Movie Review: “Evil Dead Rise” and we are not amused

There are some genuine frights amid the gruesome, gory, eyes-averting horror of “Evil Dead Rise,” a reboot of/homage to the franchise that made Sam Raimi and his muse, Bruce Campbell, famous.

Writer-director Lee Cronin pays tribute to that franchise with a chainsaw here, a Campbell catch-phrase there — “Come GET some!”

But I found it a pitiless version of a story that was amusingly cheesy in its original incarnation. Throwing a lot more eye-gouges, impalings, shotgunning and skin-shredding at us seems like overkill designed to make us ignore how heartless and humorless this all is.

A grisly prologue set in a lakeside A-frame in the woods by a lake make us wonder if we’re headed into a variation of Raimi’s “cabin in the woods” narrative. But a few bodies there are but a tease for what came “one day earlier.”

That’s when rock tour guitar tech Beth (Lily Sullivan) peed on a stick and decided the result was a reason to catch up with her much-neglected LA sister Ellie (Alysa Sutherland) and her family.

That’s when an earthquake hits and opens up a hole in the basement of their condemned used-to-house-a-bank high-rise, exposing the old bank’s buried vault. It’s not cash that aspiring DJ-son Danny (Morgan Davies) uncovers. It’s old shellac records, and this creepy old book.

Do we remember our Latin? Or our Raimi?

That would be “Naturan Demento,” “The Book of the Dead,” its pages made “from human skin,” its binding from human bone. And as we all know, all it takes is a simple injury and a drop or two of blood for the book to open, its horrific images to be exposed and Danny’s activist sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) to be wholly creeped-out.

Playing the incantations captured on those 1923 discs is what lets all hell break loose.

If only Danny had guessed why a long-sealed bank vault was decorated with crucifixes. If only he’d taken heed of the seal on the crypt where he found the book. If only this story’s theme and morality were more complex than “curiousity killed the cat.”

The creepy, Flatiron-shaped building features flickering lights and soon, an elevator with a demonic mind all its own. Neighbors may be introduced and a family dynamic suggested — Ellie’s husband moved out, her youngest (Nell Fisher) traumatized by the hope that Daddy will come back.

But we know where this is going and who is but fodder for slaughter, even if we can’t suspect how merciless the director of “The Hole in the Ground” will be in taking us there. Tattoo’d punk rock Mommy is who the demon comes for first.

And there’s no talking with “her.”

“Mommy’s with the maggots now.”

Others can make the case that horror shouldn’t let the viewer off the hook, that relentlessness is one way to go to jolt, shock and revulse horror fans.

But “Evil Dead” in the title gives us the right to expect more than just gore.

There’s little that’s realistic outside of this “universe’s” established tropes — the book, the demonic possession, the fact that shotguns and knives and cudgels won’t stop it, but a good wooden door or “Fargo” farm implement will.

Still, the players are good at registering shock, even if their characters are slow to react to threats to loved ones. Perhaps the kids liked Daddy best.

Cronin gives the picture a period piece flavor, cell phones and digital mixing boards, with all the cars coming from the ’80s or early ’90s. Raimi’s famous ’73 Olds Delta 88 becomes a ’90s Buick Roadmaster wagon here.

The only things I found amusing are goofy, perhaps intentional mistakes — a veteran rock roadie calling the ancient recordings “vinyl,” and suggesting she can fix the DJ’s set-up to work after a power outage… by using her AC-powered soldering iron to rig up batteries that mysteriously manifest themselves.

By the time the picture goes “Army of Darkness,” it’s way too late and entirely too much blood has been spilled for any lighter touch to work.

I recognize the effects, the makeup, the murderous efficency and the bottom-line/it’s sometimes scary values of this visit to “The Evil Dead,” a film that was originally going straight to HBO Max. But the lack of fun marks this big screen abattoir squarely in “not my ‘Evil Dead'” and “not really my thing.”

Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, and some language

Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher and Morgan Davies.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Lee Cronin. A Warner Bros. release.

Running time: 1:36


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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6 Responses to Movie Review: “Evil Dead Rise” and we are not amused

  1. Dane Bramage says:

    Im a die-hard fan of the original so that is my main point of reference, and so I say no to “as we all know”, when you said that an injury or drop or 2 of blood is all it takes to unleash the fury of the book. All it took in the original was to play the reel to reel tape of the incantation. I dont think the remake or tv series required blood or injury either.

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