Will you enjoy the “Evil Dead” remake? If you have fond memories of the original, probably not. If you yearn to see the movie equivalent of an explosion in a tomato-soup factory, however, this is the film for you.
It’s been more than 30 years since Sam Raimi’s giddy zombie splatterfest “The Evil Dead” delighted a generation of gorehounds. A warped twist on the horror-thriller genre, it set five college students in a haunted backwoods cabin and put them through a meat grinder, more or less literally. The poverty-row production boasted a raw, punk-rock energy, outlandish special effects (one actress’ violation by a demon-infested tree is the nastiest arboreal atrocity ever filmed), and the exceptional charm and charisma of Bruce Campbell as the square-jawed protagonist. The elements blended in a brew so intoxicating that viewers didn’t know whether to recoil in fright or jump for joy.
Now comes the remake, a 21st-century “Evil Dead” with superior technique, a giant budget and a quintet of fresh, better qualified actors as the cosmically unlucky protagonists. Bloody havoc? Check. Exuberant gore? Check. Fun? Meh.
It opens promisingly. When a film starts with a young woman running through the woods from ominous pursuers, you might think you know what’s coming. The prologue cleverly flips the script, shuffling villains and antiheroes in a way that puts us off balance (and covers the camera lens with brain matter).
After that brief introduction, however, the rusty conveyor belt of conventional scare tactics rumbles into operation. David (Shiloh Fernandez) takes his heroin-addicted younger sister Mia (Jane Levy) deep into the woods to help her go cold turkey. Also babysitting the junkie are old friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), with David’s girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
No one gets more than 30 seconds’ worth of characterization. Blackmore’s character may as well be named The Blonde One. Eric, a teacher, does have one salient attribute: curiosity. Of the killed-the-cat variety. When the group discovers a book bound with human skin and tied shut with barbed wire, he can’t resist clipping it open and reciting the incantations. His other hobbies must include kicking hornets’ nests and smoking near open gas cans.
Soon, Mia is warning that she senses dire spirits, visions the others chalk up to drug withdrawal. Next thing you know, it’s eerie reflections in the mirror, full-body skin peels, a possessed Linda Blair creep-alike spewing vile profanities, and “127 Hours”-style self-amputation.
First-time director Fede Alvarez — who made a sensation with his 2009 YouTube sci-fi short “Panic Attack!”— knows the fright-movie playbook by heart. Unfortunately, so do we. Levy, who has huge, expressive eyes, and Pucci, whose character absorbs enough punishment to exhaust a hospital trauma ward, make helpful contributions. Overall, though, “Evil Dead” is more shopworn than shocking.
⋆⋆ out of four stars