Released: 21 April 2023
Director: Lee Cronin
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $19 million
Stars: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, and Nell Fisher
Road-weary Beth (Sullivan) pays an overdue visit to her older sister Ellie (Sutherland), who is raising three kids on her own in a cramped Los Angeles apartment. Their reunion is cut short by the discovery of a mysterious book deep in the bowels of Ellie’s building, giving rise to flesh-possessing demons, and thrusting Beth into a primal battle for survival as she is faced with the most nightmarish version of motherhood imaginable.
The Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981) was the brainchild of now-legendary horror director Sam Raimi and his long-time friend Bruce Campbell, who eventually became a horror icon for his portrayal of long-time franchise protagonist Ashley “Ash” Williams. Audiences were horrified by The Evil Dead, which became an unexpected critical and financial hit. After reluctantly returning to the franchise for the bigger and better Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (ibid, 1987), Raimi and Campbell divided audiences with the slapstick stylings of Army of Darkness (ibid, 1993), which left the franchise dead in the water (beyond videogames and comic books) for the better part of twenty years. However, Evil Dead rose from the grave with Evil Dead (Álvarez, 2013), a brutal re-imagining that proved a commercial and critical success; naturally, talk of a sequel soon followed, but Raimi also bizarrely spoke of plans to produce a sequel to Army of Darkness, which would then be followed by another film that linked the original films to the remake. Although both projects ultimately never came to fruition, Campbell reprised his role and the franchise continued on in the critically-acclaimed Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015 to 2018) before retiring as Ash, leaving the fate of another Evil Dead movie up in the air. However, Raimi, Campbell, and their long-time producer friend Robert G. Tapert officially revived the franchise in 2019; Raimi hand-picked Lee Cronin to direct and Cronin later proudly claimed that the film used over 6,500 litres of fake blood! Originally set to be released exclusively on HBO Max, test screenings proved so positive that Warner Bros. upgraded Evil Dead Rise to a theatrical release where it proved to be an unexpected financial success; as of this writing, Evil Dead Rise has made nearly $45 million worldwide and been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Critics praised the lively gore, the surprisingly poignant performances, and the new direction, which focused on motherhood and family, leaving the franchise in a good place for potential follow-up movies that explore the lengthy, bloody history of the Deadites and their damnable book.
I think I detailed my opinions on the Evil Dead movies pretty well in my individual reviews; I’ve always been a bit fan of the series and really enjoyed the gritty, gory, madcap nature of the original movies. While my ranking of all four is pretty clear-cut and I have my issues with the original film and Army of Darkness, I think the franchise has, overall, hit more than it missed. Granted, a lot of this was because of the grotesque content of the first two films and Bruce Campbell’s career-defining turn as the franchise’s quick-witted, chainsaw-armed protagonist, but Evil Dead showed that the series still had plenty of gas in it even as a remake. Evil Dead is easily one of my most favourite horror movies; I loved how the filmmakers took the concept seriously, put some real money behind it, and yet still didn’t hold back with the gore. If anything, Evil Dead pushed things further than even the ghastly original movie, and I remember being super happy to see that the remake performed well, critically and commercially, and yet disappointed to find that we never got a follow-up, much less closure regarding the film’s abrupt ending. When the ridiculously fun Ash vs. Evil Dead landed, I held out hope that maybe we’d see a team up between Ash and Mia Allen (Jane Levy) but, sadly, it wasn’t to be and the closest we got to this was seeing characters from across the franchise crop up in Evil Dead: The Game (Saber Interactive 2022). I was thus sceptical when the first trailers for Evil Dead Rise landed; not only did it seem to be doing something very different with the concept (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as we’ve seen the “cabin in the woods” trope done to death at this point), but it was hard to tell where it fit into the canon; was it a continuation of Sam Raimi’s original films, the remake, the series, or its own thing entirely? Evil Dead Rise ends up subtly being all of these things at once, and it works a lot better than I thought it would.
The film begins in familiar territory; twenty-somethings Teresa (Mirabai Pease), Caleb (Richard Crouchley), and Jessica (Anna-Maree Thomas) are enjoying themselves at a secluded lakeside cabin with Jessica violently succumbs to demonic possession and attacks her friends, but this cold-open is really just there for a big of explicit fan service and homage to the original movie and to get things off to a gruesome start as the rest of the film takes place in the claustrophobic corridors and dank apartment of a Los Angeles tower block. There, struggling tattoo artist Ellie lives with her three kids – eco-warrior Bridget (Echols), wannabe disc jockey Danny (Davies), and imaginative Kassie (Fisher) – and is facing impending eviction as their building is scheduled for demolition. Their family dynamic is at the heart of the film and based on mutual respect; though they miss their father and want to see him and Ellie patch things up, they’re not lashing out or resenting her efforts to keep a roof under their heads and are all largely pragmatic about their less-than-ideal situation. This is similar to the relationship between Ellie and Beth; they used to be very close as kids but drifted apart somewhat as Beth took to the road as a “groupie” and has been so focused on getting her music career off the ground that she’s neglected to stay in contact with her sister, nieces, and nephew. Yet, despite arriving too late to help with Ellie’s messy break-up, the two power past any bitterness since Ellie can intuit that something’s bothering Beth; specifically, she’s struggling with the revelation that she’s pregnant, and much of the film’s focus is on her accepting this and being put through a gruesome trial by fire as she fights to protect her sister’s kids. I really enjoyed Beth and Ellie’s relationship; it’s clear that Beth feels bad about not staying in touch and that she wasn’t there for her sister like she’s always been for her, but she’s trying her best and Ellie doesn’t give her a hard time over it. Once Ellie gets possessed and starts violently lashing out, Beth steps into a matriarchal role with ease since she already had a good relationship with the kids as their bad-ass aunt.
I actually didn’t mind the kids, either; kids can often be hit or miss, especially in horror movies, but the kids in Evil Dead Rise thankfully avoided being stroppy, confrontational teenagers or whining, annoying brats. Although Danny and Bridget clash a little bit, especially when she interrupts him, and there’s a little resentment as he’s older and can drive, there’s no antagonism between them and they have some fun banter and a playful relationship with youngster Kassie, probably the standout of the three, especially considering the horrors she’s subject to throughout the film! While coming back from fetching pizza, Bridget, Danny, and Kassie are rocked by a sudden earthquake which opens up a hole in the parking garage of their tower block. Unable to resist his curiosity, Danny ventures down into a hidden vault from the building’s past as a bank and discovers a couple of vinyl records and a mysterious book sealed by fang-like thorns. Ever the budding DJ, he plays the tapes and learns of this third volume of Naturom Demonto, unwittingly unleashing the demonic force that possesses and corrupts his mother into a twisted, snarling Deadite. This is primarily where relationships briefly break down between Bridget and Danny; she begged him not to mess around in the vault, chastised him for stealing the book and records, and angrily lashes out at him after he reveals his part in the nightmarish events that have taken place. Danny’s smart enough not to object to this or even fight back; he carries a tremendous guilt knowing that he’s caused harm to his mother and is indirectly responsible for some truly shocking deaths, but Beth is on hand to cool their tempers and ensure that they all stick together as a family. Still, Danny is compelled to fight back against the demonic Ellie to try and make amends and when Bridget is also claimed by the evil force regardless, he tries to comfort Kassie, but ultimately even he ends up another victim to the spiteful evil after taking a face full of blood bile from his possessed sister and a few wince-inducing stabs to the arms.
I mentioned that this is the third volume of the Naturom Demonto and it’s true; the tape recording explicitly states this, which is enough of an explanation for me (it’s easy to believe that the original trilogy, the remake, and this film are all in the same canon, just with different books) and this is only bolstered when you remember that there were three books in Army of Darkness, something I somehow forgot about until after seeing this film. The evil force unleashed here is similar to what we’ve seen before, but also very different; what we see of the book is mainly ghastly prophetic drawings inked in human blood, and this particular book was discovered by a group of priests, one of whom foolishly read from it in a bid to understand the afterlife and heal the sick, and who was forced to lock it away after finding it quite indestructible. Still, the evil is still represented by a rushing, disembodied force that latches onto its victim through violent assault; poor Ellie never even sees it coming; she’s lashed up in elevator cables, has her earring ripped out, and is bent and broken by the invading spirit, which spitefully twists her love for her family against her. In previous Evil Dead films, the possessed would briefly revert back to normal but it was always a trick by the demons; here, Ellie does have brief moments of genuine lucidity, but the rest of the time it’s the demon maliciously tormenting her family and trying to trick them into letting her in, which the poor naïve Kassie almost falls for. Once possessed, Ellie demonstrates horrific superhuman strength, speed, and a contortionist’s agility; she easily manhandles the handful of other tenants, chewing out an eyeball, ripping limbs from bodies, and throwing off her attackers with ease. Unlike other Deadites, Ellie is practically unstoppable; the tape details how the possessed now shrug off all injury, even being set aflame, and that the only permanent solution is total bodily dismemberment and even then, Ellie just keeps coming back! Although her kids and Beth manage to barricade themselves in the apartment, the evil still seeps in thanks to Bridget suffering the smallest of nicks; that (and a disgusting kiss from her mother) is enough for the evil to claim her as well, turning her into a rabid, feral child who, like her mother, pounces upon her prey with snarling glee.
Evil Dead Rise definitely goes back to the smaller, grittier, isolated horror that was so prevalent in the original. While this is the first time an Evil Dead movie has taken place in a major city, an all-out Deadite infestation isn’t the focus here; instead, the isolation of a cabin in the woods is replaced by a similar, claustrophobic horror of a cramped apartment in a dilapidated apartment building where the power and elevator are less than reliable. The earthquake also takes out the stairwell and causes power fluctuations, further recreating the sense of despair that permeated the previous cabin-based movies. Where Evil Dead Rise really stands out, though, is that it focuses primarily on one Deadite, the possessed form of a mother and sister, rather than a group of the undead or the ritualistic sacrifice of souls to summon a greater evil. This scaling back of the threat works really well in the context of the movie; Beth and the kids can’t just leave as they’re cut off from escape and feel a sense of obligation to tend to Ellie’s rotting corpse, then they’re forced to endure psychological and horrific bodily harm at the revived Ellie’s hands with no real hope of salvation. Indeed, the handful of other residents prove to be little more than cannon fodder to the flesh-hungry Deadite; a wonderful sequence provides just enough of a hint of Ellie’s brutality as Beth watches in horror through the peep hole in the apartment door, but that comes after she ravenously rips a bloke’s eye out and spits it into someone else’s mouth! This isn’t the only reference to Evil Dead II in the film, though; in fact, there are lots of them peppered throughout, from similar tilting shots and situations (like the stairway having collapsed like the bridge was destroyed), to explicit lines (“Come get some!” and the gaggle of zombified corpses littering the corridor chanting “Dead by dawn!” over and over), to Beth’s eventually handiness with a chainsaw, but I also appreciated that evil infecting Bridget was depicted as a putrid, tar-like corruption of her veins, similar to in the first film.
Of course, one explicit way that Evil Dead Rise evokes not just Evil Dead II but the majority of the franchise is through its gore. While a surprising amount of the film is actually devoted to building tension and focusing on the mounting horror inside the apartment as Beth and the kids struggle to come to grips with what’s happened, Evil Dead Rise is unrelenting when the blood starts spilling. Things are off to a gruesome start in the cold open when the possessed Jessica rips Teresa’s scalp off, shoves a drone’s blades into her face and tosses Caleb’s severed head from the lake but Ellie’s bone-crunching possession and the way her body is twisted and contorted by the invading spirit is extremely gruelling to watch, and even evokes the controversial “tree rape” scene from the original movie. Once claimed by the evil, Ellie becomes a sneering, cackling ghoul who stabs a shard of glass into Beth’s hands, tears through the other tenants, and even tries to stick a tattoo needle in Bridget’s eye! At one point, Ellie is briefly stunned when Beth shoves a pair of scissors up her nose and blows her arms and a leg off, but her unrelenting assault sees poor Bridget get possessed as well. Bridget announces this by chewing on a wine glass, the shards piercing her throat, and gleefully runs a cheese grater down Beth’s calf, turning her skin into ribbons of gore! Bridget’s attack upon her siblings is much briefer than her mother’s thanks to Kassie’s little mop friend; when Bridget leaps to devour her little sister, she gets the broken end of the mop’s handle shoved right through her skull, but she soon recovers from this to brutalise Danny, who also turns into a Deadite after being repeatedly stabbed by his possessed, knife-wielding sister. There’s a fair bit of disgusting vomit here, too; Ellie spews up a load of creamy-white gunk before collapsing and Bridget practically drowns Danny in bloody bile before being set alight. The film even has a bit of an ode to The Shining (Kubrick, 1980) for a scene where Beth and Kassie are forced to escape in the malfunctioning elevator and it fills up with thick, bubbling gore that is deposited, alongside them, into the ground floor car park!
This volume of Naturom Demonto unleashes a slightly altered demonic force, one far more durably and malicious than those we’ve seen before; sure, Ellie could be compared to the cackling witch from Evil Dead II and the possessed Mia delighted in tormenting her friends in Evil Dead, but there’s something more visceral and horrifying about a mother spitting such venom at her cowering children and twisting Ellie’s emotions against her family. Although the recordings reveal to Beth that complete bodily dismemberment could put a stop to Ellie, she’s not exactly got the tools for that in the tiny apartment, but there is a convenient woodchipper in the parking garage. At first, this isn’t Beth’s goal; she’s simply trying to get Kassie to safety, which she manages to do after subduing her attackers with a shotgun and taking the bloody express elevator to the ground floor. However, the possessed Danny and Bridget rip their way into their mother’s body and the three of them come together as a multi-limbed, screeching monstrosity known as the “Marauder”. This almost spider-like amalgamation of limbs and teeth follows Beth and Kassie to the garage and stalks them in scenes reminiscent to Mia’s final stand against the Abomination (Randal Wilson/Rupert Degas). Disturbingly quick and inhumanly powerful, the Marauder corners Kassie and revels in her horror as it closes in on her with a chainsaw, but Beth manages to save her young niece with a well-timed shotgun blast and claim the chainsaw her herself. She’s then able to hold her own against the beast, retaining all of her limbs in the process, so Kassie can activate the woodchipper; the Marauder’s foot gets caught in the spinning blades and it’s reduced to chinks of gore with an agonised wailing. However, even with its body being chewed up and when left a blinking, twitching, severed head, it continues to taunt Beth, who simply chops into it with her chainsaw and boots the head into the machine, finally finishing it off and allowing her and Kassie (both drenched in blood) to escape the apartment building. The film ends with the reveal that Jessica was also a tenant in the building and, in a homage to the ending of The Evil Dead, she’s attacked by the disembodied force while investigating the garage. Personally, I would’ve liked to see the cold-open replaced with a slightly different scene (perhaps a flashback to the book’s reading from 1923 so that Bruce Campbell could’ve made more than a voice cameo) and replaced Jessica with one of the characters from Evil Dead, just to tie things together a little better, but I appreciated the homage and enjoyed the blood-soaked finale, which worked as a cathartic, heroic evolution for the previously unsure and hesitant Beth, who has now become a battle-hardened protector figure.
I don’t want to say I was anxious about Evil Dead Rise, but I was curious; to be honest, I was a bit annoyed that we never got a direct sequel to Evil Dead, as much as I enjoyed Ash vs. Evil Dead, and was worried that the film would either ignore the remake or just be another reboot. Thankfully, the one, throwaway line about there being three books satisfied my urge for some kind of explanation and the film provided enough entertainment to keep me engaged regardless. This is again another brilliant indication that the Evil Dead franchise doesn’t need Ash to be enjoyable, and I really liked that Evil Dead Rise mixed things up a bit by focusing on a family trapped in their apartment rather than the cliché cabin in the woods. The location was almost too perfect at evoking the same sense of isolation and dread as being trapped in a secluded cabin and the focus on the family dynamic and drama made the horror so much more impactful and meaningful. Ellie might be the most intimidating and malicious Deadite in the entire series; seeing her love for her children twisted against them and her voracious need to torment and consume them was just horrendous in ways beyond the simple terror of a rabi, zombie-like demon scratching at the door, and this was conveyed really well through the child actors. I liked how each of them stood out in their own ways; the whole family was a little alternative and had a great dynamic, and the central story of Beth needing to step up and defend her family, stand on her own two feet, and realise her role as a mother came through really well. Gorehounds should also be very satisfied with Evil Dead Rise; the film does a great job building tension and focusing on psychological terror rather than going a mile a minute with the splatter-horror but, when the blood does start flowing, it’s brutal and glorious to see! I especially enjoyed that Ellie was twisted into an all-new monstrosity at the end and the implication that each book unleashes a slightly different evil, and, overall, I was extremely impressed by the film, which again took the concept seriously (while still having a little fun) and delivered both chilling tension and shocking gore in equal amounts.
What did you think to Evil Dead Rise? Where would you rate it compared to other entries in the franchise? What did you think to the new direction and were you satisfied by its links to the other films? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to the family-orientated focus of the horror? What did you think to the film’s gore and callbacks to previous Evil Dead films? Were you surprised by how durable Ellie was and what did you think to her multi-limbed Marauder form? Where would you like to see the franchise go next? Whatever your think about Evil Dead Rise and the franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media, and go check out my other Evil Dead reviews!
Wow. Great review. I’ve always been curious about these movies but especially after reading your review I will definitely not be watching any of them, lol! But you explained everything so well I felt like I was reading a horror story and it worked. I was entertained and pictured everything but didn’t have to “see it”.
I definitely recommend 2, the remake, and this if you ever feel like watching them
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