Let Evil Dead be a lesson to you: Peer pressure can lead to demon possession.
This was news to me. Oh, I've always known peer pressure was bad. As a child of the '80s, I was told via in-school filmstrips and after-school specials that, one day at lunch, someone was surely going to offer me a pill or a bit of weed. "Go ahead," this person would tell me, a little sneer on his face. "It won't hurt to do a little. Just this once. Everybody's doing it." But if I dared accept this pharmaceutical gift, I was destined for a life of poverty and ruination and early death.
Not one of the filmstrips, however, mentioned that that "early death" might be attributable to the jaws of hell opening and belching forth unspeakable evil. Perhaps they should have. Because had Mia seen a filmstrip illustrating how your drug-addled peers might make your life miserable and your afterlife hellish, perhaps she might not have taken her first pill or puffed on her first joint. She might've not become the out-of-control addict she became and suffered that near-deadly overdose. She might've gone on to become a fully functioning adult whose most harmful habit was gummy bears.
And then her friends wouldn't have been so worried about her. And then they wouldn't have had any reason to take her up to her family's old, decrepit cabin and push her through a cold-turkey detox program.
Just one look at the grim environs should've told the quintet of attractive twentysomethings that, perhaps, there'd be more comfortable places for the girl to get sober. "Mia," sensitive scholar Eric might've said, "your cabin looks like a set on Hannibal." And they would've turned around and headed to the nearest Betty Ford Clinic. Alas, Mia's drug issues must've clouded all of their brains, for Eric says no such thing. Instead, they clamber into the metaphorically groaning abode, solemnly swearing that no one will leave—under any circumstances—until Mia's free of her personal (ahem) demons.
"This time, the only way is the hard way," says licensed nurse Olivia, Mia's friend. (Oh, the eerie insight of horror movie one-liners.) And when Mia starts smelling the scent of decay, they all assume it's just the drug withdrawal talking. When she starts panicking about things with them in the cabin and mumbling about a sense of foreboding, they assume she's just looking for an excuse to leave and find some more drugs. And when Eric starts reading from a mysterious book bound in human skin, they—
Yeah, just why did Eric decide to start reading from that book, anyway? Didn't its barbed wire wrapping maybe give him pause? Didn't the big, blood-red letters shouting "LEAVE THIS BOOK ALONE" and "DON'T OPEN THE DOOR TO HIM" clue the guy in a little?
In retrospect, that just seems dumb.
Alas. If only Eric too had watched more appropriate filmstrips—educational warnings about the perils of infernal blood-etched books, then maybe he could have steered himself away from this forbidden knowledge. If he could've just said no to those intrusive, bullying brain cells whispering, "It won't hurt to open the book … or maybe read a little of it. All the ancient Sumerians did it."
In the midst of all the movie's evil deadness, there's actually some lively good taking place. These five guys and girls go up to the cabin for the very best of motives—getting Mia off drugs. They're determined to see the matter through, no matter how tough it gets. And the fact that it got way tougher than any of them could've imagined is not (entirely) their fault.
Even once demonic possession strikes, we see heroism and human decency. Everybody tries to continue caring for Mia, and when she starts going a little … off … most give her the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. It doesn't often pay off, but still, when not dealing with tricksy demons, their caring attitude is good policy.
For David, trying to rescue little-sister Mia from whatever demons she's dealing with is particularly poignant. "Promise me you'll stay with me 'til the end," Mia tells David. And he keeps that promise—even when he's confronted with the harsh reality that she has to die in order to save civilization, and even at the risk of his own life.
Evil Dead deals, obviously, with demons. The book David finds (though reputed to be from ancient Sumaria) is covered in stereotypical demonic symbols (man-goats on thrones, pentagrams, etc.), and demons themselves typically tell their quarry that they're either going to hell or that they know all about their dead relatives already residing there.
But while the film may be semi-informed by a Christian understanding of evil, Christianity itself is largely absent. Mia is given a charm of sorts—a necklace made out of the wood of a Buckthorn tree, said to make the wearer's will grow stronger. David says he doesn't believe in that stuff himself, but he knows his sister does, and he hopes it'll help. Mia does curtly pray, "Please, God. Give me a break."
