I think I was 12 or 13 years old when I saw Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” for the first time. I had borrowed it from a friend whose irresponsible parents had allowed him to rent it from the local video store. He had assured me that this one was going to be good, but I would have to wait til my parents had gone to bed to get the full enjoyment of the movie.
No, I did not have nightmares that night, or any other, but I was not comfortable in the darkness for a few days. Sam Raimi was working under an (obvious to a 12 year-old) shoestring budget, and he made a great movie. When I watched the Evil Dead as an adult, seven or eight years later, I gained a deeper appreciation of the movie, and wondered what Raimi could have done with a real budget.
First-time Brazilians film-maker Fede Alvarez gives us an idea in this stylish, gore-drenched remake that might actually surpass the original in some ways. Rather than give us a shot-by-shot remake, Alvarez delivers his own film, true to the spirit of the original, while incorporating new element, such as the opening scene.
We open on a scared, apparently traumatized, young woman stumbling through the woods, blood dripping from her hands. She is rapidly captured by a pair of stereotypical hillbilly rapists who yank a sack over her head before smashing her in the head with a shotgun. When she awakens, she is bound to a post in a dimly lit room adorned with dead cats on hooks. The hillbillies have been replaced by a withered crone who doesn’t speak English, but we know this young lady is at the end of her line. The reveal that the girl is not a victim, but actually the possessed pawn of an evil demon isn’t a surprise, but it will set the tone for the rest of the movie. Our next scene even begins with an inverted shot of the forest, a sign that Alvarez is going to turn this story upside down, and you should prepare for that.
Another great addition to the film is a subplot about heroin addiction. It is that subplot, by the way, that elevates this movie beyond the first, in my opinion.
The original Evil Dead is a simple scary movie about people screwing around carelessly with ancient knowledge that they don’t understand and cannot possibly control. A campfire story with tragedy coming only because people failed to contain their curiosity. There is no deeper meaning to be found in the original Evil Dead, just a good, scary film.
By introducing heroin. however, Alvarez has changed the dynamic of the movie. Now we can see why they stay at the cabin until it is too late to escape, now Mia’s bizarre behavior looks less like a supernatural affliction than the desperate acts of a junkie. All the way until it has doomed the group.
Alvarez frequently shows syringes in the film to further his metaphor: from the scene where one character is repeatedly stabbed with one filled with sedatives, to the part where they are used to make a defibrillator in a great MacGuyver moment. A nail gun is even weaponized, a reminder to the audience that ju8nkie’s often refer to their needle as a “spike.” What we are watching is Mia struggling with her addiction, watching it destroy everyone around her, isolating her.
In the end it comes down to Mia vs the embodiment of Evil, the Abomination that she is her Addiction. Ultimately she triumphs, but not before losing a part of herself, and all those she cares for.
If Alvarez continues the franchise, I’ll go along with an Evil Dead 2, just to see how he does it.