Looking Back at the Groovy Reimagining 10 Years Later

When evil Dead came out in April of 2013, a few friends from school and I went to see it on the Sunday after its release and, unfortunately, a couple and their eight-year-old sat across from us. They wanted a night out and I overheard the husband assure his wife that their child was old enough to handle this film because he had seen much worse at a younger age. From the opening scene, however, it was clear that the kid wasn’t comfortable, as his groans and whimpers grew in the quiet moments, but by the time the tongue scene hit, he was up to an audible scream. That was enough for the parents to finally decide to leave, with the father cursing the wasted money under his breath. No matter what else I thought of evil DeadI always remember it as an example of why I shouldn’t have children.

There had been discussions of a fourth film or remake for the franchise since the early 2000s, but as the years passed, many fans feared that they would never see their beloved Deadites again. Eventually, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell would step up as producers and handpick first-time director Fede Álvarez for the project. With things back on track, many thought that a reboot was imminent, with even those involved using the term. What fans got was not that, but rather, more of a continuation that felt all too familiar. The similar events between the two movies happen because that’s what the evil wants or needs to transpire, but this version does make its own slightly different path.

The plot is easily recognizable: a group of young adults all head to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, only to find The Book of the Dead (or the Naturom Demonto) in the cellar. Someone is stupid enough to read it aloud, and now everyone is going to die in a gruesome mess. It’s simple, but never eloquent. This evil Dead is a sequel that pays homage and brings in the familiar elements, but doesn’t replicate the first, with a tone and brutality that hits differently. There are a ton of small references to the original film littered throughout — things that even hardcore fans might miss on the first viewing, from the positioning of the necklace to the image on the poster, voiceovers, and the order of certain props. It’s respectful, with a darker vision.

The 2013 installment has a different tone. There are almost no jokes, but a few funny lines that work outside of their context. They wanted this film to be scary and a bit of a downer. Even the campy nature that follows over is mostly in the over-the-top violence and the cruel and playful nature of the demonic force. From the moment all of the characters meet up, there is already a cloud hanging over the cabin. This group has gathered to help their friend go cold turkey — something she had already failed at before and technically died from. The setup isn’t just blunt foreshadowing, but an understanding that the struggle was just beginning.

The participants in this new tale are Mia Allen (Jane Levy), David Allen (Shiloh Fernandez), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). They are family, friends, and one lowly acquaintance who has to be questioning her dating choices. It’s corny and I’d never noticed it before, but the first letter of each name when you move them around spells out “DEMON,” and that’s my kind of dumb.

David and Mia have a rough relationship as brother and sister, but some solid chemistry. Between the drugs, their deceased mother, and memories of the cabin, there’s a lasting connection and little details that connect Eric and Olivia to the duo, giving everyone enough history to make them feel important. The only person left woefully out of the loop is Natalie, who was originally meant to have more of a connection with David but apparently lost many of her lines in script rewrites.

For those seeing it for the first time, there’s a little bit of playfulness with not quite knowing who the main character is between David and Mia. Both have engaging moments, like when Mia is walking in circles out in the rain and trying to assure them she’s not psychotic, or David’s mad scientist routine to save his sister. The ending sees her buried — an even cooler scene when I learned they actually did that to the actress (with several safety precautions) — but that’s simply the beginning of her blood-soaked baptism.

Mia battles in a sanguine rain, ripping off her hand to fight her own abomination. Maybe it’s the same appendage Mia shot up in, or perhaps she was just tired of being a puppet for drugs and demons. Either way, the carnage led to rebirth. The symbolism is a little thick, but in the end, she refused to let dying hold her back and looked badass doing it. Even though there’s a lot of death and people being used as demonic meat suits, almost no one in the cast of characters comes across as just a victim.

Watching the cabin erupt into flames while the red rain showered down around it looked incredible on the big screen. The production value created some impressive visuals. The cabin always felt hauntingly comfortable, with no vibrant light to offer hope of any kind. Actually, that is a small flaw — this movie is extremely dark and almost too dark in some places. Turn the lights down for this one.

The majority of the film was shot in order with the script so that the crew could start with the cabin in an appropriate state and damage it during production, just as the characters would. That way, they wouldn’t have to worry about continuity when it came to broken items and blood splatter. This only backfired once, as the first step leading down to the cellar is broken, but magically fixed in a later scene — though that could have been for safety concerns.

There were apparently around 70,000 or so gallons of fake blood used for the film, and it isn’t all just in the climax. Álvarez is no stranger to working with CGI, but he wanted to do evil Dead the right way and go for as many practical effects as he could. Digital touch-ups and additional flames were added in some parts, which ended up being a decision that was highly regarded by fans and has helped the film remain favorable over the years.

Some scenes will test viewers’ resolve. Parts of this movie are gross, whether it’s urine, blood, that tongue splitting that sticks with everyone, or just the fact that no appendage is safe, the movie sets out to make its audience squirm. This isn’t torture porn, however. Rather, it’s meant to be squirmy because that’s the way of that world, which matches the other movies that preceded it.

Originally, the movie was rated NC-17, which was fine with Raimi and Álvarez, but the studio pushed for an R rating instead, wanting to make sure it could be released in as many theaters as possible. Even after some alterations, however, evil Dead was still banned in Ukraine. Plus, since the script was written by two people who weren’t native English speakers — Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues — writer Diablo Cody was brought in to shape things up and tighten the lines.

Many scenes that appeared in the trailers didn’t make the final cut of the film. Some were changed or simply never intended for use in the finished product. There is an unrated version that adds back six minutes of footage. Years later, Álvarez showed off a short alternate ending that Raimi supposedly talked him out of using. There was also supposed to be a sequel, which would have further confirmed the 2013 movie was in the same continuity as the originals and would have seen Ash Williams (who had made a small cameo after the credits previously) and Mia team up, but the studio just didn’t see the appeal.

evil Dead as a series would live on with a television show and another movie, but this particular entry often feels left out in the cold unfairly. It’s a solid film that simultaneously belongs and is a bit out of place with fans of the franchise, but even the haters find it hard to deny the effort put into this journey to the cabin. If this is one of the few times something related to this property truly stays in the grave, evil Dead (2013) is still a presence that should be spread around and paid its respects.