Is it time for the Evil Dead to rise and shine? Nope. The Evil Dead can FRO to wherever they came from after sitting through the fifth instalment of the gory, increasingly humourless horror franchise. I’ve got a mixed history with the Evil Dead, which seems to have become a brand with little connection to Sam Raimi’s original 1981 film. The second film, Evil Dead 2, was somewhat more developed, with a winning performance by Bruce Campbell and a tighter grip of the horror/comedy feel. For reasons unknown, I’ve never seen Army of Darkness, which from most accounts went off in a silly direction, but I did collect my badge for sitting through the 2016 reboot, about which I can remember nothing other than I was present in the cinema as it unspooled.
That anonymity comes round to haunt Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise, which may be the most profitable of the franchise, but made coin at the expense of identity. Rather than a gnarly old cabin in the woods, the action is moved to an LA high-rise, where an earthquake in the underground car park reveals a grimoire in the form of a Necronomicon, a magic book which can conjure the spirits of the evil dead Alyssa Sutherland plays Ellie, a put-upon mom whose kids find the book, and is turned into a slathering monster; Lily Sullivan plays Beth, her ‘guitar-technician’ sister who helps Ellie’s kids fight off their demon mother’s advances.
With the action largely taking place in and around one apartment, Evil Dead Rise doesn’t enjoy the kind of development that, say, Demons 2 got from opening out the action, and an early scenes in which scissors, broken broom handles and other items are scattered around the room provide a dull portent of the stabby sharp-object based narrative to follow. ‘I don’t like having things inside my tummy, do you auntie Beth?’ is a typical line; there’s some kind of garbled message about motherhood here with pregnancy tests and demonic taunts like ‘Are you going to be a mom?’, but any critique is buried in gallons of blood; why bother with character, plot of humour when you can just jam a pair of scissors up someone’s nose? Other featured elements include turntables, gravel pizza, and a character reading Wuthering Heights for reasons I couldn’t be bothered understanding.
It sounds awful, and it is, but the bookends are worse. Evil Dead Rise starts with a relentless, restless camera flying through undergrowth, mimicking the distinctive tropes of the first two films, but this is revealed to be a modern drone. This pre-credits shows another attack by corpses which can bite your eyes out of your sockets, making the entire film a flashback with a lead-up to the beginning as the film’s final perfunctory sequence. The one interesting element here is that as well as a cursed book, the generous deadites give the kids some old 78rpm records, supposedly from 1923, in which the voice of Bruce Campbell cameos as someone tangling with the demons in a period setting. This ‘spiritual resurrection’ sounds more interesting than anything in this film, but it’s over in a few seconds and it’s back to the relentless bone-breaking, eye-gouging waves of blood which engulf the entire project. The Evil Dead can FROBTWICF as far as this critic is concerned; whatever this used to be, it’s deader than dead now.