Evil Dead Rise

Screen Shot 2023-05-14 at 4.20.33 PM

Here’s the thing about the Evil Dead franchise. It needs Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams the way the Alien franchise needs Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Without those characters and those actors, you may have in-name-only franchise sequels with gnashing xenomorphs and unruly deadites, but you don’t have the heart and soul. In the first three Evil Dead films and three seasons of Ash Vs. Evil Dead, Campbell and director Sam Raimi gradually leaned into knockabout comedy, until the stories were informed as much by the Three Stooges as by The Exorcist. 

Campbell comes on for a quick aural bow in Evil Dead Rise, and his out-of-patience voice on an ancient record snapping “It’s called The Book of the Dead for a reason” conveys more of the old Evil Dead spirit than anything else in the film. Here, we’re in a condemned old apartment building in Los Angeles. We meet our hero Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar tech, her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a tattoo artist, and Ellie’s three kids. Ellie’s husband is out of the picture, while Beth has recently discovered she’s pregnant. Writer-director Lee Cronin kicks back and lets the women marinate in their sorrows for a while, just as though any of this is going to matter much once the evil dead barge in.

Which they do, possessing Ellie and then others. There’s a fair amount of nastiness involving the de-souled Ellie taunting Beth about her being a “groupie slut” and carrying an extra soul for Ellie to eat. I’d just as soon not get into the implications of that second bit.* And it’s weird to complain that a horror movie gets us to care about people, but this was a family I didn’t particularly relish watching as they suffered, bled, grieved, bled some more, and literally almost drowned in blood. We never “cared” about Ash — we liked the guy, but to enjoy him getting bashed around we had to keep some detachment from him. Ash didn’t really have feelings. He was a slapstick figure at the center of a horror-fantasy series.

But here, and also in its grim predecessor from ten years ago, there’s no slapstick, no “Klaatu barada nikto,” no fun. These are realistic people with real pain over real problems. Turning deadites loose on them is like kicking a dying puppy in the face. Now, that kind of nihilistic cruelty to characters can work, and has worked many times, in good horror. And none of those horror stories were called Evil Dead. But now here we are. You can no longer be guaranteed a rowdy good time with this franchise. It has become rancid, humorless, toxic. Apart from the spasmodic, shambolic, cackling-witch behavior of the possessed, the tone of these latter Evil Dead films is so different they don’t even seem part of the same series. 

The two leads, both from Australian TV and film, work strenuously and honestly as sisters with all sorts of brittle feelings between them. They aren’t the problem here — the conception of the film is unappealing, and they do what they can within it, maintaining some dignity in circumstances that mitigate against dignity. The movie itself doesn’t work hard enough to deserve them (the kids are all great too). The gore level is off the chart, leading comics artist and horror buff Stephen Bissette to opine that this might be the bloodiest movie ever to pass with an R rating. It may well be. Maybe if it’s demonic blood it doesn’t count as real blood. That’s fine; to me, this doesn’t count as a real Evil Dead film either. 

*All right, I will here. The movie basically says the fetus has a soul, a classic pro-life stance. 

Explore posts in the same categories: horror, sequel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: