The Evil Dead Rises to Scrutiny

The Evil Dead Franchise continues its 40 some-odd year history with a new urban entry, but is it the shot of unlife the film series needs as it struggles to exist without its marquee star?


Writer/director: Lee Cronin (“The Hole in the Ground”). 


Lily Sullivan (“I Met a Girl,” “Barkskins”), 

Alyssa Sutherland (“The Mist,” “Vikings”), 

Morgan Davies (“Storm Boy,” “The End”), 

Gabrielle Echols (“Reminiscence”) 

and introducing Nell Fisher (“Northspur”).

Moving the action out of the woods and into the city, “Evil Dead Rise” tells a twisted tale of two estranged sisters, played by Sutherland and Sullivan, whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.

The Eighties saw three genres of entertainment come to power: horror films, horror novels, and the heavy metal band. Each had an established place setting in the annals of pop culture before then, there’s no doubt. Supernatural and suspense stories have existed since the printing press came into being, and all fingers point to the likes of Mary Shelley and Nathanial Hawthorne as only two of the innovators of horror fiction. The Satanic Panic of the 1970s led to a public demand for horror fiction. Soon authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz would rise to the top of the bestsellers lists as a result. The Eighties were a boom industry for all things horror.

Films benefited from this, as well, and movie goers lined up to have the Bejeezus scared out of them. Again, horror films existed long before, going back to the silent films of a century or more ago. But in the years leading up to the seventies, the schlock value of horror films had risen higher than their scare value. Until PSYCHO, and then ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST. Each a bestselling book adapted into film. They took the publishing and film industries by storm and, along the aforementioned authors, spearheaded what would become the horror explosion of the Eighties.

Inspired by the themes of horror books and films, Heavy Metal bands embracing Satanic and horror imagery found controversy and success. The genre had grown from a movement in music as bands experimented, blending different elements of blues with non-conventional tunings. But 80’s bands like Great Britain’s IRON MAIDEN or even America’s MOTLEY CRUE, grew the most notoriety by embracing Satanic and Horror imagery on their early albums and in their song lyrics. Who else fondly recalls the religious scares over playing records backwards to receive a Satanic message that would cause you to turn into one of the slashing serial killers in the movies or books while Iron Maiden screamed about the NUmber of the Beast and Crue wanted us to be strong and Shout at the Devil?

One thing the marquee entertainers from this era have been able to show is stamina, and the ability to remain relevant in a world where trends and interests change at the drop of a TikTok video. Stephen King is still pumping out quality books as he nears eight decades on this planet, as does Dean Koontz. Iron Maiden and Motley Crue are both on tour and have put out new albums in recent years. These bands with 40 plus year careers, they’ve experienced line-up changes and shifting interests in music, but they’ve bounced back and remained relevant. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Maiden, for example, has been through three lead vocalists. Crue has had two. In each instance where a singer has changed, Maiden has somehow been able to overcome the hump. With them, it’s more about the music, and the singer is an added bonus. It helps that Paul D’Ianno, Bruce Dickenson, and even Blaze, were all great front men and could command a crowd. With Motley Crue, however, Vince Neil’s high tenor and his blonde  mop of hair was always one of their signatures. The John Corabi era of Crue, though beloved by hardcore fans, was seen as a near career killer to the band. It wasn’t until they got Vince back that the band once again saw success.

And this leads us to Horror’s example of staying power. Many horror film franchises that started in the 1980s or before have seen either straight up reboot/remakes or legacy sequels in recent years. Out of all of these, the EVIL DEAD franchise has similarities to the heavy metal bands sharing its longevity. You see, with HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH, anyone can be under the mask. But with the EVIL DEAD, the shadow of the almighty Bruce Campbell and Ashley J. Williams hangs over anything the franchise releases like he’s Vince fucking Neil, forgetting his lyrics, staring at John Corabi from the soundboard.

The fans of Campbell are the always the first to cast shade at the EVIL DEAD entries without him, first coming out of the woodwork with Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake. They said the film wasn’t funny enough, that it wasn’t an EVIL DEAD movie because it lacked the camp. It was too serious. “WHERE IS ASH” They wail in unison like the Deadites proclaiming you’ll be dead by dawn. FYI: He’s in the post credits, you idiots.  

Not as if they didn’t have Ash around in multiple video games over the years, as well as comic books. But in 2015 the toxic fans all got what they wanted from STARZ. ASH VS THE EVIL DEAD ran for three seasons on the cable service in the early days of the streaming wars. The campy, laugh ridden follow up to ARMY OF DARKNESS, that seemed to ignore Alvarez’s entry, was embraced by the Campbellian fanscape. They cried when it ended, and cried more when Bruce revealed he’s too old to make these movies anymore. The only thing safe from their wrath seems to be the musical play, I mean they can’t get Bruce to play Ash at every production, can they?

But that didn’t mean the end. A brilliant episode of SHUDDER’s second season of CREEPSHOW, Greg Nicotero’s “PUBLIC TELEVISION OF THE DEAD” featured what is essentially Bob Ross vs the Evil Dead, and stared Ted Rami as himself, who brings a copy of the Necronomicon with him to a PBS studio… and all hell literally breaks loose.

And of course, the hype of EVIL DEAD RISE, touting it as coming from the original producers, albeit sans Ash Williams. I went to see it last night. With all of this being said, I’m here to tell all of you “Vince Neil” fanboys, that if you didn’t like the EVIL DEAD 2013 reboot, you will fucking hate the EVIL DEAD RISES. 

Filled with themes surrounding the disintegration of the family, EVIL DEAD RISE is a welcome fifth entry into the franchise. From a cold open reminiscent of both the 2013 remake of EVIL DEAD and CABIN FEVER, I knew this was going to be a blood soaked carnage fest. And I was right. Lee Cronin offers us a tightly written story that doesn’t give us a whole lot of time to bond with the characters. This is where EVIL DEAD RISE suffers from the same malady many modern horror films succumb to. Though it’s sufficient in its scares and gore, it lacks in providing us the proper empathy we need to care about the characters dying or not. 

The Deadite action is typical of an EVIL DEAD film, and much like the original, it’s all played straight. But unlike the original, which featured the quirkiness of Campbell’s Ash which led to unintentional hilarity, there isn’t much residual humor. If you are going to this expecting slapstick gore gags, you will not get it. Save yourself from the disappointment and stay home. 

That’s not to say there aren’t any stellar moments. The film is filled with them, including shotgun, chainsaw, and station wagon callbacks to the OG. There are gallons of blood, more than I’ve seen in any movie, including MANDY. It also features the best use of a woodchipper since FARGO. It is a splatterpunk, gore-whore, body horror experience. I enjoyed the film and will see it again. But I, too, liked Alvarez’s 2013 entry. I also don’t mind John Corabi in Motley Crue.

EVIL DEAD RISE may not reinvent the franchise, but it is a solid entry into the mythos, solidifying the EVIL DEAD’s place in the annals of horror longevity. It may not fully escape the shadow of its original star, but the franchise will live on if it continues on its current path. I give it 4 Buckets of Blood out of Five, with a little stomach bile on the side.  

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