The harrowing imagery alone makes the “Evil Dead” (*** OUT OF ****) remake worth the price of admission. “Spider-Man” helmer Sam Raimi directed the original “Evil Dead” back in 1981. He swirled horror with humor in a low-budget scream-fest with a no-name cast. Despite its crappy special effects, this supernatural splatter-spoof ranks as a cult favorite among gorehounds. Raimi went on to direct two sequels, and Bruce Campbell attained the status of B-movie hero. The skewered cinematography, atmospheric settings, and maniacal urgency made this contrived 85 minute nonsense unforgettable. Comparatively, in his directorial debut, writer & director Fede Alvarez, abetted by co-scenarists Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody, has preserved the premise of the Raimi classic. Nevertheless, he has shunned Raimi’s ghoulish but campy approach. Moreover, the Uruguayan native has ramped up the gore far more than Raimi dared. In fact, Alvarez has knocked the bottom out with some elaborately orchestrated carnage that makes the “Saw” movies look tame. One scene depicts a girl mutilating her arm with an electric carving knife. The MPAA must have felt in a charitable mood when they gave “Evil Dead” an R-rating “for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language.” The visual CGI effects are designed to make you regurgitate. Make no mistake; Alvarez has conjured up one hellacious nightmare of a movie. One of the girls acts as if she were auditioning for “The Ring” (1998) rather than “The Evil Dead.” She crawls around on her hands with her hair in her eyes and blood and gore all over her body. Indeed, the isolated cabin-in-the-woods plot provides an excuse for ample mutilation, rampant dismemberment, and buckets of blood. Unlike the original, Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” doesn’t duplicate the bucolic rape of one of the girls. Alvarez doesn’t plunge the bole of a tree between her thighs as Raimi did in the original. Instead, Alvarez has a sinister witch cough up a skein of black licorice that crawls up and into the struggling girl’s mouth.
In the 1981 original “Evil Dead,” five Michigan State college students cruised up to a ramshackle cabin in the middle of nowhere to enjoy Spring Break. They discover a tape recording and a book fashioned from human flesh in the basement. One of them recites passages aloud from the forbidden text. The combination of the Book of the Dead being opened and its incantations being uttered summons evil. Predictably, all Hell breaks loose. The big change in the remake is Alvarez provides an incendiary prologue. Two men manhandle a girl into a basement and lash her to a post. The girl’s father incinerates her while a crone mutters incantations from the same Book of the Dead. As an opening gambit, this torture scene prepares us for the pandemonium that ensues. Level-headed college students made up the original “Evil Dead” group. The remake deploys a group of friends rehabilitating one of their own. Mia (Jane Levy of “Fun Size”) has a monkey on her back in the form of heroin. After spending several years apart from each other, she is reunited with her older brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez of “Red”), who knows nothing about her addiction. The two share some bad memories. Namely, David left Mia to contend with their dying, mentally distraught mom. Not only is Mia a heroin junkie, but also this isn’t the first time she has tried to conquer her craving. As Olivia (Jessica Lucas of “Clovefield”) informs David, she and her friends don’t intend to let Mia bail out of the treatment. For the record, David is the vague equivalent of Ash (Bruce Campbell) from the original. Alvarez has given all the characters different names. This time around, Olivia and company plan to keep Mia isolated in the woods while she endures a cold-turkey withdrawal. No sooner has this been said and done than Olivia’s bespectacled boyfriend, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci of “Fanboys”), finds the Book of the Dead, made from human flesh, scrawled in blood, and bound by barbed wire. Foolishly, Eric reads aloud from this tome. Meantime, Mia stumbles outside into the woods. Suddenly, vines, branches, and roots trap poor Mia in the underbrush and hold her captive for an evil witch. This lesbian witch spews profanity from her vile, wretched lips, and a licorice like skein of black sludge slithers up into Mia’s mouth. At this point, “Evil Dead” leaves mild behind and turns heavy-duty.
Alvarez wallows his cast in blood, gore, and more. You know when you see a battery powered nail gun that somebody is going to use it on somebody else. Before things get really gory, a poor old pooch is slaughtered, but canine’s death is staged off-screen. Everybody suffers horribly in “Evil Dead,” and nobody truly escapes without either sacrificing a body part or donating enough blood to revive a corpse. The most iconic scene in this savage saga occurs near the end. A one-armed, demon-possessed character gives another demon- possessed character a lobotomy courtesy of a chainsaw through the mouth. Essentially, “Evil Dead” lives up to its title with oodles of evil and death. Further, Alvarez takes his subject matter seriously enough that you could suffer nightmares from his over-the-top depiction of malevolence. Of course, we don’t give a hoot who gets what in the end. The characters qualify as one-dimensional victims. “Evil Dead” spends most of its time trying to gross us out with its graphic detail. If you’re squeamish, you should shun this remake with its bad night in the emergency room blood and gore. As remakes go, “Evil Dead” tops the original in terms of its polished production values, but its authentic looking gore doesn’t surpass its predecessor’s sense of humor. While the characters have more to occupy themselves with in the remake, nobody generates the charisma that Bruce Campbell did the original. Incidentally, if you sit through the end credits, you will see Bruce make a cameo.