3 1/2 (out of five stars)Director: Fede AlvarezCast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica LucasRated: R for strong, bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and languageRunning time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Zack Carlson is a huge fan of the 1981 horror film “The Evil Dead.” That’s why he won’t be seeing the new “Evil Dead” when it opens Friday.
“I wouldn’t watch it at gunpoint,” said Carlson, a writer for the horror movie website Bleeding Skull.
As “High Noon” is considered a fundamental western, “Evil Dead” is a seminal horror film and, for many fans, one not to be messed with. A story of possession set in a cabin in the woods, “The Evil Dead” was part of a wave of low-budget independent horror films in the late ’70s and early ’80s that used crude effects and guerrilla filmmaking techniques to tell a scary tale saturated in outrageous gore. It was directed by Sam Raimi, who went on to direct the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” films and “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
The original has two follow-ups: “Evil Dead 2” (1987), a dark horror-comedy that’s effectively a remake of the original, and “Army of Darkness” (1992), a horror-adventure sequel to “Evil Dead 2.”
“It was so unique, considering the initiative those filmmakers took back then,” Carlson said. “It was unmarketable, and that’s part of the value.”
In 2011, when word of a bigger-budget remake first surfaced, reactions from “Evil Dead” fans ranged from cautiously optimistic to apoplectic.
But word of mouth has been positive since the film was greeted enthusiastically at its premiere at the South by Southwest film festival last month in Austin, Texas. At a recent advance screening in New York, the audience, many of whom were fans of the original who waited hours to get a seat, cheered the mayhem. Afterward, several people said they enjoyed the film on its own merits.
“I was cringing in my seat the whole time,” said Eric Striffler, 22, who lives in Manorville, N.Y. “It’s gruesome. It’s like I was watching people get cut in half. It was awesome.”
The influence of “The Evil Dead” comes from its being a prototype of the supernatural backwoods horror film, a formula that’s had considerable staying power, as in last year’s “Cabin in the Woods,” which was directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon.
Unlike horror series that celebrate superhuman villains like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, the character most cheered for in the original “Evil Dead” is Ash (Bruce Campbell), who kills everyone, including his sister, to survive.
In the new film, there is no Ash. Instead, the lead is a woman played by Jane Levy, who is taken by a group of friends to a remote cabin to get off drugs cold turkey.
As much as horror fans love gore, they love their protagonists even more. When it was announced that Ash wasn’t part of the new “Evil Dead,” it was the kiss of death for some fans, according to Kano Vuong, who runs the “Evil Dead” fan site Deadites.net. “He’s an iconic pulp character that everyone loves,” Vuong said.
As it turns out, Campbell is one of the producers of the new “Evil Dead” along with Raimi and Robert Tapert, an original “Evil Dead” producer. Campbell was thankful for fans’ zeal for the original, but he urged them to have an open mind about seeing a film that’s “not the new ‘Evil Dead,’ just new.”
“These are the original producers making this movie, not some ... producer looking for a cheap property to get their hands on,” Campbell said. “I am far more concerned with this being a good movie than the fans are. I spent the last few months working with the director and producers to make sure this movie meets or exceeds their expectations.”
Levy, who stars on the ABC sitcom “Suburgatory,” said: “I would say to the fans to give it a chance. It’s a different movie, and I don’t think we depend on the original. There are homages, but I think it’s a rebirth. It’s the same intention with a different story.”
In the new film, key elements of the original remain. The biggest difference between the two is the graphic violence, which is ramped up considerably with several self-amputations and a chainsaw to the mouth.
The bloodletting is a point of pride for the director, Fede Alvarez, who is making his feature debut. The gore was done with only practical effects, in which, for example, prosthetics are cut into and the squirts are authentic. Alvarez, a native of Uruguay, earned the producers’ attention with a slick science fiction short, “Panic Attack!”
Campbell’s advice for skeptics?
There’s always yesterday.
“We’re not collecting the negatives from the original ‘Evil Dead’ and burning them,” he said. “We’re just expanding the ‘Evil Dead’ universe.”