For fans of the EVIL DEAD franchise, the new chapter entitled EVIL DEAD RISE checks a lot of boxes. Back is the flesh-covered Necronomicon Ex-Portis book to wreak havoc on unsuspecting victims, not to mention the franchise’s blend of over-the-top violence and equally brazen dark humor. For Fangoria buffs who crave bloodletting, you couldn’t ask for more than this film’s elevators of blood oozing everywhere. And for slasher enthusiasts, this one kills off a surprising number of those under 21 in its 97-minute run time. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this sequel lies in its commentary on the central characters already living in its own version of hell, necro-books be damned. They’re stuck in a dead-end existence in a crumbling, condemned LA apartment building that will soon be leveled. Nowhere to go but down, right?
Writer/director Lee Cronin, who shows up in a preamble before the film starts to thank us for showing up in the theater post-COVID, demonstrates a clear zest for grotesqueries throughout, starting with opening the film in a cabin setting that knowingly pays homage to everything from CABIN FEVER to CREEPSHOW 2. Cronin is obviously a big fan of horror, and he drops Easter eggs and references to many horror classics all the way through this outing. He pays homage to a lot of THE EVIL DEAD tropes started by creator Sam Raimi way back in 1981 as well. And the filmmaker even brings the same gonzo energy to each scene that Raimi did, never afraid to dial things up to an 11 for ludicrously comical effect.
In fact, the family is so cartoonishly drawn in the set-up, it feels more farcical than grounded in any recognizable reality. Mom Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is an aging rocker chick with magenta hair and a small tattoo business keeping her family afloat. Teen son Danny (Morgan Davies) is a self-absorbed, wannabe club DJ paying scant attention to his siblings. That’s unfortunate for little Kassie (Nell Fisher) who could use some guidance as she’s prone to cut the heads off her dolls to shock cynical sis Bridget (Gabrielle Echols). They make for a funky, dysfunctional lot, made all the more problematic when Ellie’s ne’er-do-well sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) shows up pregnant, unmarried, and homeless. The film gets plenty of laughs out of her ‘career’ as a rock band groupie, but now Beth is feeling the need to settle down and she thinks her immediate family is going to help. Little does she realize they’re all going to be homeless in a matter of weeks if Ellie doesn’t find new lodgings and quick.
A few other stragglers are still hanging out in their dank and dark digs too, including a crusty old man and a trio of teen boys, not that we get to invest in their lives or plight. These supporting players are introduced swiftly because they’re merely there to be quick casualties. And their eminent demise is sealed when Danny discovers the aforementioned evil book in the bowels of the building, and opens it, leading the demonic pages to start its renewed quest for human death and destruction.
Danny unwittingly unleashes all kinds of danger and his mom is the first victim. She’s inhabited by a demonic spirit, leading her to start talking in a animalistic growl, spewing buckets of vomit, and crawling all around the run-down apartment trying to slaughter her babies. Danny, Beth and the girls try their best to fight back but it’s hard to beat the devil, you know? Soon enough, more family members succumb to the evil, in addition to various parts of the apartment building falling under the spell of the book’s destructive ideas as well.
After that, the film is little more than effectively-rendered set-pieces showcasing all kinds of ways to separate flesh from bone. And if such killing frenzies are your idea of worthy horror, this one has your name written all over it as Cronin displays many graphic ways to slice and dice human bodies. For those with a more sophisticated horror palate, the cheeky Raimi-esque humor Cronin sprinkles throughout will likely keep you crowing.
The one, more inspired level that the film can be appreciated on is Cronin’s trapping of the family in hell long before the book is opened. The dingy, moldy apartment complex comes with broken doors, crumbling floors, and locks and gates on the fritz. No wonder it’s lost its use. The building is a prison in its way, thwarting the remaining residents at every turn, even as they try to escape. That adds a cynical but clever layer to the film, one that makes this more than just an obvious gore fest.
EVIL DEAD RISE is not great horror, and in many ways, the EVIL DEAD franchise has been eclipsed by all kinds of films treading on similar terrain for decades now, be it the HELLRAISER or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchises or cleverer one-offs like IT FOLLOWS. The message in such films tends to always be the same: evil is omnipresent, it follows you and/or your bloodlines, and it doesn’t take prisoners. This entry does all of the same-old, same-old, even if it pulls off its overkill with brio. Maybe this is Cronin’s way of suggesting we’re all stuck in a cycle too, not necessarily of a hellish existence in city housing, but rather, the experience of viewing such big screen demonic fare played out so similarly. At least it’s bloody well done, if such is the intent.