After ten friggin’ years, we finally get a good remake of a bona-fide American horror classic. After the slick MTV-style horror remake fad began with the abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, Hollywood gladly kept taking huge dumps on hard-core horror fans with watered-down, soulless, cynical cash-grab remakes of Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Rob Zombie at least tried to bring new life to Halloween but failed miserably.
Ever since I found out a remake of one of my favorite gorefest classics The Evil Dead was green-lit, you can understand my utter dismay at the idea after being burned so many times with the aforementioned remakes. I found out the penultimate queen of precious, ear grating hipster dialogue Diablo Cody was writing the screenplay and as far as I was concerned, it was, as Private Hudson would say, "Game over man! Game over!" I shuddered whenever I imagined the following dialogue take place:
"Phuket Thailand man! I totally got possessed by a demon!"
"Oh buuuurn! That’s one deed you can’t undone homeswizzle dizzle bizzle!"
And then things started looking up. First, I heard that Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell, the director, producer and star, respectively, of the original trilogy, were producing. Apparently this wasn’t one of those deals where the original creators get paid simply to lend the project credibility; they were closely involved with every aspect of the production.
Next, they discarded Diablo Cody’s draft in favor of co-writers Fede Alvarez (Who also directed) and Rod Sayaguez’s script. Even though IMDB still lists Cody as a co-writer, her wildly overrated ex-stripper paws are nowhere near the credits, and there isn’t a single line of Cody-esque dialogue in the film.
Still, I made sure not to get my hopes too high. I should have. This is a stripped down, grimy-and-bloody-as-hell splatterfest in the highest order. Alvarez, who highly impresses with his first feature, knows the genre inside and out. He makes sure to keep the already slim plot and characterization to a minimum and brings on the gory goodies with as little computer generated help as possible.
As far as I could see, most of the blood and dismemberment effects were achieved with practical make-up and prosthetics, and believe me, there were plenty of them. If they used a lot of CGI, it went over my head, and I’m usually pretty good with pointing that stuff out. The highly effective opening sequence had some fire effects peppered with bad CG, but it’s over fairly quickly. I have to give credit to the filmmakers when credit is due. After the aptly titled Cabin in the Woods brutally dissected the, well, cabin in the woods genre, I thought a straight-laced take on this horror sub-genre would be impossible to pull off.
The first thing Alvarez gets right is to stray away from the "Dumb teens come to the cabin to party" set-up. David (Shiloh Fernandez), a young man who made it his mission in life to stay away from his crazy mother, agrees to come to his family’s remote cabin to spend the weekend with his drug addict sister Mia (Jane Levy) and her friends to make sure Mia quits cold turkey. Apparently, Mia just OD’d and was even declared dead for a while so her nurse friend Olivia (Jessica Lucas) believes if she can’t get through the weekend without using, she will surely die.
With this premise, we forego the usual forced party flavor, gratuitous nudity and corny jokes that plague the first acts of these films and start off right away with a tense mood. Also, the drug angle allows the script to inject a bit of Jack Torrance-style paranoia where Mia can’t be sure if she’s hallucinating the gruesome things that happen to her, or if there really is an evil demon in the woods hell-bent on feasting on everyone’s "Soooouuuul!"
Who are we kidding; of course the demons are real. They’re summoned by Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), the token nerd who reads from The Book of the Dead, that attractive hit paperback made out of bits of human skin which should look familiar to fans of the original trilogy, even though the book specifically tells him to leave it alone with big, giant blood-soaked letters. Hey, the characters are not as dumb as we expect from the genre, but they have to be somewhat dense otherwise the film doesn’t happen, right?
After that, all hell breaks loose. Alvarez lets the plot take a back seat and cleverly stacks one gruesome set piece over the other. Various limbs are severed, people get stabbed with syringes, nail guns and box cutters, projectile blood vomiting and self-mutilation becomes a common occurrence, at one point it literally rains blood. And for aficionados of tree-rape, a version of the notorious scene from the original remains in the film, this time even more revolting.
I thought Sam Raimi said that he regretted the tree-rape scene in the original because of its sexist overtones. I don’t know what made him do a total 180 on the subject, but the scene in the remake makes the original look like a feminist manifesto.
Look, I know this film is gleefully stomach-churning, bloody-as-hell and bound to be somewhat offensive to anything with a heartbeat. But that’s kind of the point. It knows exactly what it’s supposed to be makes sure to deliver the goods in a tightly-structured, competently-plotted and highly stylistic and creative approach. Fans of the original and die-hard gore hounds will be highly pleased. Anyone who gets queasy from the sight of blood, stay as far away as you can. One last note, make sure to stay through the end credits for a groovy surprise.