There are some films, particularly in the horror genre, that demand to be seen with a full audience. It’s a special experience to groan and cringe at the exact same time as everyone sitting around you during a particularly gruesome scene, and there’s something powerful about a collective cheer ringing out when the on-screen hero deals a final blow to the vicious villain. That was the experience I had tonight sitting in the Paramount Theater during the opening night of the SXSW Film Festival watching Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead.
When it was first announced that a remake of Sam Raimi’s classic 80s horror film was being put into production, I was with the rest of you groaning at the idea of yet another Hollywood rehash, but I am now very happy to say that I was wrong. Backed by great performances by a young cast, and a seemingly unending number of high-tension, disturbingly gory horror sequences, the new movie is the definition of crowd-pleaser and one hell of a ride.
Set up similarly to the original while introducing new elements to prevent the film from feeling like a carbon copy, Evil Dead begins as a group of five friends, Mia (Jane Levy), David (Shiloh Fernandez), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), drive out to a remote cabin in the woods to try and help Mia quit her heroin addiction cold turkey. Unfortunately, while searching around the decrepit woodsy home, Eric stumbles upon a mysterious book and accidentally unleashes an ancient, evil force that threatens to kill them all.
Thanks to the incredible pop culture impact of Ashley J. Williams, the iconic character played by Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, the new cast of Evil Dead had some big shoes to fill, but it’s a challenge that the stars were game for. The movie opens a bit rough, both from a performance and a script standpoint, as there’s a good deal of forced exposition that needs to be waded through, but once the characters and story really gets going all of it improves vastly. Levy is the film’s clear standout, both nailing the intense emotions of fear and panic while also appearing to have a lot of fun splashing around in the gallons fake blood, and wearing demonic makeup. And while not every character is as fleshed out as one could have hoped – particularly Natalie – they all get their moment in the sun and there isn’t a weak link in the chain.
The gore factor is what ultimately makes Evil Dead such a raucous crowd-pleaser. Alvarez not only completely drenches the film is the red, sticky stuff, he does so with impressive creativity and has an impressive knack for building tension. Whether it’s a character puking blood all over another, cutting on their own face with a piece of glass, stabbing someone with a hypodermic needle, or making good use of an electric carving knife, once the blood starts flowing it never really stops. But even when the scenes are heavily set up with foreshadowing or text straight from the evil book (which happens quite often), the audience still cringes and reacts, as you can’t believe what they actually get away with showing on screen.
With titles like 2010’s The Nightmare on Elm Street, 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 2009’s Friday The 13th it's totally understandable that horror fans would be nervous about an Evil Dead remake, but you can put those fears to rest. With unrelenting gore, an awesome cast, and authentic respect for the original, Alvarez’s film is a straight up bloody good time at the movies.
For more of our SXSW 2013 coverage, click HERE.