If the quality of a horror movie is judged by its production values, its performances, its script and its visual effects, then the remake of Evil Dead is, in all departments, better than the 1981 original movie The Evil Dead.
Let's face it, as a vehicle of terror, the original film was a bit of a clunker. Its director, Sam Raimi, was a college student, and he made the film with willing (some would say masochistic) friends on a ridiculously low budget under tortuous conditions. The special effects included crude stop-motion animation, prosthetic goop and gallons of fake blood. The cast was amateurish.
And yet... the movie had an undeniable magic. Raimi essentially re-invented the horror movie as a relentless assault on the senses. He employed inventive camera work depicting the low-flying point of view of a forest demon. He distorted sound so that even his amateurish cast sounded unsettlingly fiendish. The editing (by Raimi and Joel Coen) achieved maximum shock value. In 1981, the movie so impressed horrormeister Stephen King, he bestowed a single poster blurb that doubtless earned it millions: "The most ferociously original horror film of the year."
The remake Evil Dead, produced by Raimi, Rob Tapert and original star Bruce Campbell and directed by first-time feature director Fede Alvarez, could never be called "ferociously original." But it at least delivers on the ferocity.
It also imposes a more-than-skeletal plot, courtesy of Alvarez and co-scriptwriter Rodo Sayagues (with a reported polish by Diablo Cody of Juno fame).
Mia (Jane Levy) ends up in the requisite cabin in the woods with her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and three other friends in a last-ditch attempt to help Mia kick her drug addiction.
But as we see in the movie's grisly prelude, the cabin has a past. It houses a book of Satanic origin. The bookish Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is unable to resist the flesh-bound tome and reads a few select words aloud.
That's never a good idea.
Meanwhile, Mia, in an abortive escape attempt, runs through the forest and finds herself reliving the original film's notorious raped-by-the-woods sequence. Demonic possession follows. Mia, now possessed of eerily demonic eyes, promises her fellow cabin-mates that they will all die.
Not to give anything away, but some damage is definitely done to the five-person populace. If Mia's presence in the cabin was intended as a makeshift 12-step program, suffice it to say: seven of those 12 steps include a crowbar, a mirror shard, a nail gun, a syringe, a shotgun, an electric carving knife and of course, a chainsaw.
If you've been watching horror films for any length of time, you won't find any new tools here, which is Evil Dead's main flaw.
Raimi's film was not all that original in concept. It certainly owed debts to films that came before, such as The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was the way Raimi blended those ingredients that made the recipe something fresh and unprecedented.
Alvarez cooks up something here that presents well enough, but lacks any inventive magic.
Evil Dead is inspired by the 1981 movie The Evil Dead in everything but inspiration.