REVIEW: “Evil Dead Rise” (2023)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Many of today’s horror movies are custom-made for easy consumption and even easier profit. Many studios have embraced the low-budget low-risk formula. They’ve realized that they don’t need to spend a lot of money to get people in the seats. Horror fans turn out. I’m certainly not against filmmakers taking risks, having fun, or showcasing their style. And I’m certainly not opposed to studios finding ways to make money. But the horror films of today rarely leave a lasting impression. What’s a good remedy for that? Well, fresh new ideas are always welcomed. But sometimes it’s good to get back to the basics.

Take “Evil Dead Rise”. It is absolutely a franchise horror movie so calling it “original” might be a stretch. But it comes from a series that has always had its own brutal (and sometimes wacky) identity. You may know what to expect from an Evil Dead movie, but you’ll never be fully prepared. Also, it’s a series that has wisely kept itself from over-saturating the market. This is only the fifth feature film since the original released back in 1981 and the first in ten years.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Evil Dead Rise” is the second feature from writer-director Lee Cronin. His previous film was 2019’s “The Hole in the Ground”, a cleverly effective chiller that shares some of the same thematic interests as his latest, namely the anxieties of parenthood. While his first movie had a more psychological horror bend, Cronin’s sophomore effort let’s him explore that parenthood theme in the grisly, gruesome Evil Dead world which longtime buddies Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell first launched 42 years ago for only $375,000.

Times have changed and movies cost a lot more to make. But “Evil Dead Rise” stays true to its roots and was made for a modest (by today’s standards) $15 million. But don’t worry, every penny made its way onscreen. Everything from the gnarly practical effects to the incredible makeup to the gallons upon gallons upon gallons of blood helps to create this visually amazing buffet of grotesquerie that long-time fans are hungry for.

Cronin has turned in a film that’s every bit as unsettling and gory as its predecessors (the lighter “Army of Darkness” being the one exception). Whether it’s someone swallowing jagged shards of glass, a cheese grater to the back of the leg, or a scalp ripped off a head, “Evil Dead Rise” leaves no doubt that it’s not for the squeamish. It’s a stone-cold killer of a movie that grabs you by the jugular and doesn’t let go. Yet Cronin doesn’t leave us emotionally high-and-dry. He gives us rooting interests, and he develops characters with enough humanity to make us care. That proves crucial.

After one of the best cold opens in recent memory (a nod to the ‘cabin in the woods’ trope the original Evil Dead movie made famous), Cronin takes us to Los Angeles where we’re introduced to Ellie (a terrific Alyssa Sutherland). She lives in a low-income high-rise apartment with her three children, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), and Kassie (Nell Fisher). Life is hard for Ellie who has been raising her kids by herself ever since her husband and their father left. Even worse, the old building they live in is set to be demolished and Ellie still hasn’t found them a place to live.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ellie is paid a visit by her estranged sister Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar tech for a touring rock band. Beth has gotten some unexpected news and looks to her big sister for guidance. But their family reunion is interrupted after an earthquake rocks their neighborhood. The quake opens up a hole in the parking garage revealing what appears to be an old vault (we learn the building was once a bank). In the movie’s lone instance of head-scratching inanity, Danny crawls down the hole and discovers some religious relics, a couple of old vinyl records, and one particular old tome that’s bound in flesh and inked with blood – the Naturom Demonto aka The Book of the Dead.

Fans know where it goes from here. The book is opened. The creepy incantations are recited. The soul-feasting flesh-destroying Deadites are unleashed on an unsuspecting Ellie and her family. Through it all Cronin keeps the tension steadily rising while seamlessly blending in slivers of humor often in the most unexpected moments. It’s all accentuated by the eeriness of the dim apartment building setting which becomes a playground of giddy gore-filled horror intent on making you squirm

Any real emphasis on storytelling withers away in the second half, but to his credit Cronin knows what his audience wants. He gives them a tightly wound 97 minutes that’s shrewdly tuned to satisfy the demands of devoted fans and to terrify those who are coming in fresh. And he does it all while subtly planting seeds for possible future films. Altogether it makes “Evil Dead Rise” a bloody good addition to its franchise and a feral jolt of energy for its genre. “Evil Dead Rise” is in theaters now.


10 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Evil Dead Rise” (2023)

  1. I really enjoyed this one, but it feels like it was holding back, especially compared to the previous movie. It’s still a wild movie that delivers the red stuff, but it makes me wonder if there’s an unrated version of the film that’s going to get released on Blu-Ray at some point. Still Evil Dead Rise is still really damned good. The fact that there hasn’t been a bad Evil Dead movie yet, speaks volumes about the talent and the care towards the franchise.

      • Yeah, it’s like the new people making these new Evil Dead movies actually understand what makes Evil Dead what it is. It’s shocking, really. In all seriousness, I’m glad Evil Dead Rise went to theaters instead of straight to HBO Max. Somebody at Warner Bros. clearly understands the value of theatrical releases. That means the movie’s going to do pretty well on streaming.

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