In the vast annals of cinema history, remakes must surely be the most consistently polarizing of films ever to be made. Though the idea of remaking a film with a recognizable name that will draw in old fans and a new generation of viewers alike must be tantalizing for film studios everywhere, the execution is rarely worth writing home about. This is especially true of horror remakes, with remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Black Christmas, and Poltergeist being among the most disappointing movies ever made. Negative reviews and easily forgotten films be damned, film studios continue to commission remakes of classic films every year. Naturally, when Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead was slated for an update in 2013, fans were apprehensive to say the least. Luckily for them, the remake wasn’t too shabby.
The film follows Mia, a heroin addict on the path to recovery, who asks her brother and a group of friends to join her on a retreat to her family’s remote cabin in the woods. There, she hopes to be able to sober up in a relaxing environment with the support of her friends. Things quickly go awry when they find a mysterious book – the Book of the Dead – and proceed to read its passages aloud, which awakens a demonic presence in the woods. What follows is an onslaught of supernatural terror and a gorefest for the ages, with Mia now struggling with a fate worse than crippling drug addiction: demonic possession. While the grittier, bigger budget 2013 film may not hold a candle to Sam Raimi’s original trilogy for many hardcore horror fans, it’s hard to deny that it is one of the best horror remakes ever made. Here’s what makes the Evil Dead remake one of the best remakes of all time.
A big part of what makes Evil Dead 2013 memorable, in spite of existing alongside three essential horror-comedy classics from Sam Raimi, is that it doesn’t try to replicate the unreplicable. Thankfully not a useless shot-for-shot remake like 1998’s Psycho, or an embarrassingly out-of-touch reboot like 2013’s Carrie, Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead opts to forge its own path to the hearts of horror fans. Despite sharing a similar cabin-in-the-woods premise, the movie has a visual style and tone all its own, letting go of the comedy aspect all together to focus in on a dread-filled and blood-soaked nightmarish tone. As Game Rant explains, “It doesn’t have the same comedic charm that the Sam Raimi film had, but where it lacks laughs it fills it with pools of blood, violence, and gore.” The choice to take a grittier and more frightening approach was a smart one; it doesn’t feel like Álvarez is aping Raimi’s style – a task which would surely result in failure – rather, Álvarez establishes his own style, lending the film a sense of singular vision and creative energy that feels refreshing.
One of the best things about the Evil Dead remake is Álvarez’s insistence on using primarily practical special effects, which is unfortunately a rarity in 21st century filmmaking. The film is positively brimming with stunning prosthetic makeup work, and is bursting at the seams with gallons of fake blood (70,000 gallons, to be precise). Arms are sawed off, heads pop, and limbs roll in this love letter to gorehounds everywhere, and it all looks fantastic. According to JumpCut Online, Álvarez and his team “only used CGI for touch-ups, with all the main effects being done practically.” The CGI touch-ups are seamlessly worked in and are completely unnoticeable, leaving no glaring technical flaws to make you question the realistic and truly disgusting nature of the onscreen bloodbath.
Remaking one of the most frightening films of the ’80s would be a daunting task for anybody, but especially for a first time director like Fede Álvarez. Fortunately, Álvarez was not to be deterred, and made a remake that stands up against the original. He did this by upping the ante on nearly every front imaginable; as previously mentioned, the gore is over-the-top and beats out the original film in terms of sheer amount of blood spilled on screen. The horror is not undermined by lighthearted comedy moments or silly one-liners, and thus plunges the viewer full-throttle into the nightmare and provides no hope of escape for any of the characters involved. The movie even ups the ante on the character front, providing an ensemble of interesting and well-developed characters, which lends a greater emotional gravitas to the proceedings than is present in any previous Evil Dead movie.
The film takes the thematic elements of the story to new levels as well; the main character, Mia, struggles with her internal demons – namely a traumatic past with her mother and a crippling drug addiction – which is mirrored by her struggle with literal demons. Despite the way it might sound on paper, it never comes across as heavy-handed; rather it gives the viewer a reason to want to see Mia survive and succeed in kicking her self-destructive habits. Evil Dead 2013 turns nearly every aspect of the franchise up to 11, making it a treat for fans and a perfect gateway for new audiences.
Evil Dead 2013 has a clear respect and admiration for the Evil Dead films that came before it. Although the movie takes a different approach to the material, it wholeheartedly embodies the creative, gross-out spirit of the series. Additionally, little in-jokes and references to the original films are littered throughout the movie, such as the presence of Ash’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 from the first film, and the reused visual of a necklace chain laid out in the shape of a skull. Aside from these small cameos, there’s a big one at the end that really proves the reverence for the classics that this movie has. In ...-credits scene, Ash Williams appears, shrouded in shadow, and utters one of his most iconic lines ever: “Groovy.” It’s an awesome moment, not just because we love a Bruce Campbell cameo, but also because it confirms that the events of the original films did in fact happen in the same universe as the remake. From this perspective, Evil Dead 2013 functions more as a sequel of sorts than a remake, and it makes the existence of the movie more agreeable to fans who don’t want the events of the classics retconned for no reason.