Words by Charlie McAteer
Trigger Warning: Mentions of gore, supernatural elements and drug addiction.
In 1981, Sam Raimi directed Evil Dead – a gory, supernatural horror film about a group of young adults who discover the Necronomicon, a “book of the dead”, and unleash a plethora of terrifying demons. Raimi’s Evil Dead also helped jumpstart the ‘cabin in the woods’ horror trope and cemented Ash Williams (played by Bruce Campbell) as a horror icon, amongst the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. There are two more films in the Evil Dead trilogy, with Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1993). Evil Dead II was iconic, as it was scarier, gorier and funnier than the first. It also served as a soft reboot of the first film. Army of Darkness went in a different direction, as Ash goes back to the medieval era. It sounds like a ridiculous premise but in the right hands of Sam Raimi, it worked. 1993 was the last Evil Dead project for 20 years, until 2013.
In 2013, it was announced that there would be a new Evil Dead film, but not one helmed by Raimi, or featuring Campbell. The new director, Fede Alvarez, had never even directed a feature film before. These decisions were met with criticism, as how could there be an Evil Dead film without either Raimi or Campbell? It seemed like a poor decision to do, as Evil Dead had already done a soft reboot with Evil Dead II, and with no Ash Williams featuring, it would feel just like a nostalgic cash-grab. But Alvarez decided to go in a different route, use new characters to tell a different story. It also decided to strip away something else that made the original trilogy so great – it took away the humour. Whilst that might seem like a dumb decision, it worked. The film is intended to be horrific, nightmare fuel. Humour worked in the original trilogy, as Ash was a comedic character. Having humour like the original trilogy would make it feel like the original trilogy, and separating the two makes the 2013 version stand out.
Evil Dead was record-breaking, as at the time it was the film with the most fake blood used – over 70,000 gallons. It also used all practical effects, with only one CGI scene used for the film. Alvarez was dedicated to making the film look as realistic as possible, to help the audience be immersed in what they were watching. The score is incredible, done by Roque Banos, and is big, blustering and chilling to listen to. His score makes the scene so much more intense and what is happening feel so much more important.
Our main character for this film is Mia Allen, played by Jane Levy. At the time she was only 23, and had only been in two other films, the lead in ABC Family’s Suburgatory and guest starred as Mandy Milkovich in the first season of Showtime’s Shameless. Having someone who is not a big star feature in the film is another way for the audience to feel immersed in the film, as when you look at her you don’t see her as any of her previous roles, you see her as Mia.
The story of Evil Dead starts with Mia as a heroin addict, and in order to overcome her addiction, her brother and her friends take her to a secluded cabin in the woods to help her deal with her withdrawal. This setup gives us an unconventional final girl, not like Laurie Strode in Halloween or Ellen Ripley in Alien. This is a way for the audience to see her struggle before finding herself. The audience can’t root for her to make her way out of the film alive until she believes in herself first. Seeing her struggle makes the audience root for her – want her to make it out alive, which makes it all the worst when Mia gets possessed. The possession is almost parallel to addiction, having the demon taking over Mia’s body like a drug, is quite a strong message to have in a horror film, much unlike the original trilogy which was fun and comedic.
The film is an adventure from beginning to end. It opens with a young girl getting possessed, with the demon inside her screaming and yelling profanities at her father, as he pours gasoline over her and lights her on fire. Quite a confronting start to the film, which only gets more intense as it goes on. We see violent deaths happen to each of the characters, until the end where only Mia and her brother David remain. He sacrifices himself for Mia, wanting her to live. Now that Mia is on her own, she now has to fight for herself, something that she struggles with as shown in the film. she battles her doppelganger, a euphemism for her heroin addiction. Mia then finds a chainsaw, a nod to Ash’s weapon of choice from the previous films and goes insane towards the doppelganger. She cuts off its legs and then jams the chainsaw into its head. Blood pours out of its head and covers Mia entirely. As this happens, Mia is freeing herself of her demons, figuratively and literally. In death and blood, she is reborn.
Whilst the original trilogy is very fun and a good time, the 2013 Evil Dead wants to be more. It is a truly horrifying horror film that is clever at what it does, but also can unsettle you with the memory of its story. Evil Dead was made with a $17M budget and grossed a total of $97M, with it being the highest grossing film in the series. With the original trilogy, plus the Starz series Ash vs Evil Dead and the new entry Evil Dead Rises, many consider the Evil Dead franchise to be one of the most iconic in the horror genre, possibly of all time. It is one I personally consider to be near perfect, with very little flaw in the series.