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Evil Dead Rise

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are just executive producers on the fifth 'Evil Dead' movie, but this bloody gorefest doesn't miss them.
By Sarah Ward
April 19, 2023
By Sarah Ward
April 19, 2023

In life and in horror movies, don't pick up a book bound in human skin. Just don't. Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the name of that gruesome covering process, and it isn't a fictional creation of the Evil Dead world — so heeding this guidance really is sensible. Of course, there wouldn't be any films in the boomstick-waving franchise if its characters listened to such a warning. There'd be no cabin-visiting folks battling Deadites again and again, and no chainsaws coming in mighty handy, either. Evil Dead Rise, the fifth big-screen instalment in the saga that also started Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's careers long before the OG Spider-Man flicks, Burn Notice and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, does indeed include that flesh-wrapped Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Also, the terrifying tome is grabbed, opened and unwittingly allowed to unleash its gory chaos. The body count rises, demons hop into bodies, and shotguns and power tools become necessary weapons. That said, while Evil Dead Rise definitely knows the series it's in, it's no mere exercise in blasting expected targets.

There will be blood in this addition to the Evil Dead fold, and not just inking The Book of the Dead's pages. There's gallons of it, in fact, with assistance from an elevator overflowing with crimson liquid. Writer/director Lee Cronin is clearly happy to jump from his 2019 debut The Hole in the Ground to this beloved horror franchise while giving The Shining some love as well. And yet, nods to past Evil Dead films and scary fare in general aren't the main point of Evil Dead Rise, even though they're still there — loudly when "dead by dawn", words that are also part of Evil Dead II's title, is yelled. It shouldn't feel so rare to see a feature that isn't solely kept beating by gobbling up as many pieces of its predecessors as possible, but that's these nothing-must-die times. (When intellectual property is revived repeatedly by Hollywood's intonations, bringing back Evil Dead over and over couldn't be more appropriate.)

Consider this another play around with recognisable parts — and with mutilating them, with Cronin showing no signs of holding back with his setpieces, gleefully unhinged onslaught of carnage or visual compositions. Or, think of it as striding into a lived-in hut with a keenness to make something already-beloved new again. With Raimi and Campbell only involved as executive producers, the film also doesn't ever feel like Cronin wrote a different script, then just dumped in a Necronomicon here and a Deadite there. Again, it's well-aware of the path it's treading, and of what's done so before. Still, amid the ample guts, the obligatory creepy pages and the eerie incantations (which for viewers unlike the movie's characters, are well-worth listening to  closely), this saga-extender finds the right balance between affectionately savouring Evil Dead's groovy history and being its own fright-inducing meal.

Familiar swooping and whooshing camerawork kicks Evil Dead Rise into gear, though, knowingly so. In a clever touch, it stems from a is doing the shooting, not due to supernatural nefariousness. There's a remote abode in the woods — an A-frame shack this time, levelled up to match 2023's travel aesthetic — and unsettling things afoot; however, the bulk of the film takes place a day earlier. That's when guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan, Picnic at Hanging Rock) cuts out a the worldwide tour to surprise her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, New Gold Mountain). The latter is a tattoo artist and mother of three who has recently been left parenting solo, and is interrupted dying her hair 'cool mum' red when her sibling arrives. There's baggage between the pair, but there'll soon be viscera as well when Ellie's teenage son Danny (Morgan Davies, Blaze) finds a certain text — and, because he's a budding DJ, some dusty vinyl sporting words that no one in an Evil Dead movie should be saying or hearing.

There's that trusty advice being disregarded. Danny's sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols, Reminiscence) is on hand with an "I told you so" or several, mirroring what viewers are thinking. Actually, Evil Dead Rise inspires a new take on the old "don't pick up a book bound in human skin" counsel: don't go plunging into a hole in the ground when the condemned high-rise you're living in cracks in an earthquake and you spot an old bank vault in the newly opened void, then 100-percent don't pick up some literally underground tunes and the entombed, flesh-packaged tome they're buried near. But Danny does all that, thinking the volume might be worth something to help his mum's money worries. Bridget scolds and youngest sister Kassie (Nell Fisher, My Life Is Murder) is quickly scared by the aftermath. The trapped inhabitants of the about-to-be-demolished building are all unnerved, to say the least, as the Evil Dead realm's wicked spirits let loose their hellish waking nightmare.

There will be splatter, too, as the 1981 original introduced on a supremely low budget. Each Evil Dead chapter loves imparting its own vibe, after the second film got funnier, 1992's third effort Army of Darkness became a dark fantasy, then 2013's Evil Dead snatched out every trace of absurdity — and, on the small screen, Ash vs Evil Dead got amusing again — but gore usually flows eagerly. Like grated cheese, there's no such thing as too much in Cronin's eyes. Like making that shredded dairy, a particular kitchen utensil gets a workout. With cinematographer Dave Garbett, an Ash vs Evil Dead alum, Cronin also frequently draws attention to the act of seeing, while making sure there's almost always something savage to lock one's peepers on. A fish-eye peephole earns some savvy use, and the overall cavalcade of mayhem just keeps mounting to the point where it's so purposefully ridiculous that you can't look away.

Evil Dead Rise isn't going for a Raimi-and-Campbell mood. It isn't aiming for the pair's laughs and slapstick since the OG flick, either. But it spies that constantly ramping up the slashing, stabbing, scalping, ripping and gouging is as relentless as it is OTT, especially when paired with devilishly delivered lines like "mommy's with the maggots now". And, although its guiding force takes too long establishing the new characters' family dynamic, then does too little with the themes of trauma and parenthood it starts flirting with, the franchise's latest cast is up to the task when things get demonic. Australian trio Sutherland, Sullivan and Davies each leave an imprint, with one also giving the saga one of its best Deadite performances. No Evil Dead fan will ever want Raimi and Campbell to stray too far from this series, but this latest bite doesn't ever feel like it needs them, or leave its audience wishing it was watching Ash J Williams instead.

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