26 Apr 2023

At the Movies: Evil Dead Rise

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 26 April 2023

A popular horror-comedy franchise returns with this gory new film shot in Auckland.

Back in the early 1980s an entertaining - if gory - film called Evil Dead hit the video stores.

It was promptly followed by Evil Dead 2, and a little less promptly by a third one called Army of Darkness.

Unlike your usual splatter movie, the Evil Dead films were both blood-soaked and funny - particularly the performance of their lantern-jawed star Bruce Campbell.

Since then it's been rebooted by its producer Rob Tapert, and often shot in New Zealand where he lives. Bruce Campbell is now an executive producer as is the original director Sam Raimi.

This means the latest in the franchise, Evil Dead Rise, has a new director - Irishman Lee Cronin - new stars - Australians Lily Sullivan and Alissa Sutherland - and a bunch of Kiwis in supporting roles. OK, so shall we begin?

Calling Evil Dead a franchise is slightly flattering. It's hardly a cinematic universe like Marvel's MCU or Tolkien's Middle Earth.

With Bruce Campbell out of the picture, the "Evil Dead" elements are limited to the idea of an evil book, the Necronomicon, that causes demons to take over characters. And there's often a chainsaw somewhere in the proceedings.

But what more do you need in 90-odd minutes of scary movie? Let's meet the Evil Dead Rise family.

There are two sisters - responsible Ellie, and rock and roll Beth. Ellie has three adorable kids, Bridget, Danny and Cassie. Beth is the unreliable aunt. Watch what happens.

The first thing that happens is Danny finds a mysterious book that had been safely locked away. What's it say on the front? "Necro-something or other"?

And before you can say "Leave it alone, Danny!" he's taken the book and a couple of vinyl records back up to the family flat. Then he plays the records.

That doesn't sound good. But what he doesn't know is that Mum - Ellie - popped out that night to pick something up, and on the way back, something picked her up.

Something demonic and bloody.

Ellie has just long enough to tell Beth and the kids what's going to happen, and then it starts happening. Over and over it happens.

The whole movie is essentially keeping "Mum possessed by a demon" outside the flat, while she keeps finding ways to get back in and cause mayhem.

And when she can't get in, she takes it out on the people in neighbouring flats. Out in the corridor, people keep popping their heads out of their doors, saying "Hey lady, what's going on?"

Not a recommended practice if you value your limbs and internal organs.

I've mentioned a number of times in the past that I'm not exactly the target audience for films like Evil Dead Rise.

When the fourth bucket of blood was cracked open about halfway through, it was hard to suppress the gag reflex.

But it was also obvious that everyone else - cast, crew and audience - was having a thoroughly good time.

There's nothing creepy, sleazy or cultish about the Evil Dead world. It's basically a series of cleverly-devised, extreme stunts with just one aim - to make you jump.

And like all the best splatter-drama perpetrators - right back to William Shakespeare's Macbeth and Titus Andronicus - Sam Raimi and Lee Cronin know you have to break up the mayhem with good doses of comedy.

This gag could have come straight from Hamlet's gravedigger.

In the end, as they say, it is what it is. A lot of fans have expressed their delight - and relief - at Evil Dead Rise.

It does the job, and while there's no way that I'm going to use the phrase "timeless classic" to describe it, let alone "I can't wait to see it again", that's because it's not talking to me.

Will another Evil Dead Rise from the ashes of this one?

There are enough survivors (I e, more than one) to support a sequel. Perhaps Bruce Campbell could turn up as a chainsaw repairer?

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