[Review] Evil Dead Rise (2023) by Marcus Wilturner

You know the story. We all know the story at this point – Five friends learn the hard way while visiting a secluded cabin in the forest, it never ends well when you open and read mysterious first editions. That edition being none other than the Necronomicon. The book of the dead. Needless to say there wouldn’t be a movie if people actually left this damned book alone but we’re all glad they don’t because this franchise wouldn’t exist in all its graphically frantic, darkly humorous, blood-soaked glory. Most would agree that the original Evil Dead (1981) was a groundbreaking and grandstanding step in horror’s inevitable evolution as a medium. While there were plenty of hard-hitting features and future classics making their marks around that time, there was something truly special about legendary director Sam Raimi’s bloodstained, low budget opus.

The history behind it, the wackiness, and of course the inventive and energetic nature of its horror — While not a monetary success at the box-office, It nevertheless solidified itself as one of the greats. And it wasn’t alone as its equally famous, genre-meshing sequels, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) accomplished the same feats in righteous fashion. And it’s one of the many reasons why all three films have been analyzed, dissected, and revered for decades. Collectively, The Evil Dead trilogy stands as one of the most well-known and influential pieces of cinema ever produced. It’s not just a classic, cult-favorite, or institution but a significant part of the foundation that makes horror and even cinema what it is today. And its techniques will survive long after most of us are in the ground.

In the new century, when the re-boot, re-make, re-imagining, re-telling, re-vision, re-whateverthehell entry, Evil Dead, came out in 2013, despite many believing it would be disrespectful to the original trilogy, it turned out the exact opposite. A sensationally driven combo of nasty thrills, chills, and buckets upon buckets of blood that culminated in an extremely satisfying experience. An uncanny companion piece to the originals in every manner. But two years later, Ash vs Evil Dead (2015 – 2018) arrived on television and DID capture the original’s graphic magic all too well. Mostly because it involved badass hero and main character of the franchise, Ash Williams, played by icon Bruce Campbell, who didn’t miss a step in portraying the chainsaw-wielding demon killer. Hell, now that I’m typing this, this series hasn’t faltered, missed a beat, or lost a step in the 42 YEARS since its conception. That’s a monstrous achievement, especially in the horror genre.

And the grisly excellence continues as Evil Dead Rise (2023) comes in like a crimson-fueled whirlwind and reminds the masses just how incredible this saga is…acting as a proverbial love letter to the past, present, and even future. An unrelenting rollercoaster ride that consumes and doesn’t relinquish its grasp until the final frame. Showing massive appreciation to the loyal, excited fanbase and casual lovers of horror.

As the story goes — During a dark and stormy night, Beth (Lily Sullivan) comes to visit her semi-estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), after receiving some big news. As the two catch-up, Beth’s kids, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Nell Fisher) head out for pizza. Upon their return, a sudden earthquake uncovers a hidden area underneath the parking lot to their apartment complex. After Danny does some inane exploration, he discovers locked away religious artifacts, along with phonograph records and a strange book. Unfortunately, the book is the third volume of the Naturom Demonto, the Necronomicon. The book of the dead. Soooooo naturally, Danny takes all of this back to the apartment, opens the book, and plays the records. And all certifiable HELL breaks freaking loose. A long long long night ensues.

With a runtime of about 97 minutes, this lean, mean number moves at a brisk pace, getting straight to the point on an insanely hellacious evening. We spend a little time with our characters and their dynamic as well as the grungy, crumbling setting of the apartment building. Quite a departure from the normal cabin in the woods scenario the series is known for but all the more welcomed in showcasing some further distinct and fucked moments once the hammers start falling and the blood starts flowing. Also have to note this feature possesses impeccable sound design. Plenty of jolts, booms, silences, knocks, ticks, thumps, splats, and nearly every single sound cue was played to haunting perfection. So much so, it’s almost blasphemous that this film was originally supposed to drop on the HBO-max streaming service before positive test audience reactions made the studio push for a theatrical release. Rightfully so, because the sound, amongst other elements in the film, highly benefit from that sweeeeeet theater presentation. Major kudos to the sound mixing department who put in award winning work. Sensational stuff.

Which brings me to the effects, which like every previous entry, relied heavily on the practical over the digital and it showed. Especially when it comes to the red stuff, as this film features over 1,700 gallons of blood, which was significantly less than the 70 thousand gallons used in the last movie but still incredibly impressive given its contained story. Plus there’s plenty of homages to other classic horror films in this too. You’ll definitely catch each one if you’re a fan. Or inquisitive.

Performance wise we have another departure from the usual twenty-something adults. This time around we get an actual family with young ones on deck for the carnage and every actor did a stellar job. All of them. And while some of the normal horror mistakes were present, for me, the fact that this story involves children helps with that. I mean, they’re supposed to be stupid and not know what the heck is going on. So again, small grievances considering what we got here.

The atmosphere is dank, dirty, and delightfully huge even in its subtle moments. Director Lee Cronin and cinematographer Dave Garbett knew exactly how to place each camera and utilize each scene, sequence, and shot in order to maximize the creepiness, tension, and violence. The devil is certainly in the details. Not to mention they used tricks that Raimi no doubt had his hand in (Which isn’t surprising since he’s one of the producers involved), so nerds could see those cool nods and winks toward our beloved originals. It all comes together masterfully, with an attention to the intensity in which everything was projected. And in some cases, literally projected. The mayhem has never been more….well…archaic. The smile on my face has never been bigger. I mean, not since the last film anyway.

And who could blame me? This film simply goes for it. And I mean GOES. FOR. IT. In terms of creating a frightfully sick, dazzlingly decadent, gruesomely chaotic tale that entrances, tantalizes, energizes, and completely thrills you. It may not be as overly spectacled like the previous film but you respect its willingness to push the limits on what you might expect, and what you wouldn’t expect. And this feature is enthusiastically refreshing in that regard. Bottom line, I adore this film. It was literally everything I wanted in another installment to this dynamite series that’s close to my heart. Couldn’t get enough and there’s no doubt in my mind that the impactful dead spirit is insatiably present and its subversive style holds up remarkably and unquestionably well after all these years. Years of cinematic greatness overflowing with blood and grooviness.

Hail to the King, indeed.


Review written by Marcus Wilturner


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