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Review: ‘Evil Dead’ is a gleeful, gory, goofy good time

Among the household items put to unintended use in the new film “Evil Dead,” a playfully reverent if not-overly-so remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult favorite horror movie, are a nail gun, an electric knife, a jerry-rigged defibrillator, and, in an obvious nod to the original, a chain saw.

The feature debut of Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, discovered via a short on YouTube, “Evil Dead” has a gleeful exuberance of its own analogous to the mad invention of the original, which, in the years since its release, has become wildly influential and, in its own little-movie-that-could way, downright inspirational.

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Written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (with an uncredited but acknowledged polish by Diablo Cody), the story, like its predecessor, begins with five young people arriving at a secluded cabin in the woods. Mia (Jane Levy) is trying to kick a drug habit cold turkey, with the others (Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Elizabeth Blackmore) along for support.

PHOTOS: Scenes from ‘Evil Dead’

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After discovering a mysterious book, bound in human skin, they unleash a demonic force that wants them all dead and pits them against one another.

The new film is produced by Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell (writer-director, producer and star of the 1981 movie, respectively) and nimbly walks the fine line of tribute, update and doing its own thing.

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What this “Evil Dead” gets most right is its tone, paying homage yet staking its own territory; it’s scary without being downbeat, fun without being too jokey. Levy in particular is perfectly in sync with Alvarez’s mix of sincerity, snark and scares.

Alvarez certainly seems to have relished the chance to splatter and spray his cast with all manner of goo. His aesthetic is a few shades lighter than the gloomy grunge of other recent horror reinventions, and he never loses sight of the black comedy lurking in the story’s corners.

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But back to the goo. There is plenty of over-the-top gore, great gushing geysers of it. Yet one of the most squirm-inducing moments — apart from the notorious, still difficult-to-justify “tree rape” scene — isn’t from a Grand Guignol spurt of blood, but rather a relatively minor cut as a machete blade slices across the top of a bent knee.

It’s a sensation one can actually relate to, as opposed to something like the gruesome slapstick of slipping on a shorn-off piece of someone else’s face.

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Respectfully aware of its origins — including a wait-for-it tag after the end credits — “Evil Dead” is something of a forward-looking throwback. It’s unlikely the movie will gain the same ardent following as Raimi’s debut, but it offers enough good-time gore, goofiness, scares and screams to leave an audience feeling a certain elated exhaustion.

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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‘Evil Dead’

MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language

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Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: In general release

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