The Rebirth of a Franchise
By: Patrick Weeber (Vanilla Bear)
The famed Evil Dead franchise originated from two aspiring filmmakers, Sam Raimi (Director/Producer) and Bruce Campbell (Ash Williams). Since the 1981 debut, Evil Dead, it had given its fans an initial trilogy, reboot, and a Netflix TV series. Would you believe me that it even includes a musical production? When the 2013 reboot, The Evil Dead, was announced a specific aspect caught my attention. Sam and Bruce took a step back in the process. Fede Alvarez had pressure on him as the Director. It was dark, inventive, and gory. When Evil Dead Rise was announced, I was forced to wonder if they would finally evolve the formula. If they did another remake/reboot it would feel like an easy way to engage fans. Limiting long-term engagement in the future of the iconic horror films. What we got was an emotionally charged, subtly humorous gem led by director Lee Cronin. Much like Fede, he had a responsibility to the die-hards to deliver an authentic experience, while at the same time defining what the vision could be going forward. Easier said than done. What he delivered sparked long conversations with me and Chocolate Bear about the property’s potential. Pilgrim Evil Dead anybody? Think about it. We are here to discuss what happens when a family stumbles on the Necronomicon. Before we can First, we need to discuss the rules of Evil Dead.
In my opinion, there are three required formulaic requirements built into an Evil Dead production. One, a creepy cabin. The 1981 original was the result of Sam and Bruce not getting the investments they needed. Practical use of one location with the illusion of escape became a staple. The cabin has taken on a different look over time, but to similar effect. Second, they use these isolated locations to confine the characters. It forces the viewer to imagine what it would be like locked in a room with a demon. Unsure of who it will possess next. Third, and the most iconic in my opinion, is Ash William’s chainsaw. You can only kill the fully powered demon by cutting it up limb by limb. Only after it takes five souls. Controversially, I loved the last thirty minutes of the 2013 reboot. We will have our contact information at the end. Please let us know your favorite kills! Ok, rules established. How did Lee Cronin implement the rules?
To understand his vision you need a small detail from Army of Darkness. The third of the base trilogy. Ash Williams learns that there are three Necronomicon books in the universe. Per a Cronin interview Ash’s universe used one, the reboot found the second, and his is the third. The story centers around two sisters reconnecting after Ellie’s husband walked out. Leaving her with three kids. Beth returns after being on tour as a guitar technician, pregnant and needing her big sister’s advice. However, we open at a cabin. Jessica, Teresa, and Caleb are having a fun weekend. When Teresa heads in to check on Jessica, who had been sick, she starts to recite the book Teresa has in her hands. Withering Heights word for word. Jessica did not seem like the bookish type. When approached she has a less than ideal reaction. She scolds Teresa for making fun of her boyfriend. The demon eventually scalps Teresa and rips off Caleb’s head, ascending to power above the lake. That’s your opening. Leaving the audience in mystery as it cuts to the family and Beth’s introduction the day before. You get a sense of the distance between them and meet Ellie’s children. Danny (Oldest), Bridget (Middle), and Kassie (youngest). I will comment at the end how great they all were.
Beth is the cool aunt. The family was instantly relatable. She would have known about Ellie’s husband if she picked up her phone. I am Beth. I usually get personal family news last (sometimes my fault). I moved out of the state my family lives in. It clicked! Their mom gives them money to get pizza so that her and Beth can talk. It’s not long before they return with dinner and an earthquake happens. Danny sees a hole in the parking lot ground. What teenager is not going to investigate a hidden underground bank vault? Unfortunately for the family it’s not just some old safe deposit boxes. Dusty old music records are accompanied with the Necronomicon. Again, what kid isn’t taking that to investigate later? Bridget warns him when she sees it open, cut him, and drink the blood that drips on the cover. Classic Evil Dead. He starts to listen to the tale of the unknown book. Ellie is getting increasingly stressed as more neighbors are introduced. On top of everything else the family only has the apartment another month. It is being torn down. One shotgun-toting neighbor tells us how the doors, like a bank vault, are impenetrable. Laundry seemed like a good way to distract herself. She realizes that the stairs have been blocked because of the earthquake so she goes to use the elevator. This scene was incredible. Elevator wires begin to string her up, torturing until the infection takes hold. Yes, Mom is the first deadite, but more importantly the elevator is out of commission. That’s right, we have gotten the creepy cabin and unsettling confinement. Only this time it is a family preying on each other.
Before continuing I need to make a sweeping statement. Alyssa Sutherland (Ellie) is my favorite character since Bruce in the original. Her devolution from the human state is filled with iconic moments and lines. Let’s jump right to the next one. Ellie’s body begins to burn up and they try to cool her down with an ice bath. Demons DO NOT like that! She escapes, boiling the water supernaturally, and says, “Mommy’s with the maggots now.” Chills. Before they can get her out of the apartment, she infects Bridget with her tattoo needle. Maintaining a presence in the room. At this point the movie activates psychological warfare. Including putting additional focus on Beth’s motherhood abilities. It is worth noting that from the fight with her possessed sister she lost the use of her left hand. An easter egg from previous films. From this point on it is non-stop action. While the infected blood is taking over Bridget, Kassie is at the door talking to her mom. As the most innocent of the family the demon lures her to open the door with a promise their dad returned. Kassie opens the door just enough for Ellie to grab her. After coming to her aid Beth discovers Bridget in the kitchen. Perched on the counter. Turning around and eating glass to, “kill the creepy crawlies I got inside my tummy.” Extremely unsettling. Then she makes a comment about the baby in Beth’s tummy. Bridget drags a cheese grater on Beth’s calf before Kassie uses her weapon, Staffney (spelling unknown – doll head on pointed stick). Once they corral her Danny ties her up inside a trash bag.
With Bridget out of the picture momentarily they focus on Ellie again. She had been collecting the neighbors for her personal deadite army. Danny also admits to Beth that he unleashed the evil around them. She uses her guitar tech skills to get power to the turn table. While she’s listening Bridget begins to rustle, and Ellie uses the vents to get in. Danny is stabbed and infected to protect Kassie. Only Beth and Kassie remain unharmed. With the help of Kassie, Beth stabs Ellie through the face with scissors and they head to the hallway. They discover the fire escape cannot be reached and grab a shotgun to break through. Ellie appears in the hallway. After a couple shots removing a leg and arm, the gun owning neighbor wakes up a deadite and the infected children are by their mother’s side. For those that are fans the chant that follows hits hard. “Dead by dawn, Dead by dawn, dead by dawn.” I get creeped out by cultish chanting. Instead of chasing Beth and Kassie the camera zooms in on the book. An image of multiple bodies being intertwined. You get where it’s going. The mother merges with the army of kids, friends, and neighbors she turned. Once in the elevator they are trying to get it to work. Comedy is infused here as Kassie notices Ellie’s keys from the beginning are stuck between the doors. It worked the whole movie! Unfortunately, the monster is coming in from an above opening while blood is filling the elevator. The camera pans to a max occupancy sign and the elevator drops to the garage floor. The escape takes too long so the monster catches up. After a battle, with a lot of help from Kassie, they grind the monster through a wood-chipper. Leaving together with the chainsaw. The movie ends with Jessica walking down from floor five. When she sees the blood, she gets out of her car and calls the police. She is possessed before she can call emergency services. Instead of killing her and becoming the demonic presence it can after five deaths, she drives Teresa and her boyfriend to the cabin. The demon won. Did that ever happen before? Other films have tried to find loopholes, but in the end the remaining survivor always got the job done. Was Beth, Kassie, or Teresa able to rid the world of its blood rain? Maybe we find out in a sequel.
Evil Dead Rise asks new questions for the franchise. What if the book latched onto a burdened mother? Prayed on the pressures of family? It answers all of them without wasted dialogue and practical effects that are industry excellence. Ellie goes to the elevator because Bridget had a dirty shirt. Danny, the family DJ, finds the priest’s records. CGI was used only when necessary. The prosthetics are industry excellence. All for about 19MM Dollars. Morgan Davies (Danny) and Gabrielle Echols (Bridget) were solid, but the standout for me was Nell Fisher. As Kassie she turns in one of the best child performances seen for any genre in recent years. I saved dialogue to backup this point:
Beth: I’m getting us out of here. I promise.
Kassie: You’d me a good mom someday. Auntie Beth.
Beth: Oh yeah?
Kassie: Yeah. You know how to lie to kids.
In the moment this is confirmation that Beth, Kassie, and her unborn child will be safe. That life doesn’t throw you anything you can’t handle. I have faith that Beth will reach her goal of Head Technician on tour as well. Nell Fisher may be the next child star! Danny, played by Morgan Davies, shows that horror films are important for another reason. It is widely accepted as the genre to represent society’s minority roles. Since I do not know Morgan personally, I will use they, but they came out a few years ago as Female-to-Male Transgender. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. It only matters if you are entertained. You’re watching a movie! It would not have helped the film to make it a focus and the simple messaging showed true care. Alyssa Sutherland, in real life, is not a fan of horror movies. She delivers a performance worthy of an Oscar Nomination. I still believe Mia Goth or Jenna Ortega will be the the first horror actors to win Best Actress, but I’m happy to be wrong. Chocolate Bear and I just want the genre to be recognized as legitimate in the voters’ eyes.
After my first viewing of Evil Dead Rise, I felt it left out character details. I saw it a second time and I was wrong. Lee Cronin relied on a mix of physicality and light dialogue. The emotional moments were earned, but the ninety-minute run time could still have tacked on ten minutes to cement the relationships. Specifically, a conversation with the kids talking about their dad alone. Getting to know their inner feelings on him would have made Kassie at the apartment door even more sad. As a wimp I should have been crying immediately. I wouldn’t say that wanting more of an amazing movie is a complaint. I can’t do anything except recommend all horror fans take the time to see what love and care put into a loved franchise can look like. Your resident bears see this causing a major shift in what Evil Dead is in the future. Do they move away from the creepy cabin? Use a new iconic weapon? We are excited to find out!
A special thank you to Chocolate Bear for ensuring I kept the information about Morgan Davies included. Evil Dead Rise is a master class of not only the message of love, but of the other messages discussed above.
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