WORDS: Dave Bradley, Arts Reviewer
The latest installment in the Evil Dead saga (complete with a big, fat R Rating) is somehow a sequel (to Fede Álvarez’s 2013 remake) and a reboot (getting the whole thing going again) at the same time, with original director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and beloved cult star Bruce Campbell among the production credits and generally helping out with it all. Campbell also contributes a secret cameo and even added a gagging sound effect during a particularly icky moment, but he doesn’t actually appear, which might lead some diehard devotees to insist that this isn’t, in fact, a proper Evil Dead epic at all. And what a bunch of screwheads!
If you’re an Evil Dead fan (and, really, who isn’t?), you’ll know that this comes after The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Army Of Darkness (or Evil Dead III or 3, and from 1992), the remake, and, finally, TV’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead (three seasons from 2015), and the good news is that this actually feels like a real Evil Dead pic, even though this is the first of the films to primarily take place in a suburban area, instead of a cabin in the woods or cheesy/fantasy medieval times.
As written and directed, this time, by Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin (look for his first feature, The Hole In The Ground), this opens as if we’re midway through a traditional ED outing, with a trio of young ‘uns in an isolated house and well into the business of being terrorised by a demon (or ‘Deadite’). We then cut to a once-grand but now somewhat dilapidated apartment building somewhere in LA (although, like the remake and the Ash series, this was shot in New Zealand), and watch as pregnant guitar tech Beth (Australian Lily Sullivan) visits her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, another Aussie) and her three kids, who are sent off for pizza just before an unfortunately-timed earthquake reveals an improbable hidden vault under the carpark.
Eldest Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and youngest Kassie (English player Nell Fisher in her screen début) try to stop wannabe-DJ middle child Danny (Morgan Davies, another Aussie) from retrieving some phonograph records and what fans will recognise as ‘Naturom Demonto’, or the ‘Book Of The Dead’ or the Necronomicon, a familiar Evil Dead prop first dreamt up by the ubiquitous H.P. Lovecraft. And, naturally, Danny opens the book, plays the records, and summons up evil, with Ellie the first to be messily possessed.
It’s surprising that, with no Campbell here and with the wild slapstick schtick toned down a touch, we actually feel something when poor Ellie goes bad and turns on her kids. Really? Could this be the first Evil Dead movie where we care about the characters, and we’re not just waiting for the next hilarious bit where Bruce Campbell is smacked around Three-Stooges-style?
And yes, from hereon in it’s unbelievably graphic and gory, with a gun, a cheese grater (!!!) and, finally, a chain saw used as weapons, and, according to director Cronin, more than 6500 litres of fake blood used to cover the set, the Deadites and the cast. You do have to wonder, too, how the tiny Nell felt about being part of the intense horror: she couldn’t have been carefully filmed around, like Danny Lloyd was in The Shining (Stanley Kubrick and others convinced the kid he was in a whole different movie), because the girl’s right there, virtually swimming in the red stuff. Just how the heck did her parents feel about this?
If groupies can see past this then they’ll rejoice in the references to previous Evil Deads, which are subtle yet many and varied. The characters names are all callbacks; the possessed shriek, “Dead by dawn!”, just like in the second part; when Beth brandishes the gun, she quips, “Come get some!”, just like Bruce; there’s another flying eyeball; and the Deadites-eye-view camera swoops around, just like always, although originally director Raimi and others nearly killed themselves to achieve this effect, whereas here it was mostly done with a damn drone.
And given that this has already proven quite a box-office hit, it seems that there will definitely be sequels, with (according to Sam, Rob and Bruce) a whole global Evil Dead plague on its way.