A History and Review of Evil Dead Rise (2023)

[This review may contain spoilers]


Poster for ‘Evil Dead Rise’ (2023) (photo courtesy of IMDB).

Julia Alvarado, Freelance Writer

The original Evil Dead film came out in 1981, under the title, “The Evil Dead”. It was directed by Sam Raimi and followed a group of friends whose trip into the woods goes terribly wrong when one of them discovers a strange book and a series of recordings. The book, called The Necronomicon, is perhaps the only thing about the franchise that has remained consistent. Throughout four movies and a three-season-long television series spanning over four decades, The Necronomicon has maintained a consistent look and purpose—a book made from skin, written in blood, used to call forth the forces of the undead. It’s one of the most iconic symbols of the film, next to the second most consistent aspect of the franchise, its protagonist, Ash Williams, played by Bruce Campbell.

In the original 1981 film, Ash is the sole survivor after his friends are possessed by supernatural forces (becoming beings that are called “deadites” in later films) and he is forced to kill them to save himself. It does a good job of establishing the basic rules of the series and shows off gruesome special effects that got the film banned in some countries and heavily censored in others. The sequel “Evil Dead II” (1987), gives viewers a recap that features a slightly altered version of the first film—this alteration is due to the fact that, despite directing it, Raimi did not technically own the rights to the original film, and was therefore unable to use the footage, instead opting to reshoot a recap of the first film—and then launches itself heavily into the realm of horror-comedy. “Evil Dead II” is still gory, and features a handful of truly memorable scenes using stop-motion and other unique special effects, but it also leans heavily into the campy version of horror that became a lot more popularized throughout the mid to late eighties. It’s in this film that Ash gets his instantly iconic chainsaw arm when he chops off his hand after it becomes possessed. Throughout the film, there are glimpses of an old legend in The Necronomicon, in which a mysterious man is sent into the medieval past and unites warring kingdoms by fighting off an army of darkness. “Army of Darkness”, of course, is the series’ 1993 threequel. The last to be directed by Sam Raimi, “Army of Darkness” throws itself completely into the humor of its predecessor, and follows Ash as he goes on a dangerous journey to retrieve The Necronomicon.

In between and following these first three films, Evil Dead grew a wide and incredibly loyal fanbase, becoming somewhat of a phenomenon—but it wasn’t until 2013 that it was brought to the big screen once again. “Evil Dead” (2013) was directed by Fede Álverez (with Raimi being credited as one of the film’s writers), and brought the series back to its gory, gritty roots, abandoning the 80s camp for a caliber of dramatics and edge much more fitting for horror in the early 2010s. The Necronomicon is present, and Ash Williams makes a small cameo in an end-credits scene, which reignited the love and interest people had for the originals (enough to spawn a TV series in 2015 called “Ash vs Evil Dead”), the film does its best to establish itself as separate from the originals—a sentiment carried by Lee Cronin in “Evil Dead Rise” (2023).

After ten years, “Evil Dead Rise” came as quite a surprise, but was welcomed by fans of the series (and of horror in general) with open arms. The trailers immediately made clear the film’s darker tone, polished look, and unsettling special effects, and the film itself is a welcome change to a familiar formula. Gone are the creaky cabins in the woods and tangling tree branches, “Evil Dead Rise” takes place in a crumbling LA apartment building, following single mother Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), her three children, and her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan). When an earthquake exposes the bank vault their apartment was built upon, eldest son, Danny (Morgan Davies), decides to investigate, and stumbles upon a crypt hiding the Book of The Dead (or, the Necronomicon), as well as a series of old records. In true horror-movie fashion, Danny looks through the Necronomicon and plays the records, accidentally unleashing a force of evil that possesses his mother and torments his family, as well as the other residents of their floor.

In an interview with Empire, Lee Cronin says that “It felt like in order to move the franchise somewhere new and to unlock the potential of the universe to tell more stories, it needed to break free [of Ash].” This, of course, isn’t to say the original films or Bruce Campbell are completely forgotten by the film. Though Sam Raimi is no longer directing, both he and Campbell are credited as executive producers, and the film is full of references to both previous Evil Dead films, as well as beloved horror classics like “The Shining” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Although the setting is much different from those of previous films, so much about the film is familiar—Ellie’s initial possession, every crude and snide comment made by her possessed self, the chant of “dead by dawn”, the shotgun, the chainsaw, the visceral violence, and the almost embarrassing amount of blood. This is undoubtedly an Evil Dead movie.

The cast is talented—especially 12-year-old Nell Fisher, who plays the youngest daughter, Kassie, in her debut film role—the effects are incredibly well done, the compact set is lovingly detailed and visually interesting, and the gore is stellar. Admittedly, the scares are lacking, the writing is rough, and the plot is a little half-baked, coming on strong in the first half and eventually fizzling out to the point where the movie is just a series of cool visuals and impressive effects occasionally interrupted by an only moderately interesting story. But, if you have a love for the franchise, or a passion for gory visual effects, “Evil Dead Rise” is absolutely the film for you. It was certainly an enjoyable time for me, landing at a solid rating of 3.5/5 paws.