Evil Dead is a horror franchise that doesn’t mess around. The wholesome and heartwarming tale of an evil book that summons up demonic forces known as Deadites who will mess you up in every possible way, over five movies, one TV series and 40-odd years, it’s been the name you can trust when it comes to putting things on-screen you won’t quickly forget.
Sometimes it leans a bit more into comedy (the three-season TV series Ash vs Evil Dead, which went from good to great to … still watchable); sometimes it just goes all-out nasty (2013’s reboot Evil Dead). It may never again reach the truly brilliant heights of creator Sam Raimi’s cartoony Evil Dead II, but so long as it keeps coming up with winners like Evil Dead Rise, nobody’s going to complain.
After an opening involving the traditional cabin in the woods and a fairly effective reminder that the Deadites do not mess around when it comes to messing up the people they’ve possessed (or anyone else close by) we flash back to the day before, where a completely unrelated set of characters are hanging around a gloomy Los Angeles apartment block.
Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is a single mother with three kids: teenagers Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and youngster Kassie (Nell Fisher). Dad recently split and their apartment (in fact, the whole building) is condemned, so the mood is pretty grim when Ellie’s younger sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) shows up after months on the road as a guitar tech.
She wants to hang and decompress, Ellie is pissed at her sister’s lack of support during her recent rough stretch, then there’s an earthquake and before you know it Danny’s climbed through a crack in the basement car park floor and found a vault that contains an evil book that seems to have teeth. Uh-oh.
This all takes a while to set up, and long time Evil Dead fans may start to wonder if the deranged roller-coaster approach the series is famous for has finally fallen by the wayside. But once the demonic forces establish a toehold in the apartment – Danny also brought back a collection of evil LPs, which provide both useful exposition and sinister chanting – things go downhill fast for the living, and the bottom is a long, long way down.
Director Lee Cronin (2019’s The Hole in the Ground) isn’t Sam Raimi, and this doesn’t quite have the demented glee of the peaks of prior Evil Deads (again, that’s Evil Dead II). But if the vibe here is a bit more gruelling than Raimi’s horror-comedies, that’s only to be expected. Rather than a bunch of disposable teens – and Bruce Campbell as Ash, horror’s greatest hero – facing monsters, this is about a family tearing itself apart, often literally.
After the lengthy slow burn beginning this escalates swiftly, racing through some nasty scenes towards the kind of over-the-top gore mainstream horror hasn’t been game to go near for quite a while. It’s somewhat impressive that the lid is largely kept on the extreme carnage at first, with the focus initially more on the nastily memorable (if you’ve seen the trailer, you know about the cheese grater).
Eventually, as with all good Evil Dead instalments, things tip over the top. While your choice as to exactly when that is might vary, the sequence that’s basically the bloody elevator from The Shining only our surviving heroes are inside the elevator is probably the point of no return. And don’t worry, that tree shredder parked in the basement isn’t there just to look good.
There’s enough black comedy in Evil Dead Rise to keep it from being entirely one-note (a fate that befell the 2013 Evil Dead), and Sutherland’s giddy performance when she’s possessed lifts this above the usual grim slaughter-fest. The whole thing is a wild ride, the kind of horror movie best enjoyed in a cinema full of fans going berserk.
Jump scares and creepy possessions, brutally inventive violence and ridiculous amounts of blood: whatever you’re looking for in a horror movie – even if you’re going to be looking at it through your fingers – you’ll find it here.
Evil Dead Rise is in cinemas from 20 April.