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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Something evil about this new dead

If you're thinking of going to see "Evil Dead," which - depending on who you are, might not be a particularly bright idea or might be one of the most fun weekends of your year - you might want to read the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio. It follows:

It used to be that you had to struggle to become a filmmaker. Sam Raimi did, making Super 8 films with his childhood friend, Bruce Campbell, and dropping out of college to film the 1981 horror-fest, “The Evil Dead,” which was largely financed by money borrowed from friends, family and the odd investor or two. It took Raimi the better part of a decade to make it to Hollywood.

Come to think of it, that career trajectory compares well – at least at first – with that of Fede Alvarez. The Uruguayan native did make stop-action films as a kid. Unlike Raimi, though, Alvarez graduated from college, then worked as an advertising director. It wasn’t until 2009, after he had formed his own production company, that he made an international stir with a four-minute-and-48-second short titled “Ataque de Panico” (or “Panic Attack”). Literally a few days later, Alvarez was inking a Hollywood deal that would lead, ultimately, to his directing the remake of Raimi’s 1981 exercise in cheap but effective horror.

So, two things about that: One, when we refer to Raimi’s “The Evil Dead,” let me re-emphasize: cheap but effective; two, when we refer to Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” – for some reason we seem to have lost the definite article – let me emphasize not particularly original, but still effective.

Oh, some originality exists in the notion of what brings five 20-somethings to a lonely cabin in the remote woods: one of their number, Mia, is attempting – not for the first time – to break her addiction to drugs. Mia is supported by two friends, Eric and Olivia, her brother and the girlfriend brother dear has unaccountably brought along on this horror-show of a weekend outing.

That aside, events plays out as expected. As Mia struggles through withdrawal, battling emotional demons that have to do with a crazy mother, the death of said mother, and the abandonment of her brother in the midst of said death, Eric does what any reasonable friend would do: He finds a book bearing a cover of human skin and recites out loud from it. Uh-oh, here come the demons. See what I mean about originality? Or the lack of?

But to merely dismiss Alvarez’s remake because it follows the path of any number of teens-in-peril horror flicks would be a mistake. It doesn’t have any of the cleverness of, says, Wes Craven’s “Scream” series. But neither does it fall into the creative trap of the overly clever Joss Whedon-written “The Cabin in the Woods.” Alvarez’s intent is merely to scare us, and for the most part he succeeds. If, that is, your idea of being frightened is being subjected to more gore than a bedpan full of severed tongues. And I have to admit, though my favorite in the “Evil Dead” series is Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2” – which benefits well from his partner Campbell’s talent for physical humor – Alvarez can direct. And as Mia, Jane Levy, of the WB show “Suburbgatory,” can do wide-eyed terror with the best of them.

I just wish Alvarez had struggled a bit more. The thought that instant riches can be earned through a YouTube short may not give anyone an ataque de panico, but for some of us it does bring on an ataque de depresion.