By David Watson

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one.  There’s these five kids, right, and they’re spending the weekend in this isolated cabin in the woods.  No, not that one.  In the basement they find this creepy old occult book wrapped in barbed wire and daubed with messages in blood not to open the book at all costs.  So, of course, one of them opens the book and reads it aloud (‘cause, you know, that seems entirely rational, right?), accidentally summoning a demon in the process, which possesses them one by one, forcing them into a desperate fight for survival.  Sound familiar?    

How can you remake The Evil Dead cry horror’s disenfranchised fanboys?  Why would you?  Don’t you know it’s a classic?  Dubbed “The most ferociously original horror film of the year,” back in 1981 by Stephen King, who you have to remember was drinking like a Welsh actor and doing a couple of grams a day at the time (and was so high he doesn’t even remember writing Cujo that same year.  Just saying, his judgement may have been a little impaired right around then), the original The Evil Dead surfed the UK video nasty scare to infamy and when you were 10 and watching a bootleg VHS round your mate’s house with the lights out, it was just about the scariest thing you’d ever seen.  But ask yourself, when was the last time you watched it?  If any 30-year-old micro-budget horror flick was due an unwanted, unasked for remake, it’s Evil Dead.   Evil-Dead       

Now, I have a confession to make.  I have a secret.  A dark one.  A guilty one.  Perhaps the guiltiest.  One that could get me kicked out of the horror geek club.  Here goes…(deep breath)…I have never really liked the Evil Dead movies!  Maybe it’s the lame acting.  Maybe it’s the crappy special effects, the laughable gore.  The crummy script.  The childish slapstick.  Bruce Campbell and his big, square, Desperate Dan chin.  Sam Raimi’s demented determination to cram into the film every shot he’s ever seen.  The rapey trees, the rampant teenage misogyny.  Maybe it’s a cocktail of all of these things. 

But Bruce and his chin are definitely up there.

So, given the source material and its legion of Deadite admirers, it’s nothing short of miraculous that Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez’s stunningly blood-drenched re-imagining, Evil Dead, is quite so shockingly satisfying.  Possibly the nastiest mainstream horror film you’ve ever seen, Alvarez strips the flesh, blood and guts from Raimi’s original, splashes them around the frame and rebuilds the story from the bare bones up.  So, we still have five kids weekending in a cabin in the woods but for a very different reason.  Our heroine Mia (Jane Levy) is already possessed by her own demons long before anyone cracks the spine of the ominous Book of the Dead.  A junkie, she’s come to the cabin to go cold turkey and get clean with the help of nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas), douchebag teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).  Settling in for the night and steeling themselves to ignore Mia’s withdrawal ravings, the friends bicker and fight and reminisce. 

Then Eric finds the aforementioned book and sets loose Hell.  Before you can scream “Don’t go near the rapey trees!” Mia’s possessed and foaming at the mouth, her foul-mouthed ranting, raving and pleading simply dismissed as the side effects of her coming off heroin.  As Mia becomes violent and is locked in the cellar, the friend’s succumb one by one to the evil dead, becoming possessed, self-harming and homicidal.  If he’s going to save his sister’s soul David’s going to have to do the unthinkable.  Time to break out the shotgun and grab that chainsaw from the woodshed…

Filled with knowingly affectionate in-jokes and echoes of the original that’ll keep the fanboys amused, Alvarez’s Evil Dead eschews the campiness and slapstick humour of Raimi’s films in favour of delivering a gritty, gory, balls-to-the-wall horror that’s red in tooth, claw and chainsaw.  Upping the splatter levels (one character is forced to literally tear their own trapped hand off as the sky rains blood), the updated plot feels fresh, the film is reverent but not beholden to the original, establishing its own identity, and the emphasis on its strong female protagonist satisfies.  Jane Levy is brilliant as Mia, creating a vulnerable yet ballsy horror icon for a new generation and Shiloh Fernandez is as soulfully sympathetic here as he was in the wonderful Deadgirl. 

The rare horror remake that actually improves upon its original, Evil Dead is a breathless, intense, visceral slice of carnage that’ll leave the audience gasping and elated.

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