to as Abomination (Randal Wilson). Here, as she did by throwing away her drugs, Mia takes her life into her own hands to fight for her life.

Well, into her own hand, really, as she’s forced to remove her own damaged hand at the wrist, not with a chainsaw, not with an electric kitchen knife, but through sheer willpower, after it gets trapped between a rock and a hard place (car). Again, it looks like another practical effect and possibly the most gruesome gag in the film. Though that could also go to the face carving, the syringe attack, the other arm removal, the hand demolished by a crowbar… yeah, it could actually be any of them.

Gruesome or not, it gives her the advantage, allows her to jam her stump into the chainsaw handle and take out the bad guy with a sweary quip that Bruce Campbell wouldn’t have got away with, before she stumbles off into the sunrise.

I was fully expecting the forest spirit to whoosh up at her at this point, but we get a shot of the Necronomicon slamming shut and some audio from the original over the credits, and then we can breathe again.


While it lacks the homemade charm and low-budget elements of Raimi’s original, this still really feels like an Evil Dead movie – albeit one for viewers who had spent the last decade or so devouring increasingly gruesome ‘torture porn’ movies.

Yes, the violence is far more graphic, and yes, the violation of one character is still just as upsetting as the one the original director has since said he regrets filming. But while most remakes would’ve toned these elements down and replaced them with knowing winks to the fans to secure a lower rating, it feels like Alvarez did everything he could to push the bloody envelope and honour the original.

It’s not an easy watch by any stretch – I defy anyone to sit through this without wincing or turning away on at least one occasion – but at 89 minutes it really whips along while still managing to make you care about the characters. Well, most of them – Eric’s an unrelenting bell-end and everything bad that happens in this movie is pretty much his fault.

I’m sure there’ll be Raimi purists out there who’d damn this thing to hell, but for me, it sits perfectly well alongside the other entries in the Evil Dead franchise like a great cover version of an amazing song. The original’s always going to be there, and you could probably watch it right afterwards and still be up in time for work the next morning.


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