Major spoilers ahead for Evil Dead Rise. You’ve been warned.
In the horror genre, the Evil Dead flicks hold a special, universally worshipped place in the very top tier. The movies, especially the 1981 original and Evil Dead 2 (which is both a bigger-budget remake and a sort-of sequel), set the benchmark for on-screen violence and gore. And to this day they’re still largely unmatched, even by other entries in the franchise (including video games, comic books and the awesome series Ash vs. Evil Dead). Evil Dead’s also well known for its ability to combine comedy with horror, making the franchise truly unique.
A reboot of the original story came out in 2013 (directed by Fede Álvarez). While the new(ish) version seriously amped up the gore and violence, the signature humor was gone. The result was perhaps a much scarier flick, given its sheer brutality and relentlessness once the action starts. But in sacrificing the dark, I-can’t-believe-I’m-laughing-at-this comedy, it lost something important.
Now with Evil Dead Rise, writer/director Lee Cronin attempts to recapture the blood-soaked magic of the originals while also changing the game. Starting with Evil Dead’s signature camera move: what used to be a shaky run through the woods in the original flicks is now a much smoother, bigger-budget fly. But instead of it being the demon’s POV, we’re tricked; it’s just a drone. It almost takes the head off an unsuspecting girl named Teresa (Mirabai Pease), who snipes at the drone’s owner, Caleb (Richard Crouchley), who’s out there by the lake bothering her instead of his girlfriend Jessica (Anna-Maree Thomas).
Jessica’s in the cabin asleep, not feeling well. Teresa goes back inside to get away from jerky Caleb, and while reading from Wuthering Heights, Jessica’s voice suddenly and eerily recites the very passage Teresa’s reading, getting louder and more distorted. Not surprisingly, the passage includes the words, “Let me in!” Then Jessica springs up, falls off the bed and pukes. Teresa tries to help, but in one of the flick’s best shockers, Jessica suddenly grabs Teresa’s hair and yanks her whole scalp off. Yow.
Teresa tries to escape back to the lake and Jessica follows, slicing her own face with Caleb’s drone before tackling Caleb into the water. As poor, bloody Teresa looks on, Caleb’s severed head suddenly flies out and lands on the dock. And all Teresa can do is scream as “Deadite” (the franchise’s name for the possessed) Jessica rises out of the water, hovering like an evil angel.
Cut to a day earlier. A roadie named Beth (Lilly Sullivan) takes a pregnancy test in the scummy bathroom of a dive club somewhere. As another roadie bangs on the door demanding her help with the band’s guitars, she looks at the test and her face says it all.
Cut to the new “cabin in the woods” in a rundown part of L.A., in a rundown apartment in a rundown building that’s about to be demolished. Beth’s sister, a single mom named Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), repairs her tattooing equipment as we meet her kids. There’s would-be DJ Danny (Morgan Davies), socially conscious emo Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and the youngest, Kassie (Nell Fisher), who spends her time making her own toys out of spare parts. Think Syd in Toy Story without the mean spirit. Her latest creation uses a baby doll’s head on a broken broomstick. More on that later.
Beth shows up at Ellie’s door, unannounced. Too wrapped up in her own messy life to have noticed, Beth suddenly realizes that Ellie and her husband have split up. So Ellie isn’t exactly having an easy time, either. Ellie sends the kids out for pizza so she and Beth can talk. Beth tells Ellie that she’s screwed up, again, and needs her sister’s help, again. She doesn’t quite get around to the pregnancy before an earthquake hits.
The kids have just returned with the pizza and find a hole that’s opened up in the parking garage floor. Going against Bridget’s warnings and all common sense, Danny drops down into the chamber below. He finds a bunch of very old documents, a very old book, and, most appealing, three very old records. When they get back to the apartment, Danny tries opening the book, but it’s locked by what looks like talon-like thorns. When Danny cuts his hand on the thorns, the blood from his cut causes the book to open.
Once the human-skin-covered book opens – known in the Evil Dead universe as one of the three books of the Necronomicon – the kids see the horrifying images inside and realize they probably should’ve left it. But of course, it’s too late, as Danny plays the first of the records (featuring the voice of Ash himself, Bruce Campbell) and starts the deadly ball rolling. The famous incantation blares on the speakers, summoning the demon.
The demon attacks poor Ellie in the elevator, beating her up and ripping out an earring before the broken elevator’s cables bind her arms and legs, in another nod to the original. But in a surprisingly sensitive and wise move, director Cronin opts not to show the demon attacking Ellie in the sexualized way the other movies used.
Ellie returns to the apartment and goes right into the kitchen, grabbing a pan. As she cracks a bunch of icky blood-filled eggs in the pan, she calmly says she wants to cut the kids open and climb into their bodies. Yikes. Then she pukes up an impossible amount of miscellaneous fluid. Beth tries to help, but Ellie just tells her not to let the demon get the children. Then she dies – or so it seems.
