Synopsis: the original Evil Dead film sees five friends, led by the excellent Bruce Campbell as Ash, head off to a cabin in the woods for a fun weekend away. Oh how quickly their hopes were dashed! They soon find a book bound in human flesh (the aptly named Book of the Dead or Necronomicon), and a tape player with an audio recording of said book. By playing the tape they inadvertently unleash The Kandarian Demon – a demon who can take many forms and possess multiple people or objects at once – and wants nothing more than to “swallow your soul”… And during the course of the film, the demon is pretty successful.
I concede this was a bit confusing but as far as I can wor out, Evil Dead II picks up right where The Evil Dead leaves of, in fact there’s a bit of a recap which was quite thoughtful of them given that this came out six years after the original. Ash, our hero, has survived the night and, unable to escape the woods, he ends up back in the cabin. He’s joined by a group of strangers, including the daughter of the man who made the recording that caused all the trouble. Once again the cabin is the site of possession, blood, guts and gore.
There is a 3rd installment, Army of Darkness, which I haven’t seen yet. It’s available on YouTube though so I’ll watch it and add my thoughts here later.
I’ve included the 2013 Evil Dead too because I watched it last week. This version sees a group of teens go off to a cabin together, not on a jolly this time, but to help one of the girls kick her drug habit. So, there are woods, there’s a cabin, there are five more teenagers and there’s The Book of the Dead. Unsurprisingly, one of these geniuses reads aloud from the Necronomicon, again releasing the demon and causing a whole lot of trouble.
What can I say? At the start of the first instalment, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick with it. The production values are so low they’re below sea level and much of the acting and dialogue (in the opening sequence especially) are both so bad I was left wondering if this was an A-level media project or a film fit for a cinema release. Both films are more hilarious than frightening and the effects are beyond dated. The blood looks like the red poster paint you used to get at school, the makeup is heavy-handed and lacking subtlety and the set looks like it’s made from balsa wood.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II. Both are fantastically good fun and Bruce Campbell is absolutely brilliant as Ash. He’s totally over the top but in the context of The Evil Dead, it just works. In fact, he makes it, for me – without him, it isn’t really an Evil Dead film.
That leads me nicely onto this year’s ‘reimagining’ – Evil Dead. Where the 1980s films are fun, this is grim. It lacks the charm and humour of the original films, instead opting for umm… serious horror? But is it even horror or is it just horrible? There’s no doubting the effects have come a long way, and if it wasn’t trying so hard to be an Evil Dead film, there might have been something here that looks a bit like a good film. Actually, I think I’m being generous. This is just unpleasant.
There are several nods to the original films, not least the electric carving knife (anyone who’s seen Evil Dead II will know where this is going) but they just feel like desperate attempts to get the fans on board by reminding them ‘hey, this is an Evil Dead movie, you like Evil Dead!’.
Jane Levy puts in quite a good turn as Mia, the de-toxing junkie who gets possessed by the Kandarian Demon, but she’s not quite strong enough to carry the whole film. It’s not her fault; she’s just no Bruce Campbell. But let’s face it, who is?
Final thoughts: thumbs up for the original films, thumbs down for the new one. Perhaps that’s to be expected.
PS: did you know there’s an Evil Dead musical? Me neither, but there is! I’m gutted it only seems to be on in Canada and the US.
The Evil Dead (1981) directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell: 7.5/10
Evil Dead II directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell: 8/10
Evil Dead (2013) direct by Fede Alvarez, starring Jane Levy: 3/10