Spoilers for Evil Dead Rise, for the plot and the ending.
Evil Dead Rise debuted over the weekend, and it is the best installment of Evil Dead since … the last installment of the Evil Dead starring Jane Levy in 2013. It is a reliable franchise that has gone 5-5 with a homer (Evil Dead II), three triples Army of Darkness, Evil Dead (2013), Evil Dead Rise, and a double (Evil Dead, 1981).
After the success of the 2013 Evil Dead, there were plans to make either a sequel to it or a direct sequel to Army of Darkness, but they fell through (possibly because Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy do not have a good working relationship). It took a decade for Evil Dead Rise to premiere in theaters, although even it was originally set to premiere on HBO Max. The streamer shifted strategy, however, after positive test screenings. Sam Raimi (the writer/director of the original trilogy) and his brother, Ivan, had plans to release another Evil Dead movie every two or three years if Rise was successful, and after this weekend’s box-office numbers, those sequels will surely get a greenlight (Rise opened with over $23 million on a $19 million budget).
It’s convenient because Evil Dead Rise bakes a potential sequel into its story. The film opens where several Evil Dead movies have opened before: At a remote cabin. There, we meet Jessica, a twenty-something woman who — possessed by the Book of the Dead — scalps her best friend and kills her boyfriend before rising out of the water. It’s a wicked good cold opening.
The film immediately jumps back 24 hours, and while the audience doesn’t know it yet, what we are witness to is ultimately the origin story for Jessica, i.e., the reason she is possessed by the Book of the Dead. That origin story starts with an earthquake, which opens a large crack in a parking garage below an apartment building. The crack opens into an old bank vault, where the Book of the Dead (along with a couple of vinyl albums) is being held. A teenager named Danny (Morgan Davies) retrieves the book, brings it back to his apartment, flips through it, and plays the vinyl records, which include some words from Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams, as well as the incantation that unleashes the evil.
Danny’s mother, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is the first to become possessed, and she does what possessed people do in Evil Dead movies. She kills. There are a few interesting wrinkles in Evil Dead Rise. First, it’s set in an apartment building, but thanks to an earthquake that knocked out cell reception, the stairs, and the elevator, it operates similarly to the remote cabins — all the victims are stuck on the one floor of an apartment building. Second, we are accustomed to seeing teens die in horror movies, but rarely do we see teens killed by their own mothers. I thought that the children of Ellie would have plot armor. I was wrong.
Third: I’ve seen hundreds of horror movies. I love horror movies. I love bloody, gory, violent, terrifying horror movies. In all those years, I have never seen anyone use a cheese grater as a weapon. I squirmed and recoiled so hard that I nearly caved in on myself. Hilarious. Brutal. Fantastic.
Finally, we’re also accustomed to seeing the protagonists in Evil Dead movies defeat evil by sealing it off with the Book of the Dead. That did not happen here. The two survivors — the pregnant sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) and the youngest child Kassie (Nell Fisher) — defeat the evil because all of the possessed beings on the floor of the apartment merge together into a possessed blob of arms, legs, and faces that is hilariously terrifying. Beth and Kassie work together to eventually push the blob into a wood chipper, and while it doesn’t vanquish the evil spirit, it certainly takes away its hosts.
Alas, because the Book of the Dead is not sealed, one tenant in the apartment building who apparently slept through the entire night, woke up, packed, and took off to go on a weekend in a remote cabin. She is Jessica, and by the time she reaches the cabin, she is possessed by the Book of the Dead. That evil has been unleashed, and it’s going to be very difficult to trace the Book of the Dead back to her apartment building, so the Evil Dead may spread far and wide before it is contained again. As long as they are successful and as fun as Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise, we may see several more sequels in our future. With Sam Raimi continuing to oversee the films, I trust that the quality will remain top-notch and that chainsaws will continue to make their appearance, as well. Come and get some.