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By Shane M. Dallmann

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First things first: don’t get me started on “remakes.” I’d just take you back to Point A (Thomas Edison made FRANKENSTEIN in 1910) and ramble on from there. Besides, fans have been clamoring for literally decades for Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell to make a fourth EVIL DEAD movie, going to far as to express personal umbrage when they finally admitted that they weren’t going to do it. And you know what? If they HAD done it after all these years, I bet they’d have gotten the same shellacking Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford took for INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

Still, the fans have NOT been forgotten. And there’s at least one point on which I must concur: an attempt to create an all-new Ash would be soundly rejected no matter how good the actor (and yes, I’m thinking of Jackie Earle Haley right now). But as we’ll see, the new EVIL DEAD doesn’t even make the attempt.

This recognizable-but-different remake (co-written by Fede Alvarez, here entrusted with his feature directorial debut) actually goes the extra mile to answer (or avoid) the inevitable “Why?” questions. It starts off with a strong prologue sequence which doesn’t parallel any given scene in any given Raimi film before introducing us to our five new “unhappy campers.” Leading the pack is David (Shiloh Fernandez) who has emerged from hiding to help see his sister Mia (Jane Levy) through a cold-turkey drug withdrawal. Also adding various elements of support, doubt and out-and-out dislike are Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Naturally, we don’t get fully fleshed-out characters and backstories in every case, but right off the bat we’ve dealt with three unavoidable cliches: we know why they’re isolating themselves; why they’re reluctant to leave the area; and why they don’t instantly recognize demonic possession for what it is.

As for “Why does this guy open and read from the deadly forbidden book in the first place?” Well, if you can’t accept “Because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have a MOVIE” as a good enough answer, the character is at least given a sufficiently obsessive reason to WANT to explore the book. Just like the biologist couldn’t resist trying to pet the cute snaky creature in PROMETHEUS. That’s as good as it’s EVER going to get. But the touch I appreciated the most in the early going was the revelation that THIS book wasn’t going to burn: long before the end of the movie we’re forced to drop the “I know where THIS is going” mindset.

Of course, none of this discouraged one of our local critics from excoriating the film with a series of “Why the hell did Sam Raimi…” questions of her own. It boiled down to “Why the hell did Sam Raimi allow yet another EVIL DEAD rehash to exist when THE CABIN IN THE WOODS made the formula obsolete?” Yeah, I guess she has a point there. Just as the deconstructive nature of SCREAM spelled a permanent end to the slasher film, so did THE CABIN IN THE WOODS ensure that never again would we accept a formula demon/monster/possession movie.

And make no mistake: EVIL DEAD is formula. Of course, at the same time, it’s not likely to be upstaged as THE gorefest of the year. Once the demons are unleashed, it’s non-stop pain and extreme carnage with no favorites played. But is it truly the most terrifying experience you’ll undergo in your lifetime? Well, of course not. Raimi’s original quietly identified itself as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror” at the end of the credits: it took a rave quote by Stephen King to push it into the public eye. But in all fairness, for as much as I loved it, I can’t say that THE EVIL DEAD actually “scared” me, either. I was enthralled by its ferocity and its low-budget ingenuity alike, and I eagerly returned for midnight screenings long before VHS was a reality in my life, but it never frightened me like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (let alone HALLOWEEN) had. The new EVIL DEAD can’t summon up either genuine scares or the sense of truly fresh discovery, but neither does it settle for weary, cynical rehash. It never stops trying to please veteran fans (there are, of course, many nods both blatant and subtle to the Raimi films throughout, though I noticed that the “We’re gonna get you” sing-song didn’t actually make it past the trailer) and new viewers alike.

So I wasn’t scared. But neither was I bored for a second, and for the record, I LOVED the new ending (not just the credit-capper you’ve already been alerted to). EVIL DEAD is a love letter to the fans, and I accept it in the spirit in which it was intended.

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