‘Evil Dead’ remake revels in gory details

San Francisco ChronicleApril 5, 2013 

Before descending into theological incoherence and random disgustingness, there is a half hour at the beginning of “Evil Dead” that seems to promise something more. Based on the 1981 horror film by Sam Raimi, this remake once again brings five young people into a remote house in the woods, where bad things start to happen. But this “Evil Dead” — co-written by director Fede Alvarez, a slumming Diablo Cody (“Young Adult”) and Rodo Sayagues — has an extra little idea, a good one.

In this version, the young folks aren’t there to have fun. They’re there because Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict and needs a remote place where she can go cold turkey and have nobody hear her screaming. This is a clever device because it does two convenient things for the story: It explains why they’re all reluctant to leave the house — even when they should — and it explains why nobody believes Mia when she starts talking about evil entities in the woods that want to kill everybody. They think she’s just having a vivid withdrawal hallucination.

There are certain kinds of horror movies, and “Evil Dead” is one of them, that are at their best before anything horrible happens. The movie sets up a couple of interesting things and a few characters that we’d actually like to know without blood gushing out of their mouths. While Mia is going through drug withdrawal, along for the ride are her brother (Shiloh Fernandez), a nurse (Jessica Lucas) and a couple of other friends. Mia is fierce and edgy, and she has a lot of resentment toward her brother, and meanwhile the nurse can’t wait to put Mia in restraints, etc. That seems like the basis for a pretty good movie.

But no. It’s not the basis for anything, just the movie’s way of killing time before it starts killing characters. Mia, whose senses are heightened by withdrawal, keeps complaining about a nasty odor, but nobody believes her. At least, they don’t until they find a trap door and go down the basement to find about 30 dead cats, all strung up. On the table is a book of satanic incantations.

At this point, these five brainiacs do what any of us might do under the same circumstances. They decide that it’s a nice cabin with an unfortunate dead cat problem. While they’re there, waiting around for demons to invade their bodies, one of the more studious among them opens the book of spells and starts reading it out loud.

The last half is pretty much non-stop gore. “Evil Dead” doesn’t create horror. It doesn’t generate existential terror. It doesn’t get under your skin and make you fear a malevolent universe. It just threatens to show you disgusting things and makes good on that threat.

A girl saws her arm off. That’s one highlight.

“Evil Dead” is rated R and is showing at College 9, UEC Theater 12 and Roxy.

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