The Evil Dead franchise is one of those classic horror series that I think not only stands the test of time, but is also one of the more consistent series when it comes to quality. Sam Raimi’s original foray into low budget body horror is iconic at this point, due in part to the film’s impressive practical effects, it’s dark absurdist humor, and of course, a legendary character performance from Bruce Campbell. The first two films are absolutely terrific, with the sequel being my personal favorite. The third film, Army of Darkness, certainly leans into the comedy and zaniness established in the prior films the hardest, and while not my favorite, I have to respect Raimi for going in a different, unique direction. Then we have the 2013 reboot(?) sequel(?), from Fede Alvarez, which completely ditched the goofiness and fully leaned into sadistic brutality. While lacking in the charm of the original and relenting from trying anything too new, I still have to give it props for being an absolutely gruesome watch that was actually one of the first rated R films I watched in theaters. What a place to start.
So unlike many other legacy horror franchises, Evil Dead has a pretty decent track record. Hearing of a new film coming around gave me a ton of anticipation, and the trailer truly sold me. It looked like the film was going to honor the identity of the original while attempting to give it a fresh coat of paint. That’s mostly what Evil Dead Rise accomplishes. It’s a gory, brutal film filled with much of the calling cards that makes the series so iconic. There’s a shit ton of blood, gore, dismemberment, and an underlying black humor to it all. While I had a hell of time, I do have to acknowledge that the film tends to feel a bit more conventional than its past iterations while struggling to cement its own identity to the franchise. But if you’re looking for some decent scares and solid effects, I think this is what you’re looking for.
In the film, an earthquake traps a mother, her three children and her visiting sister inside their LA apartment and, like true Evil Dead fashion, an ancient demonic force begins to torture the family. The mother becomes possessed and sets out on a violent, murderous spree towards the occupants of the apartment, while her sister tries to get her and her sister’s kids through the night. It essentially follows the beats you’d expect from the Evil Dead formula, although this time the movie makes the bold move to not have it set in a cabin in the woods. Daring decision. In truth the new setting is a welcome one, still maintaining the claustrophobic atmosphere of the previous movies while adding a new dynamic to a familiar approach. Sure a 2 bedroom, open floor plan apartment doesn’t have the same ominous creepiness of the woods, but it does lend itself to some unique sequences for the series. We do get a little bit of that classic Evil Dead feel at the beginning though, with one of the most badass title reveals in recent memory. Admittedly, the way the film inserts the demonic evil into the story does feel pretty contrived and silly, which is something that did stand out to me immediately. Without spoiling too much, it just feels very coincidental even beyond horror movie silliness. The way the other films establish the Book of the Dead and how it ends up in our protagonist’s hands feels a bit more believable, but here it’s a bit far-fetched.
Aside from this, the changes to the Evil Dead character dichotomy are welcomed. Instead of the typical cast of horny teens, we’re instead introduced to an imperfect yet loving family. The relationships between them are far more interesting and engaging than I think they’ve ever been in the series, which is of course bolstered by some great performances. Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie is perhaps the standout, committing to all sorts of inhuman body movements and terrifying expressions. She manages to be incredibly threatening and imposing even when she’s on the other side of a door. Lily Sullivan’s Beth is also a great protagonist, having to come to terms with her own impending motherhood in the most extreme way possible by trying to protect her nieces and nephew. Speaking of which, the younger performances from Morgan Davies, Gabriella Echols, and Nell Fisher are all superb as well. These kids go through some absolute hell, and they do a great job selling the terror of what they’re experiencing.
While feeling different from past films thanks to its location and character archetypes, the film never lets you forget its roots. The film plays out how you would expect; characters find a creepy book made of flesh, its incantations get read, people get possessed and all hell breaks loose. There’s even quite a few callbacks to past films, whether it be iconic quotes or repurposed scenes, like instead of having a demon trapped under a cellar door, this one is locked out of the apartment. At times the film feels a bit too reliant on the past, opting for cheeky callbacks rather than fully committing to doing its own things. Little nods and winks are fine, I just think it had a good thing going with its new setting that I wished it would have kept trying to be more unique. There’s also a metric ton of “Chekhov’s gun” type hints towards certain objects coming into play later. Depending on how you feel about this trope you may find yourself less surprised than you’d like when the foreshadowing is this obvious, but it can still be a bit of fun.
But I can be a bit more forgiving when the film does its best to honor the legacy of its predecessors by sticking with a reliance on practical effects. If there were digital effects at work here, it’s certainly hard to tell. The film’s use of prosthetics, fake blood, and gruesomely severed body parts go a long way in maintaining the brutal nature of the original. Glass penetrates skin from the inside, eyeballs get sucked out of skulls, cheese graters are ripped across legs, and scalps are ripped clean off. It’s all fairly gnarly, though I do have to say the 2013 may still hold the title of most viscerally disturbing when it comes to the gore. Nonetheless, the practical effects here are still top notch, with bucket loads of blood to spill. And like the other films, there’s one big demon to take on at the end, with this one being more interesting than the Abomination from the previous film, though not as nutty as Henrietta’s final form from 2. Still I love the design of the creature, feeling very inspired by The Thing, I just wish we could have seen a bit more of it.
Evil Dead Rise honestly feels like a pretty comfortable middle ground between Raimi’s loony classic and Alvarez’s grim and mean retelling. While it doesn’t really lean into the goofiness as much as the classics, there’s still a bit of dark humor lurking underneath, and while it can feel rather conventional compared to the depressing grindhouse nature of the 2013 film, Rise does make some bold choices for the franchise and doesn’t hold back on being viscerally uncomfortable. Overall I had a great time with this, with Evil Dead continuing to cement its status as a horror franchise with no skips. Groovy indeed.
Sour of the Dead
The Necronomicon aka the Book of the Dead is a pivitol artificat across all Evil Dead media. The flesh-bound book contains incantations that, when read, unleashes the Deadites upon any unlucky soul in the vacinity. When adapting the iconic book into a drink, I opted to use dark spirits such as rum and coffee liqueur to give it its…fleshy complection. As I was developing it further, I thought it would be neat to turn it into a sour-style cocktail, complete with egg white and lemon juice. This gives the drink an interesting flavor pairing of tart and rich notes, a frothy, desserty body, and a solid head of foam that allowed me to give stenciling another try. Utilizing a sheet of cardstock paper, i crafted the tortured face of the book to add a creative dusting of cinnamon to the top. The drink is a deliciously complex and incredibly pleasing to conjure; no klaatu barada nikto needed!
- 1.5oz dark rum
- 1oz coffee liqueur
- 1/4oz Amaretto
- 1/2oz cinnamon simple syrup
- 3/4oz lemon Juice
- 1 egg White
- Top: Cinnamon
- Optional: Book of the Dead stencil
- Add ingredients to a shaker and dry shake without ice for about 15-20 seconds.
- Add ice to shaker and shake to chill.
- Strain into a coup glass.
- Use the stencil to gently dust the top of the cocktail to create your image.