The Deadites are back, baby! Wave hello with a severed hand to Evil Dead Rise, the fifth film in the Sam Raimi-fueled franchise which definitively answers the question, “Which is the horror series with the highest quality overall?”
Slasher devotees made the case for the Scream films when that sixth one came out last month. But, with all due respect to Queen Sidney Prescott, poo poo to that. The Evil Dead movies, top to bottom, shotgun-blast all other comers to itty-bitty, gooey smithereens.
Writer/director Lee Cronin’s stab at the series unleashes the Necronomicon and its white-eyed devils on a high-rise apartment building in downtown Los Angeles one dark and stormy night. It’s a lean, mean, eviscerating machine that earns its place alongside those four earlier nasty bits of business through blunt force trauma alone.
What’s Evil Dead Rise about?
Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie in “Evil Dead Rise.”
Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
After a scalp-shredding prologue set at (you guessed it) a cabin in the woods, Evil Dead Rise switches us to a location heretofore never glimpsed in this frightening franchise – a modern-day population center! Beth (Lily Sullivan), a sound technician for a rock band on tour, needs a place to crash, so she hits up her lightly estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) for the sofa in her 13th-floor (what else) apartment. Ellie, for her part, is busy enough already with her three kids – short-haired activist-type Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), wannabe-DJ middle kid Danny (Morgan Davies), and the youngest Kassie (Nell Fisher), an adorable li’l hellraiser.
When the kids run out to grab some pizza for dinner, a sudden 5.5 earthquake splits open the parking garage, and they stumble upon an old bank vault buried underneath. And before you know it, the kids have found themselves in possession of a familiar-looking book bound out of skin and some dusty records that contain a certain chant (see if you recognize the voice cameo). One “Klaatu Barada Nikto” later, cue the bloody Deadite chaos.
Evil Dead Rise paints the town red.
Did I say bloody? Make sure to pack your rain slickers, because like every entry in this series of movies, Evil Dead Rise isn’t lacking in the gunk department. Red goo, black goo, old goo, new goo – the filmmakers definitely backed the corn syrup truck right up to the loading dock and set the hoses to full blast. Arterial sprays and flying eyeballs, viscera chunks and oatmeal-esque upchuck, oh my – Cronin and co. have all the colors and flavors of the rainbow covered when it comes to wet stuff.
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The family is briefly introduced — maybe a little too briefly — before they start taking cheese graters to one another and barfing up torrents of squirming insects. Beth is too wrapped up in her own baloney to have even noticed that Ellie’s husband has gone AWOL. Indeed, that disappeared Dad is the main source of tension in this clan. Otherwise, they’re mostly very loving and accepting of one another. Just enough of the weaknesses in their relationships are exposed for the demons to insinuate themselves into those tiny fissures, making of them weapons of mass emotional cruelty when the moment’s right.
The Evil Dead movies have always gotten their rocks off on the perverting of loving relationships, with much of their early drama being wrung from the spectacle of Ash (that icon named Bruce Campbell) having to decapitate and mutilate the possessed bodies of his fiancée, his sister, and his best friend over and over and over again. The 2013 reboot remixed the relationships a bit, centering on a brother and sister. But it still came down to the demons using the caring bonds between these people as the meanest instrument of all.
Cronin’s previous horror film, 2019’s very fine The Hole in the Ground, was also about an evil force insinuating itself between a mother and her young child. He proves once deft at giving us tummy aches from witnessing that purest form of love and trust dissolve into a thick sludge spreading across the floor. Of course, Rise is done with a very different tone than Hole, which is a very serious and sad movie. But in Evil Dead Rise, he threads the needle between heartbreak and over-the-top humor pretty finely…before using that same needle to stab us in the face anyway.
A fresh setting does Evil Dead Rise few favors.
Lily Sullivan as Beth in “Evil Dead Rise.”
Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Evil Dead Rise isn’t quite the big reinvention of the franchise that its new locale might suggest. Dropping the Deadite Army into a massive metropolitan area offers the opportunity for a larger scope than what the movie ultimately settles into. Yes, it’s set in Los Angeles, but this family might as well be in the middle of the woods given the way they’re cut off from the outside world once the elevator and stairs become, uhh, deeply unreliable. A few neighbors are introduced, but they’re basically there to paint the walls.
Narrowing the focus to five people and “The Family” is admittedly smart, character-wise and thematically, especially in a 90-minute picture. But it also lends the film a little bit of a rug-pull feel, à la the Friday the 13th movie where Jason was supposed to go to Manhattan and then spent 3/4s of the movie on a boat instead. It’s hard not to picture the mayhem that somebody like Joe Dante could’ve done with this concept and a budget to realize it.
As enjoyable a night at the movies as Evil Dead Rise is – and it is! – I was haunted by what opportunities its setting promised that are utterly wasted. Evil Dead Rise suffers from a little too much of the formula of the franchise. Cronin is hitting the notes we’ve seen hit before, and while they still work, the wear is definitely beginning to show. I should not be bored by blood rain or an epic chainsaw battle. But coming as they do in exactly the places where fans of the franchise expect them to, it’s hard not to wish Evil Dead Rise might’ve tossed a few fresh ingredients into its viscera stew. I still love the taste of it, don’t get me wrong. But I’m gonna need a new flavor of blood feast to savor the next time around.
Evil Dead Rise premieres in theaters April 21.