Fans of the 1981 "The Evil Dead" and its sequels can relax. And by "relax," I mean "screw themselves up into tight little balls of nervously flinching muscle." The reboot of the beloved, if somewhat low-budget, cult horror film about five young friends terrorized by a demonic spirit does exactly what it's supposed to do: scare you to the chiropractor.
For those who are not fans, "scare" will probably mean a trip to the drug store for Pepto-Bismol. The new version, by Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, making his feature debut, is more stomach-churning than soul-chilling. The list of on-screen atrocities includes attacks by nail gun, electric carving knife, chain saw, shotgun, crowbar and chunk of ceramic from a broken toilet tank, used as a crude bludgeon.
Hey, when you're face to face with the bloodthirsty fiend who has inhabited the body of your best pal, you grab whatever tools are available.
As in the original film, the action revolves around a derelict cabin in the woods. This time, it's the site of a drug intervention. One of the friends, Mia (Jane Levy), is a junkie, and her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and Mia's two best friends, Eric and Olivia (Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas), have decided that the best place for Mia to experience the seizures, hallucinations and psychosis of withdrawal is in a place with a taxidermy shop's worth of rotting cat carcasses hanging from the basement ceiling.
In fairness, our heroes don't find those right off the bat, even though Mia can smell kitty tartare the minute she walks in the front door. It takes these dim bulbs a few minutes to find the feline abattoir, just as it takes them a few minutes to unleash the devil to whom the cats apparently have been sacrificed.
Eric does this by opening a book of occult incantations — clearly marked, in red ballpoint pen, with the all-caps warning "LEAVE THIS BOOK ALONE." He then proceeds to read, aloud, the words that awaken Beelzebub.
What follows is a rapid descent into madness, homicide and self-mutilation, first by one, then another of the cohorts, until it is literally raining blood.
"Evil Dead" has its moments, but many come courtesy of familiar horror-movie camera tricks: the face in the medicine-cabinet mirror; the 360-degree shot (a.k.a. the spin-around scare); and the dreaded shadow that flits past so quickly you can't see it (a.k.a. the what-the-heck-was-that?).
Other touches seem cadged from the canon of horror-movie cliches: from the hand reaching up from the grave, a la "Carrie," to the zombie neck twitch manifested by the actors as they are, one by one, possessed by evil. Wasn't that move already a bit stale by the time Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video came out?
For Alvarez, presumably, it's homage, not theft.
Even so, the whole thing's kind of fun, if your taste runs to gallows humor. Laughs leaven the often grisly proceedings. "You're hurting me," whines Natalie, after she has amputated one of her own arms and the second one has been blasted off with buckshot.
Those won't be the last severed limbs you'll see in "Evil Dead," a gore fest that's just effective enough to whet fans' appetite for a sequel, even as it kills everyone else's appetite for dinner.
Two stars. R. Contains obscenity and prolific, grisly violence and gore. 91 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars okay, one star poor, no stars waste of time.