Evil Dead Rise: Gutsy, rip-roaring, cheer-along horror

Irish director Lee Cronin flings new ingredients into the flying-viscera-and-Three-Stooges-slapstick recipe

Evil Dead Rise
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Director: Lee Cronin
Cert: 18
Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher
Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins

You have to commend the necromancers behind The Evil Dead for their relative reluctance to suck the well dry. Yes, there has been a TV series and (really) a stage musical. But this is only the fifth film in the saga to emerge since Sam Raimi first rattled sensibilities 42 years ago. It is just the second since the crossbred Army of Darkness, from 1993. In the age of content diarrhoea, that stands as an achievement in itself.

Gathering themselves after Fede Álvarez’s ho-hum 2013 episode, Raimi and crew have plucked the Irish film-maker Lee Cronin from the chorus line to deliver a rip-roaring entertainment that captures the tone of the first two classics while finding new veins to messily drain. Evil Dead Rises is not quite so unambiguously comic as that early work, but Cronin never forgets we are here to have a bloody good time.

We begin with a witty variation on Raimi’s innovative camera rush that leads us towards the usual unsuspecting fools set for demonic possession in a remote cabin. Rural origins acknowledged, the film-makers then travel back to a crumbling apartment building in an unlovely part of Los Angeles. Lily Sullivan plays Beth, a rock roadie – not “groupie”, she wearily corrects – visiting her older sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), and her three children in her impressively cluttered apartment.

Suggesting a modern variation on the haunted burial ground, the block is built over a long-forgotten bank vault that contains a certain ancient book bound in human skin. (Stop me if you’ve heard this before.) The cellar also houses an LP featuring recordings of a cleric issuing dire warnings about the volume’s powers. Probably best not play the record. Probably best not open the book. Yeah, some chance. Soon poor Mom is dead. Then undead. Others follow her path to damnation.


The Evil Dead films were always proudly uninterested in their own mythology. There is no list of the powers reanimated corpses exhibit or catalogue of the precise ways they can be destroyed. Hammering them over the head with a spade often does the trick. Shotguns and chainsaws have proved useful in the past. The “logic” was closer to that of the Three Stooges, and Cronin, who broke through with the Irish horror The Hole in the Ground, is quickly back into that slapstick disembowelment. He claims that about 6,500 litres of fake blood were used in the production, and nobody attuned to the sensibility would wish for less.

The Irish director Lee Cronin smartly reminds us that small, believable discomforts are more unsettling than the hilariously excessive carnage that fills an entire lift shaft with blood

Early on, the film uses the smart trick of reminding us that, in such entertainment, smaller, believable discomforts – a snatched earring here – are more unsettling than the hilariously excessive carnage that causes an entire lift shaft to fill with rhesus negative (an allusion you surely won’t need explained). This is cheer-along horror of the gutsiest stripe. “It’s not blood, it’s red,” as Jean-Luc Godard may not have said.

None of which should detract from the skill on display. Shooting largely in New Zealand, Cronin works in a thrift-shop urban setting that moves less distance from the original shacks than one might suspect. This is still a muggy, timeless environment. The young, largely female actors know the pitch-black comedy will only be enhanced by their apparently taking the threat seriously. Sullivan (bearing the threat admirably) and Sutherland (rictus grin like Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs) make the most of imminent final girl and cruelly demonic mother.

Those who care about such things need to be aware that references are made to the original texts, but not so much as to distract from the escalating tension and mayhem. Indeed, the closing sequences play like a convincing audition for a place in the Alien franchise. Not that I want to jinx that for Cronin.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist