In my opinion, the Evil Dead franchise hasn’t really dropped the ball yet — at least not where it counts. Every movie or episode related to this demonic universe pulls its weight. Sure, a person might detect a few plot holes here and there, or wonder how this multiverse of stories all ties together, but it’s a well-done splatter-fest filled with chills, thrills, demonic spells… and plenty of laughs. Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise is just as worthwhile a Halloween season treat as any other Evil Dead flick, and in some ways could also practically stand on its own.
There’s carnage in the killer intro, instantly letting you know what to expect. You have priests caught on a cryptic recording saying ghastly, demon-summoning incantations from a creepy, dangerous book. You have demon-possessed characters getting sick and dying, which emphasizes body horror elements of demon possession. And you have demons who are playful as they destroy their victims, and force their victims to destroy them; maybe someone will get their fingers cut off, stabbed, set on fire, or any number of things. Fun times!
“Evil Dead Rise” reminds us what makes the “Evil Dead” franchise different
Seeing someone stalked by a silent masked serial killer or a burnt-faced, wise-cracking dream demon can be fun, but so can demons spawned from a bad-ass book. Here, young Danny (Morgan Davies) has the ultimate “Whoopsie” moment while playing the record he found underground, hoping the rare album might raise money to help his family. Instead of raising money, it raises demons, and one of them swoops in and possesses his young mother, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Refreshingly, no mysterious man shows up to save them; the family has to do it on their own, with even the main hero grownup character, Beth (Lily Sullivan) struggling to make sense of it all, while defending herself and her family.
Evil Dead Rise also taps into one of the strengths of the franchise: The sense that we could all become the killer, or victims of the killer. In Ellie’s apartment, everyone is a prey item, be it Beth, Danny, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), or the youngest daughter, Kassie (Nell Fisher). Some of the scariest moments of the movie are when Ellie first becomes possessed and everyone’s still trying to reach her, as they think there must be something left of her in the unconscious mind. Of course, another obvious source of terror is that the children are vulnerable to attack (especially Kassie).
The spooky general horror warnings of “Evil Dead Rise”
There are plenty of little lessons in Evil Dead Rise. For starters, you might hesitate to enter any hidden room (especially if that room is underground, revealed after an earthquake, and is surrounded by creepy artifacts). Another lesson: Make sure you can escape your apartment building easily, if possible. Beth, Ellie, and the children are confined to that apartment throughout much of the movie, and can barely escape to the basement floor of the building. Also, don’t be too much like Danny: Don’t play creepy, cool, haunted old records that could summon demons!
Well, okay, that last one sounds like something I would do, if possible, and I don’t even believe in nor like demons! Granted, in his defense, he likely didn’t know what he was getting his family into, but he should have tapped into the 1980s nostalgia and watched The Gate, which would have informed him of the dangers of listening to unwholesome, cryptic albums. Before long, the tenants in the apartments are being held against their will by his freshly deceased, demon-possessed mother, and he and the rest of his non-possessed family unsuccessfully try to break them out. Just listen to John Tesh albums, kids!
Raising the stakes
Another scare in Evil Dead Rise is Ellie’s discovery that Beth is pregnant, which Ellie uses to scare the bejeesus out of her. As a cruel trick, the possessed Ellie also seems to imply that, as a mother, she feels variously held back or abandoned by her children. While this seems more like a subtext that the demon introduces, the forcefulness of these moments seems to play tricks with the characters, and they forget she’s not really Ellie. Of course, this sort of ties in with moments from The Exorcist, or, to a lesser degree, zombie fiction generally, where characters need to remind themselves “That’s not really my loved one anymore.”
Though that dynamic’s almost become a cliché by now (made fun of by the movie Fido, for example), it is still effective when done right. Evil Dead Rise does that right, and so many other things. In fact, I struggle to find anything that is egregiously wrong with it. Lots of people consider this one of the best horror flicks of 2023. Alexandra Ramos at Cinema Blend watched this without seeing the other movies, and it made her a fan! So yeah, feel free to watch this one around Halloween time. I already have.