How and why do you remake a one-in-a-million cult classic in which its cheese, amateurish quality and crudeness is 90% of its value? That was the question I found myself asking upon the announcement that Sam Raimi's '81 horror cornerstone was getting the remake treatment. While there have been some notable successes, the majority of horror remakes of recent years have left a lot to be desired. I'm not one to automatically hate on remakes, but this one seemed ill advised. Surprisingly, this was a pretty top notch remake that has a ton going for it.
The biggest difference between the original and this modernization is its tone. Raimi's original is so over the top that it is really quite funny. It maintains some scariness throughout with a few genuinely frightening moments, but I'd be hard pressed to call it anything other than a horror-comedy. This interpretation is totally different. There is no humor, it is straight up horror. It is serious, it is twisted, and it is extremely graphic and brutal. It is edge of your seat, and you will be watching some scenes through your fingers, something I can't say about Raimi's film. Some might say this lack of humor is the downfall of this remake, but I think it was exactly what was needed to separate itself and make something all its own while maintaining the story.
You can tell director Alvarez has mad respect for Raimi's film. The story is much the same. There are tons of similarities in the camera work and shot composition, and tons of nods throughout cleverly echo but don't totally replicate. That is what a good remake does, and I really appreciate how Alvarez went about it. As similar as most of the story is, there are plenty of plot angles that have been changed. The set up and ending are both quite different, and there is a bit more focus throughout the middle of the film. The biggest complement I can pay it is that it is actually frightening. It is able to unnerve with its sheer brutality and disturbing imagery, but it is just as scary in its more intimate and psychological scenes as well.
The acting is very strong, especially from Jane Levy. She is really able to convey her terror. The rest of the cast is quite good also, and Alvarez utilizes them. He builds their characters in a way Raimi never did, making you care about what happens to them instead of just providing faceless fodder for the demons. The script is pretty darn good, at times taking lines directly from the original. It seems believable, and the actors deliver it in a believable way.
The effects are gnarly. I'm a seasoned horror vet and even I had to look away during a few parts. All practical effects and makeup applications. I don't think there was a drop of CGI (except maybe the infamous 'tree rape' scene, but I'm really not sure) and I think hats great. CGI has no place in 90% of places its used, and I love seeing it cut out when possible.
A couple negatives like an overdone finale and a few impractical plot devices take a tad away from it, but those are the only real negatives I can think of. I usually deplore the type of torturous violence this movie features, but it is handled so well here that I really can't complain.
All in all, this is a seriously good remake that pays tribute to the original while becoming something its own. It is extremely difficult to do, but this is a snapshot of how to do it correctly. Creepy, well made, well acted and well written, I was proven wrong in saying that Raimi's classic couldn't be modernized. A sequel has been greenlit, and I am looking forward to seeing where they go.