17th Aug2020

Fantasia 2020: ‘Hail to the Deadites’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Features: Bruce Campbell, Patricia Tallman, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Dan Hicks, Theresa Tilly, Richard Domeier, Tom Sullivan, Chris Alexander | Written and Directed by Steve Villeneive

There are horror franchises out there that are so beloved and have such a devoted and undyingly-passionate fanbase that they become legendary. The Evil Dead films are an example of this, their popularity still reaching incredible heights today. This documentary, directed by Steve Villeneive (Under the Scares) looks at those aforementioned fans and the admiration they have and the importance they hold towards the films themselves.

I am personally a big fan of the Evil Dead franchise, including the most recent 2013 entry, the first three classics, and the television show, Ash vs Evil Dead. I was impressed with this film which, like most well-done and entertaining docs about horror franchises, interviews a multitude of folk, from the cast and crew of the films themselves, to die-hard Evil Dead lovers, and collectors including journalists and full on fans. This allows that important range of viewpoints, allowing a firsthand opinion from those who worked on the films, and a fan-view, a point of view that can often echo our own thoughts on this beautifully brutal, delightfully devilish and hilariously horrifying series. If you’ve ever been to a fan convention (especially a horror convention) then you’ll have seen plenty of Evil Dead stuff, from memorabilia, signed photographs, cast appearances to fans dressing as various characters from the franchise. The original Evil Dead is a big part of the horror scene, and its place in it has been etched over many years because it isn’t just a cult classic, it’s a horror classic that has stood the test of time, as has each of the sequels that’s followed.

The delving into the pop-culture phenomena is cool, with fans talking about the film and the way it has spread into various corners of media and culture in the process of its long lasting popularity. Ash wielding his “boom-stick” is still as iconic, relevant and cool today as it ever was, and this documentary highlights that. The way the franchise, which began all the way back in 1981 with the Bruce Campbell cult classic, spawned four movies including the hilarious and bloody Evil Dead 2 in 1987, 1992’s Army of Darkness and, as mentioned earlier, the 2013 entry, Evil Dead, which aimed to relaunch the series into the psyche of a new breed of Deadites, has gone on to various other avenues is very cool. It has led to a range of comic books, a musical, organised movie marathons around the globe, video games, a whole mass of collectables from companies like Funko and Neca, and much more.

I really enjoyed this. I haven’t seen other Evil Dead documentaries such as Invaluable, but I do think this did the job and more. It’s a celebration of the series, of that 1981 beauty that launched it all, of everything that’s followed, and I got a kick out of all of it. The talking-heads on offer are a good mix, such as Bruce Campbell himself (Ash) as well as names like Kassie Wesley DePaiva (Bobby Joe/Evil Dead 2), Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl/Evil Dead) and Dan Hicks (Jake/Evil Dead 2) among others, from art department workers to a range of loyal Evil Dead crusaders. I thought it was insightful and also full of that convention-style energy that makes you chirp with an excited expression of glee that others are as besotted with these movies and off-shoots as you are. It’s pretty damn cool. I thought the whole thing looked great too, with slick editing and some really fun music throughout. It’s slick, for sure.

There’s something incredibly lovely about seeing the glittery, gory, shining love for the films in the eyes of these most ardent of fans, whether it leads to romance (Evil Dead fans getting wed, anyone?) or hugely important and memorable moments in their lives, it’s a joy to see how much jubilation is found from those who have such tenderness and attachment to this universe. At just 80 minutes in length, there’s always the thought, from me anyway, that the topic could have easily been stretched to a longer running time, but this is a film that knows what it wants to be and doesn’t plod or drag its feet. This is much more about the fans of the Evil Dead society and less about the films and television show, so those few missing pieces, the odd actor not present or whatever, doesn’t really harm anything. If you’re looking for a film that delves deeply into the making of the films and the minds of those who made them, that isn’t the focus here (there are other films for that). If you like documentaries that take a detour to the recesses of a franchise, jumping into a new shape of swimming pool that feels unique and new, then this is certainly a must-see documentary. I enjoyed taking a closer look at the rabid fans of Ash, The Necronomicon, laughing severed deer-heads, attacking trees and shopping S-Mart. If you’re after a GROOVY documentary on one of the sweetest film series of all time, then get yourself some sugar, baby, with Hail to the Deadites. Swallow this, it’s truly amazing, so come get some. (Ok, I’m done now).

**** 4.5/5


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