Then we meet the neighbors, Gabriel (Jayden Daniels) and Mr. Fonda (Mark Mitchinson), who help Beth get Ellie into bed. And in the last quiet moment of the flick, Beth talks to her dead sister, telling Ellie how regretful she is that she never made time for her when Ellie really needed help. Then Ellie suddenly awakens, burning up with a fever. Everyone helps carry Ellie to the bathtub, which she flails around in before popping back up.
Now in full “Deadite” mode, Ellie tells the kids that “Mommy’s with the maggots now.” Then she jumps onto the ceiling, letting out a deafening scream, letting us all know it’s game on. She starts attacking the kids, getting a hold of Bridget first. Deadite Ellie uses her tattoo gun to punch a hole in her own head before scratching Bridget’s cheek with it.
Gabriel and Mr. Fonda try to find a way out of the building that’s trapped them with a broken elevator, destroyed stairwell and no power. Meanwhile, Beth and the kids manage to lock Deadite Ellie out of the apartment and barricade the door. Which is bad news for Gabriel and Mr. Fonda, as they get slaughtered along with a couple of other neighbor kids.
As Bridget begins to turn Deadite from her wound, Deadite Ellie tries to trick little Kassie into opening the door – and of course she does. She almost gets choked to death but Beth and Danny save her and keep Ellie out. But now Bridget’s turned, perching on the kitchen counter, chewing on glass. Yum. And in one of the flick’s most creative gross-outs, Bridget then attacks Beth by scraping a cheese grater down her leg.
It’s Kassie who takes out her sister, with the pointy, broken end of that homemade toy going right through the head. They wrap a seemingly dead Bridget up, thinking that might work better, then Beth and Danny go back to the Necronomicon and the records to try and figure out what to do. While they’re doing that, Deadite Ellie’s found a way back in by using the air vents. And while resurrected Deadite Bridget fatally stabs Danny (and does the usual massive puke all over his face), Deadite Ellie goes after Beth and sensing the baby inside, tries to claw it right out of her.
Beth manages to get away and get herself and Kassie out of the apartment. While they try to get down to the street, Deadite Bridget and new Deadite Danny start clawing their way into their Deadite Mom’s body. Ick. And in a cool homage, they form a whole new creature that looks like it came right out of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).
And in the other major homage, as Beth and Kassie escape to the elevator, it fills with blood. So that by the time it hits the ground floor, it explodes blood everywhere just like in Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining (1980). Beth and Kassie get in the car and nearly escape, but of course the car gets stuck. The two run from the nasty Ellie/Bridget/Danny monster and almost manage to get under the closing gate.
Beth gets through but Kassie doesn’t. So Beth has to make the ultimate decision to put someone else’s life before her own. And of course she goes back in and battles the Ellie/Bridget/Danny monster, eventually going for the classic Evil Dead weapon: a chainsaw. And in the crowning gross-0ut, it takes a combination of dismembering with the chainsaw and grinding up the parts in a giant industrial woodchipper to finally stop the Deadite rampage.
A blood-soaked and traumatized Beth and Kassie leave – but not without taking the chainsaw. And then to link back to the beginning, we discover that scalp-ripping Jessica was just an innocent neighbor from another floor. She comes across the massacre in the parking garage and gets attacked by the lingering evil. Cut to black on her screaming.
Ever since I first saw the trailer, I’ve been really looking forward to Evil Dead Rise. I’m a huge fan of the flicks and the series. And even though Fede Alvarez’s version lacks the trademark humor, I still like the flick just as a lean, super-mean, unrelenting horrorshow.
I also respect director Cronin’s approach to the franchise, trying to grow the material by taking it out of the cabin-in-the-woods box and introducing a new, wide-open playing field. I can imagine a possible sequel (if Evil Dead Rise makes enough money) where the third book of the Necronomicon is found and unleashed on an entire city. How crazy would that be, right?
But back to Evil Dead Rise. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely checks all the boxes. And it certainly packs in more than enough foul language, creative kills and blood to satisfy any diehard horror fan. But there’s just something about it – to me, it just feels off somehow. Not quite what it should be, even though it seems to have everything it needs.
I think I was hoping for something that went beyond the usual Evil Dead story. I think I was hoping to see a way to defeat the evil and not just stop it for the time being. Even though most Evil Dead fans might be happy with just that, for me, it’s becoming a bit too rote.
There needs to be something new added to the mix, something besides the setting. The story needs to expand. It needs to show us something new, something we didn’t already know and do something it hasn’t already done. I hope going forward that franchise creator/producer Sam Raimi can help his chosen directors find that something, so Evil Dead can continue to be the grossest, grooviest horror series ever made.
Written and Directed by: Lee Cronin
Release Date: April 21, 2023
Run Time: 1 hr 37 min
Distributor: Warner Bros.