EVIL DEAD opens hard: A young girl wanders a forlorn landscape until two hillbillies throw a sack over her head and haul her into a basement filled with dead cats. A shifty witch intones spells from a sinister book. The girl's actually harboring a demon; the only way to free her is cleansing fire. So her father sets her alight, tells her he loves her as the evil inhabitant cackles and howls, then blows her head off with a shotgun. Smash cut to the main title sequence.
It's a fitting beginning to a movie that attempts to retell one of the most revered stories in horror cinema. It would have been foolhardy, if not impossible, to try to out-camp Sam Raimi's 1981 cult touchstone The Evil Dead (followed by 1987's Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and 1992's Army of Darkness). Rather than attempting to re-make Raimi's creation, writer-director Fede Alvarez (with help from co-writers Rodo Sayagues and an unbilled Diablo Cody) has made a clever homage that successfully honors and updates the source material.
After the mildly shocking, darkly comic (it is funny, trust me) opening, the narrative moves into familiar territory: a group of young people gathering at a remote cabin in the woods. They've gotten together to try to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick her dope habit with a cold turkey weekend. The accomplices include her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), plus high school teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his companion Olivia (Jessica Lucas).
Just as Mia's withdrawal symptoms begin to play tricks on her, genuinely weird things start happening in and around the cabin. In cabin's basement the gang discovers the aforementioned dead cats, shotgun and sinister book, which, bound in human flesh, is now shrouded in garbage bags and barbed wire. Mia's freakout escalates, her flight attempt fails, and as night falls on the cabin things get very bad very quickly.
Horror, especially of the torture-porn sub-genre, isn't really my thing. I don't mind viscera and buckets of blood, but I need them to be in service of a solid story, hopefully with a sense of humor. Evil Dead has both, but it's also unabashedly of the new school of ultraviolent horror movie-making. For that, and for the fact that I love the originals so much, this was a bit of a hard sell for me. My pre-conceptions were in the way. And once the nasty business in the cabin gets going, it escalates unrelentingly. At one point, for example, a possessed girl bisects her own tongue with a box-cutter -- not for the faint of heart. But as I watched, it all started to make sense.
Alvarez and company approached this remake in a smart, sensible way. They obviously revere the originals and knew they could never replace them. Ditto the bizarrely commanding screen presence of Bruce Campbell, who played the now legendary protagonist Ash. So instead, they made the story the main character, relying on it -- and their admittedly inventive lacerations and dismemberments -- to keep our eyes on the screen.
They bring a new but familiar sense of humor to the proceedings, making us laugh uncomfortably even as we're squirming away, trying not to watch but doing it anyway. And, in a deeply satisfying act of homage, they've retained some of the canonical elements of Raimi's creation. Mia tries to escape in a station wagon, there's an evil hand in play, the camera careens crazily through the woods, and a chainsaw becomes very important late in the movie.
I should probably reiterate that this thing is an absolute bloodbath, and for many it will be impossible to watch. I can sympathize; it took me a while to settle in and enjoy myself. But ultimately I did, very much. (Incidentally, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell like it too: they executive-produced). R. 91m.
JURASSIC PARK 3D. I rarely revisit mid-period Steven Spielberg stuff. I can go back and easily enjoy his early work, and in the past decade he's made some of the best movies of his career. In the mid-1990s, though, he was starting to outgrow his affable-storyteller mode, and I was starting to outgrow him.
Jurassic Park was the last gasp, for a while, of my infatuation with the simple pleasures of Spielberg movies. I was engrossed by Michael Crichton's book, and the movie is a better-than-average adaptation. But within months I, like so many others, had seen Pulp Fiction and unceremoniously turned my back on movies as accessible as Spielberg's.
I realize now the folly and pretension of that attitude: Spielberg is a craftsman to rival anybody who's ever made movies. As an angsty, wannabe-arthouse teenager, I didn't have any business pontificating on my misperceptions of simplicity in the guy's work.
Twenty years later, I can see Jurassic Park differently. Granted, I had to use 3D glasses, which neither add nor detract from the effect. More to the point, I now appreciate Spielberg's ability to tell stories with a youthful sense of wonder and fun. When he made this movie, he was already over two decades in as a director, and yet it has all the energy and surprise of Duel, even Raiders. It's not his best work, but it has aged surprisingly well. PG13. 127m.
-- John J. Bennett
42. This Jackie Robinson biopic, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale), follows the historic signing of the first black man to play in the major leagues. PG13. 88m.
SCARY MOVIE V. With both Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen onboard, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and predict bad things for this fifth installment of the depressingly anti-funny parody franchise. PG13. 85m.
GINGER & ROSA. Bravo to Coming Attractions for bringing a couple of woman-directed art house movies (with young, female protagonists) to the Minor this week. In this one, director Sally Potter (Orlando) returns with a tale of two teenage girls coming of age amid the social, political and sexual upheaval of late-1960s London. PG13. 89m.
LORE. From Australian writer-director Cate Shortland, this film follows a teenage girl leading her young siblings across Germany after the death of Hitler. Forced to rely on a stranger, the girl must confront the ideologies of her Nazi-sympathizer parents. Not rated. 108m.
On Sunday, the Arcata Theatre Lounge will show the dark, animated 2009 adventure 9, about a rag doll that awakens in a post-apocalyptic future. PG13. 79m. The adventures get brighter on Monday and Tuesday with the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which highlights extreme adventure sports such as rock climbing, skiing, mountain-bike riding and base jumping in gorgeous natural environments. Doors at 6 p.m., movies at 7 both nights. Ganjasaurus Rex, the 1987 low-budget, pro-weed monster movie shot here in Humboldt County, will show at next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night. 6 p.m.
The student-run Humboldt Film Festival kicks off at 7 p.m. next Wednesday with an evening of animated and experimental films at HSU's Van Duzer Theatre. Check our Calendar section for details.
ADMISSION. A Princeton admissions officer (Tina Fey) meets a free-spirit high school administrator (Paul Rudd) in this pleasant, predictable rom-com PG13. 117m.
THE CROODS. A prehistoric family must look for a new cave in this likeable animated comedy featuring the voices of Nic Cage and Emma Stone. PG. 96m.
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH. A nerdy, risk-averse alien must save his heroic astronaut brother in this poorly reviewed CGI cartoon comedy. PG. 89m.
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION. Bruce Willis, "The Rock" and Channing Tatum play guys with big muscles and guns. They shoot stuff. PG13. 99m.
THE HOST. Alien body-snatchers complicate another boring teenage love triangle from Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series. PG13. 125m.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. White House action-thriller with a Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) protecting the president (Aaron Eckhart) from evil Koreans. Yawn. R. 100m.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. James Franco stars as the young wizard-to-be in this visually rich but ultimately hollow prequel. PG. 130m.
SPRING BREAKERS. Bratty provocateur Harmony Korine (Gummo, Trash Humpers) puts former tween starlets in bikinis and sets them loose in a trippy nightmare of guns and drugs in south Florida. R. 94m.
-- Ryan Burns