In terms of horror franchises, “Evil Dead” has accomplished something miraculous: There has yet to be a bad movie bearing its name. Much of this comes down to series creator Sam Raimi, who’s picky enough about who he lets play with his groovy blood-soaked baby that there have only been five “Evil Dead” movies over the course of forty-plus years. But there’s also something about the elemental simplicity of its premise—the totally loony “Army of Darkness” excepted, of course—that makes “Evil Dead” just work.
The latest in the series, “Evil Dead Rise,” comes from Irish writer/director Lee Cronin, whose 2019 feature debut “The Hole in the Ground” also revolves around sinkholes and mommy issues. Cronin’s grimy sensibility is much closer to that of remake director Fede Alvarez than Raimi’s live-action cartoons. But he does share one key thing with Raimi, and that’s a diabolical imagination.
Marketing for the film revolves around a key scene with a cheese grater, but “Evil Dead Rise” is packed with creative carnage. Eye trauma, hand trauma, vomit, bugs, broken glass, broken bones, decapitation, dismemberment, stab wounds, shotgun blasts, sharp objects going straight through the soft palate and out the back of someone’s head—name a form of grievous bodily harm, and this movie has it. And that’s not including all the blood, thousands and thousands of gallons of it, enough to recreate the elevator scene from “The Shining” and soak two of its leads from head to toe throughout the last 20 minutes of the movie.
This film shifts its location from a group of friends in a cabin in the woods to a family living in a run-down apartment building in downtown Los Angeles. And once single mom Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is possessed by a Deadite early on in the film, what happens next is made even more disturbing because Ellie is psychologically and physically torturing her own children. Her youngest, Kassie (Nell Fisher), is quite young, too—not that the fates of her siblings, Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), are made any less painful by the fact that they’re teenagers. “Evil Dead Rise” squeezes a lot of sicko juice out of violence toward kids, which combines with the extreme gore to make it the grueling experience that a good “Evil Dead” movie should be.
The downside is that more time and exposition are needed to set up the film’s deviations from the classic “cabin in the woods” formula, threatening to throw that elemental “Evil Dead” simplicity out of whack. This is mostly an issue in the first act, which also has to incorporate Ellie’s rocker sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) and an earthquake that opens up a hole in the floor of the parking garage, where Danny finds an old safety deposit box containing some mysterious records that unleash everything that follows. The building used to be a bank—one of several complicating details “Evil Dead Rise” has to roll out before it can get to the good stuff.
However, once “Evil Dead Rise” really gets going, it doesn’t let up. This is a loud, giddy, packed-house-at-midnight type of movie, and its premiere at SXSW was accompanied by much hollering, cheering, and genuine screams of fright from the audience. Cronin unabashedly uses both jump scares and “look behind you!”-type of gags to punctuate this pummeling bloodbath, and one scene in particular in the film’s roller coaster of a middle section seems bound to inspire a lot of yelling at the screen in multiplexes around the world.
Not everything in this film works: A pregnancy subplot plays like it was written by a man, which it was, and the cold open is so random that a scene has to be tacked onto the end of the movie to explain it. But for a relatively unknown cast led by a relatively unseasoned director, it does accomplish a lot, particularly in terms of its physical performances—think complicated rigging devices and ghastly prosthetic makeups—and gnarly gore. Once it gets out of its own way and gives the audience what they came to see, “Evil Dead Rise” is an absolute blast.
This review was filed from the world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. It opens on April 7th.