You see, I was there – back in the day – when The Evil Dead (1981) and its kinda/sorta do-over Evil Dead II (1987) were all the rage in the home video marketplace. They were both considered staples of the rental crowd – I kid you not, but these two flicks were damn near always and I do mean always out of stock because they were so popular – and, having watched them both with friends, I never quite got the fascination. Being still reasonably young and – cough – reasonably impressionable, I could appreciate the obvious derring-do of a great independent chiller – as well as the visceral appeal of low-budget schlockery – but I just couldn’t quite grasp how it all worked.
(Yes, yes, and yes: I’ve already confessed far too many times to overthinking things, so spare me the lecture!)
I’ve always been a bit of a mechanics person. (This is not to say that I’m mechanical, in any measure of the word.) I need to know how something works, especially when it’s presented on screen and an intrinsic part of any Science Fiction, Fantasy, and/or Horror universe. How it works is part of the process for me fully appreciating what storytellers are trying to do with the material, and – if it isn’t clearly spelled out – I can’t fully digest something if I’m only allowed part of the total meal. Give it all, or give me none. You can’t ‘half-ass’ anything just to make it look good.
And therein lies my continuing opinion of the Evil Dead franchise: it looks good. Hell, I’ll even give you that it looks damn good on some occasions. But it still confuses the heck out of me.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A twisted tale of two estranged sisters 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.”
Great gosh a’mighty: those kids are gonna need therapy someday!
There are times when reviewing Horror pieces can get a bit cumbersome. I’ve always chalked this up to the fact that Horror – unlike, perhaps, any other genre of film – requires more often than not the dialing down of one’s brainwork to truly appreciate what a particular storyteller and the cast and crew are trying to accomplish. It may not make much sense – much less perfect sense – but that’s chiefly because the preoccupation here is with the visual trickery: working together, this team wants to just scare you silly. In accomplishing that, rules can and likely will be broken, meaning the sum might be fudged a bit from the pieces instead of following a cold, bloodless (snicker snicker) equation.
But … rarely have I witnessed such delight in utilizing the incessant start-and-stop of hostilities put to as efficient use as it is in Evil Dead Rise. This is the ultimate carnival Horror attraction – one fueled entirely on the substance of nightmares spoken or imagined – and writer/director Lee Cronin rather deftly weaves a dripping tapestry that elevates the thrill ride to impressive heights. Cronin rarely relents, but – when he does – he returns to form with more splash and glam than ever before. This is quite a visual feast – for those who treasure this type of insanity – and I suspect it might reinvigorate the franchise in ways Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell (all heavily involved since its inception) will keep going to the bank, flush with cash.
Thankfully, the trickery isn’t just limited to ample amounts of blood and gore – mind you, there’s far more in here than I think I’ve ever seen before. Cronin uniquely stages a few set pieces as is viewed through an eye portal in the apartment’s front door, and it results in some rather limited yet genius perspectives that shows just how much story can be conveyed with quality sound and a few visual effects. Leaving what’s truly happening to the imagination of the viewers is a tricky investment, but I thought it was honestly some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in Horror in quite some time.
And what puts the bloody icing on the bloody cake?
It’s a solid script – perhaps a bit trim on characterization here and there – but it’s bolstered by some impressive screen turns by some young actors without a lot of mileage under their professional belts. Don’t ask me how the wee Nell Fisher (as ‘Kassie’) managed to hold it all together as well as she did given the horrific circumstances; once she’s fully submerged in an elevator car filled with blood, you’d think she’d have the wherewithal to call her agent and demand to know just what he/she/it got her into, but – like a trooper – she soldiers ever onward. Morgan Davies (as ‘Danny’) displays a bit of range as the tween torn between acting his age while balancing his childlike impulses to go recklessly into a subterranean vault without adult supervision, setting in motion a series of events that ultimately undoes what remains of his failing nuclear family. And Gabrielle Echols steals one scene after another (as ‘Bridget’), her family’s resident grow-up-faster-than-she-should have child who inevitably succumbs to mommy dearest’s dark charms, turning into every real parent’s screen nightmare.
Not for the squeamish, Evil Dead Rise accomplishes what many in Hollywood will tell you is impossible: it takes an old idea and makes it brand-spanking new. If there is a God out there – or even a demon – it’ll enjoy a long life serving as an inspiration for others wishing to go into the dark in similar pursuits.
Evil Dead Rise (2023) was produced by Department Of Post, Ghost House Pictures, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., and Wild Atlantic Pictures.
Here’s the thing: Evil Dead Rise is about as visceral a blood-splattered fun ride as one is likely to ever see assembled. Its mechanics – how it all works, why it all works, and how it all persists – may be the subject of extreme Fantasy; but viewers who go in accepting full-well in advance that it’s a feature built on scares – and little else – will likely have a damn fine time with the relentless butchery. Occasionally, writer/director Cronin even backs it all up with some winning cinematography. This is Horror for Horror’s sake, though … an entirely brain-free exercise is sheer madness.