I could talk about the possible spiritual significance of a "resurrection" we see after somebody gets buried alive—cleansed, apparently, of all inhabiting "demons" and almost literally being born again. But this is Evil Dead we're talking about. So we'll just move on.
Sex and violence twine together, beginning with the erotic pictures found in the Naturon Demento (drawings of naked women already or in the process of being possessed), and continuing in the demons' attacks on the cabin's inhabitants.
Mia says her sister's being "raped in hell." And Mia herself is attacked and raped by a forest: Twisting tendrils grab her wrists and ankles as a thick vine (vomited up by a demon) winds its way up her leg and under her skirt. Later, a possessed Mia licks the legs of Natalie, David's girlfriend, working up to her crotch. Natalie fends her off with a utility knife. But Mia takes the knife, licks its edge—splitting her tongue in two—and then kisses the girl, forcing blood down her throat. Mia also asks her brother to engage in oral sex with her.
Women wear tight tank tops, short shorts, etc.
Evil Dead films have a certain reputation—one which this remake was compelled, apparently, to uphold. The first film, released in 1981, was purposefully, horrifically gory. Now, with more than three decades' worth of desensitization mounded up on top of that, the blood quotient here is absolutely ludicrous.
"We knew because it was Evil Dead it could go anywhere," director Fede Alvarez told the Los Angeles Times. "There was no place the movie could go you would think, 'That was a little bit too much.' Anytime someone asked, is this too much blood, too much makeup, whatever, my answer was always, 'There is never too much.'"
People are scalded with near-boiling water. They're perforated with nails from a nail gun. Stabbed in the face with syringes. And jabbed in the chest with mirror shards. They have their bones grotesquely shattered with crowbars. They're shot repeatedly with shotguns. Immolated. Cut completely in half with a chain saw.
A girl is buried alive. Characters are cut with knives and have limbs lopped off. Some nearly drown. One crashes a car. They pluck nails out of their arms and pull syringes out of their skin. A demon chews on someone's hand, creating a grotesque injury. Sometimes it looks like folks actually jumped in tubs of blood and splashed around. Even the skies rain red.
A possessed girl cuts her own face to ribbons. Another amputates her arm with an electric carving knife. A once-human demon has her head smashed like a melon. A once-demon human grotesquely pulls off her own hand (trapped underneath a Jeep).
All this carnage is intended, on some level, to be comedic. Duct tape, for instance, becomes an indispensable tool for triage, and it's hard not to see some of the squirting arm stumps and whisper to yourself, "It's only a flesh wound." But this is no camp-inflected romp: From beginning to end, this is a horror flick, and it is perhaps the bloodiest horror flick I've ever seen.
An animal addendum: A dog is beaten to death (mostly offscreen) before we see its corpse. Dead cats hang from ceilings.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 40 f-words, about 10 s-words and one c-word. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑n." God's name is misused a half-dozen times, Jesus' twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mia, as I've mentioned, is a drug addict. And whatever it is she's hooked on must be pretty powerful stuff (she dumps her stash down a well), because Mia's friends are anticipating some horrible withdrawal symptoms. She's injected with sedatives. And someone smokes.
Other Negative Elements
Demon possession in the movies always seems to involve a great deal of vomiting. And, yes, here Mia throws up what appears to be blood all over Olivia. She also vomits while walking outside in the rain. She and others drool unknown substances.
A woman urinates while standing up; we see the liquid trickle down her leg.
One friend of mine said this review could really be summed up with two words: Don't go.
Another wondered if the only reason people would read the review is to see how apoplectic a Plugged In writer might get over Evil Dead's brash blend of shock and horror and deranged humor.
Or maybe to see if we'd come up with our own filmstrip warning future generations of school kids not to see such movies.
Alas, I'm not a filmstrip maker. Nor am I big into apoplexy—particularly not over a movie as obviously problematic as this one. It'd be, really, a waste of energy.
Evil Dead is what it is: A horrific, bloody, gory story about demons and the people they kill. To say it's salacious or gratuitous is wasteful—because those kinds of words are selling points for this film's audience, not criticisms. It's supposed to be as salacious, as unnecessarily bloody, as over-the-top shocking as possible.
Is it scary? Yes. But not nearly so frightening as something I saw at an early showing: a 6-year-old girl, sitting with her mommy, watching with eyes as wide as plates.