Much like the leering, tormenting Deadites that stalk the various entries of of the series, the Evil Dead franchise is incredibly resistant to death. With that being said, it’s been quite a long while since these particular demons have been raised up on the big screen – ten bloody years to be exact – and while the TV based Ash Vs. Evil Dead was a superlative treat for deadheads all around the world, it was time for someone to crack open the Necronomicon and resurrect some evil through a projector.
Ironically, despite making his name with the rural horrors of 2019’s The Hole In The Ground, director Lee Cronin has chosen to uproot all the usual aspects of the franchise (excessive gore, merciless torment and a wildly irresponsible use of power tools) from a leafy setting and plonk them all in a dingy apartment block in LA – does the shift work?
Buddy, it’s to die for…
Tattoo artist Ellie is a single parent who is struggling to raise her three kids, Danny, Bridget and little Kassie, in a crumbling, soon-to-be condemned high rise, but as she strives to make ends meet, her estranged sister Beth drops in for an unannounced visit. Their reunion is both a relief and awkward, but the reason Beth has returned home has to wait when a sizable earthquake rocks the foundations of their LA home.
Investigating a wide crack in the floor, Danny discovers a vault left over from the days when the building was a bank and his searching turns up some dubious paydirt in the form of a bunch of old LPs and a hideous looking book that has baaaaaad news written all over it. Playing the records, Danny learns that it is called the Naturom Demonto, but is better known by its butt tightening nom de plume, the Book Of The Dead and after the recordings read out the translations over his straining speakers, all hell literally breaks loose as a Kandarian demon is summoned and promptly takes up residence in Ellie’s body.
So after getting trapped on their floor, a night of blood curdling survival ensues where Beth has to protect the kids from their own demonically possessed mother who will stop at nothing to torment her new playthings by any means necessary with shotguns, chainsaws, tattoo guns and even a freakin’ cheese grater coming into play with gruesome results.
As the collateral damages rises and the tension gets so thick you could cut it with an extra large/extra sharp knife, Beth has to dredge up a formidable mothering instinct in order to battle the thing wearing her sister like a very disposable suit – but will it be enough to keep the evil force at bay that can possess literally anyone at will?
Anyone who’s been around this humble little page for more than a New York minute knows that when it comes to Evil Dead, I’m unapologetically caca for Cocoa Puffs and so the arrival of a new cinematic installment is something of a big deal. Theres something about the stripped back nature of these films that takes an incident-heavy plotline, floods it with unfeasibly spiteful gore and yet still ends up being a rollicking good time and taken in this respect, Lee Cronin just fucking gets it. Freed from the fact that an Ashless entry isn’t such a galling proposition after Fede Álvarez unveiled his slight but shocking remake, Cronin goes the Demons 2 route and plants all the usual details of the series almost soley within the limited space of a crumbling apartment block with maximum enthusiasm and a complete disregard of the survival rate of its characters, whether they be adults or children. Quickly compiling enough of a frame work of who each character is so each actor has room to subtly flesh them out (no idea why they all have such cool jobs and hobbies though?), the script keeps things relentless, barely turning in a single scene that isn’t either dripping with dread, choking with tension or outright gonzo nuts and thanks to some exaggerated camerawork and some brutal sound design, the whole thing just fucking moves.
Most actors who appear in these movies have to be commended simply for just being in them as they almost all require a punishing shooting experience for anyone who shows up, but the gruelling performance of the year award surely must go to both Lily Sullivan’s gutsy, rock chick auntie and Alyssa Sutherland’s truly upsetting version of a possesed mother as she spits out viles taunts that burn like poison. A big tip o’ the saw has to go to the child actors too (no doubt ten year old, Nell Fisher’s fee will be going on some well-earned therapy), who a aldo mercilessly put through it in ways that – despite the dark tone – ends up being perversely and extraordinarily funny.
However, whe the performances are tight and the tone pinned down just right, what really is going to nab the biggest headlines is the copious shedding of blood and limbs which has made the franchise legendary among fans – as this is where the film really rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. If you thought Scream VI was excessively violent for an entry in a long running horror saga, things are about to get a whole lot groovier. Be it a shocking, out-of-the-blue scalping, the wince inducing sight of that cheese grater meeting a leg, or the utterly flabbergasting moment where one Deadite eats glass and we see it actually pushing through the skin of the throat as it’s swallowed, gorehounds will find there are tons of similarly gruesome atrocities to yelp, gasp and cheer at.
With the magnificent Ash Vs. Evil Dead trading on its legacy sequel nature with cartoonish glass and the 2013 remake covering a bit too much familiar ground, Evil Dead Rise manages to stand as the quintessential, modern representation of the franchise as it moves forward with the image of Sutherland’s messed up mommy beaming a rictus grin through a peep hole being the most potent, Deadite image since a mangled Cheryl peered at us from the cracks in a chained up trapdoor in the original movie.
Those who haven’t read from the Book Of The Dead may be baffled at the slightness of it all or (more likely) be put off by the unrestrained viscera on display, but is the cheer-inducing reworking of Evil Dead II’s flying eyeball scene doesn’t elicit a morbidly bawdy cheer from you, it’s fairly evident that you’ve picked the wrong film.
Lean, mean and spraying guts all over the screen, Evil Dead Rise will hopefully inspire the franchise to not remain dormant on the big screen for another ten years, but even if that were so, this latest flip through the Book Of The Dead means that the franchise is levitating on an exhilarating high.