By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
I grew anxious as “Evil Dead,” director Fede Alvarez’s remake/reboot/continuation of Sam Raimi’s horror franchise, neared its invasion of the Bijou. In the parlance of my filmgoing childhood, just as when either “Them” (1954) or “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) loomed as the Saturday matinee, I was “a-scared,” and not merely afraid.
We made deals. Oh sure, we would go, no matter how frightening the prospect. It was compulsory…a lesson in taking the bad with the good…the good being a Western or a Jerry Lewis comedy. No kids on my block really liked horror. Who needs it when you still have bogeymen in your closet? So we allowed an option: to look or not to look.
It’s not cowardly if you both agree not to look. When you are 8 years old, you are little concerned with wasting the 35 cents admission by spending most of the film’s running time on the theater floor, where sticky, discarded candy was far preferable to the unthinkable terror on the screen.
Of course, there was minor cheating in the name of bravado as you took turns popping up to reconnoiter and report back to your pal the awfulness you had seen. In time, these probes enlarged, and just as one day you noticed that you didn’t have a perennial scab on your knee courtesy of the asphalt playground, you were now watching the entire film.
Well, maybe. You’ll note that no horror flick worth its red dye #3 ever concludes without hinting that its dreadful abhorrence might, someday, when you least expect it, rear its ugly head and this time really get you. Thus, it was with these remembrances re-stirred that I attended “Evil Dead,” knowing full well I had to look.
After all, it’s in the job description. Happily, as best I can discern without a physician’s corroboration, I have survived the assignment. But, while admitting that there were a couple moments where, despite due girding, I was uneasily jarred, for the most part this formulaic scare tactic is much more gruesome and stressful than it is traumatizing.
However, I issue my conclusions with disclaimer. To dyed-in-the-wool horror fans, my dissection is beside the point. They have their own critics, blogs and literature devoted to the darker side of Filmdom, and doubtless have been following this film’s progress ever since germination, when producer Raimi decided to pump new life into “The Evil Dead.”
Thus, my review is in service of fellow scaredy-cats who, for the most part, are about as interested in this genre as they are concerned with what the Kardashians are doing, and yet are still curious to know if it’s worthwhile beyond the fright quotient. That is, do we have another “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) or “The Exorcist” (1973)? The answer is no.
Also, just so that they may appear worldly and conversant in these things whether at the club or the D.A.R. meeting, it behooves to relate the plot. So here goes: Naturally, or more appropriately, supernaturally, “Evil Dead” follows the usual course, a standard which only deviates in the number of fresh young faces sadistically put in harm’s way.
Here it’s five, all arrived at the proverbial old cabin in the woods to help Mia, effectively portrayed by Jane Levy, kick her dope habit the cold turkey way. Dedicated to that mission are her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and lovebirds Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci).
Surely they’re doomed, their fate sealed when Eric, chancing upon the “Necronomicon Ex Mortis” (“The Book of the Dead” to us novices), not only can’t resist opening it, but chants the words that summon the dormant spirit. Yep, happens every time. Now the only thing to do is guess which of the five will survive.
To keep you occupied while weighing your choices, director Alvarez, handpicked by horror-meister Raimi and doubtless at his encouraging behest, opens the floodgates to the largest river of blood to drench the silver screen in recent memory. The slice and dice bedlam that ensues, including, but not limited to a nail gun, is shamelessly relentless.
Unlike in youth, when my movie pal, David Schenker, and I would lope home after a horror film, jumping out at each other from bushes to exorcise the fear, the candy stains on our pants serving as gummy badges of courage, my scare indicator has changed. Now it’s my screen door. If it’s real creaky and I glance around cautiously, it was scary.
But nope, the equivalent of the cat alighting on the windowsill and sending the winding window shade into a startling tizzy never came. I was only exhausted from bolstering myself against the possibility. Though, I am inclined to get my blood pressure checked.
“Evil Dead,” rated R, is a TriStar Pictures release directed by Fede Alvarez and stars Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, and Lou Taylor Pucci. Running time: 91 minutes
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