Some horror movies have a few funny moments tossed in, silly or laced with dark humor, to relieve the tension. Others just hammer the audience with relentless terror and gore, opting to keep the nastiness flowing uninterrupted.
The new “Evil Dead” is one of the latter. This was intentional, according to director and co-writer Fede Alvarez and others involved in the movie who were featured in pre-release interviews.Sam Raimi, who directed the original “Evil Dead” in 1981 — now considered a classic by horror movie fans — and Bruce Campbell, who played Ash in the original, becoming his signature role, served as producers for this remake and everybody attached to the project stressed it is a remake, not a prequel or sequel — no characters are tied in any way to Ash.
Notice is served. Those who prefer their horror without any extra baggage of light-hearted moments should find this “Evil Dead” fulfilling their basic expectations.
The back-story is grim. Mia (Jane Levy) is a drug addict, who accompanied by two friends, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), a nurse, and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), goes to an old family cabin in the woods — always a ripe location for unpleasant things — for a weekend of cold-turkey drying out. Also joining the group is Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
The character development centers around the chilly reception David receives as Mia and particularly Eric still simmer with resentment that David moved away in pursuit of a job, leaving Mia to deal with their mother’s mental demise. David, trying to nullify his guilt, is determined to stick with Mia now as she tries to get her life back on track. David is so out of touch he is shocked to learn from Eric and Olivia that Mia has tried this cold-turkey effort before and has overdosed once.
That’s about all the information on the characters the viewers get. Natalie mostly stands around on the periphery and might as well be wearing a placard stating: Sole purpose is to die horrendously.
The rundown cabin seems an unlikely place for a rehab project, and when it is discovered that a bunch of slain cats are strung up in the basement, which also looks like a venue for some sort of dark and bloody ritual, common sense would dictate the five young people clear out of the place and find a nice motel.
But stupidity among the doomed characters is a fixture of horror movies, so they stay. Then Eric comes across an old book, wrapped in skin and barb wire, and he commits the Really Dumb Act That Unleashes All Kinds of Nastiness. He clips away the wire, rips open the skin and starts thumbing through the book despite a written warning inside not to continue.
This is where the fun begins as Eric inadvertently releases some force, enabling “Evil Dead” finally to shift into high gear.
Olivia has warned David that once Mia is in the throes of withdrawal, she will do and say anything to get David to take her home. Mia does manage to sneak to one of the cars and drive away, but of course there is something in the woods. She crashes the car and has a nightmarish encounter, the details of which cannot be revealed here.
Rescued by her friends and taken back to the cabin, Mia now appears to be totally out of touch with reality, and David dismisses her claims that something awful has made its way to the cabin.
“Evil Dead” hits its high points as the projectile vomiting and bloodletting ensue and Mia develops a complexion problem and starts babbling and playing mind games like someone possessed. A lot of sharp objects are put into play and impalings, stabbings and slicings lead to messiness and in some cases disembowelment. With only five characters in the cabin, the body count stays low, but the number of injuries sails into the stratosphere.
To no surprise, “Evil Dead,” co-written with Alvarez by Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body”), found its audience, with a $26 million first-week take at the box office, exceeding its budgeted cost by $12 million. As with the remakes of “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” this “Evil Dead” no doubt will trigger comparisons to the iconic original. The makers of this latest “Dead” hope that it also will be embraced by a new generation of horror fans.
FAREWELL: To Roger Ebert, who made movie reviews an art form. You will be missed.