Review: EVIL DEAD RISE Is A Bloody Good Time

Evil Dead Rise
Image via Warner Brothers

Writer/director Sam Raimi’s 1981 debut feature The Evil Dead billed itself as “The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror” and its virtual non-stop assault of horror pretty much lived up to that tag line. And while Raimi and his co-star Bruce Campbell would move the franchise in a direction that highlighted Campbell’s physical comedy abilities – and creating the genre of splattstick in the process – the original film still retained a loyal fan following. A franchise reboot in 2013 directed by Fede Álvarez, with Jane Levy stepping in to be the target of vengeful spirits from the afterlife, hewed much more to the tone of the original, and was a modest hit.

And that brings us to the latest installment of the franchise, Evil Dead Rise. This time it is writer/director Lee Cronin who is serving up the horror in an installment that definitely sits on the same shelf as the original film and its most recent predecessor in terms of approach to the material, even if it is devoid of outright mentions of Campbell or Levy’s characters. (Don’t worry, a few familiar elements of the series do make their way into this film.) As unrelenting as any installment in the series, Cronin resets the franchise’s usual isolated cabin in the woods locale to a crumbling inner city apartment building with a mother, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) and Ellie’s three children fending off the vengeful spirits trying to breaking into the world of the living. And in the film’s economical hour and a half runtime, Cronin puts the screws to both his characters and the audience, ratcheting up the terror through the film while splashing around so much fake blood, one has to wonder if the production was buying it in bulk in 55-gallon barrels.

Of course the trickiest element of the original Evil Dead films’ success is the one that can’t be readily replicated – lead actor Bruce Campbell. With a roguish charm, superb sense of physical comedy and the ability to not take himself too seriously, Campbell took the role of victim of the deadites gleeful torture (and director Raimi’s personal punching bag) and transformed himself into an iconic genre star whose fame has spread far from just among hardcore horror fans. In fact, it would be something of a fool’s errand to try and create a new version of Campbell’s Ash for a new Evil Dead story. Campbell’s characterization was a type of in-the-moment alchemy that most likely could never be reproduced and any attempt to do so would flash false almost immediately. Sulivan’s Beth does take the lead hero here and she does acquit herself well, even when the script doesn’t necessarily give her enough meat to make a meal of her character. If anything, the bond between Sullivan’s Beth and Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie is somewhat underwritten, leaving the actresses to fill in the blanks as best they can. If they had been given some stronger material on the page, it would have made their final confrontation pack more of a punch than it does.

Evil Dead Rise
Image via Warner Brothers
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About Rich Drees 7205 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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