A controversial take to start off the review: I prefer the newer Evil Dead films to the older ones. This isn’t because I think they’re significantly better in quality, Sam Raimi’s trilogy is a masterclass in camp filmmaking that has enough depth to transfer over to far darker, self-serious, less comedic reboot pictures, that’s impressive and iconic enough in its own right. However, I make such a statement in the sheer fact that I prefer darker, more serious, far meaner horror films that, while still retaining a good amount of fun and charm, can still feel like endurance tests on first watch. I experienced that firsthand when seeing Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead at age 16 by sneaking into the R-rated film while also skipping school on a Tuesday afternoon despite having never seen any of the other previous Evil Dead films. Alone in the theater, I was treated to perhaps the most aggressive film I had ever seen in theaters up to that point in my life, and I thought for sure that new Evil Dead films would be permeating theaters year after year due to how insanely fun this one was. One year passes, nothing. Five years pass, nothing. 10 whole years, gone. I am now 26, grizzled, haggard, and still wanting a new Evil Dead film. Like a light, Evil Dead Rise appears…as an HBO Max (the only thing I will deadname) exclusive film. It’s not ideal, but it’ll do, but also like a light, doing perhaps the only good thing he has done in his reign of terror as Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, David Zaslav, going off of the incredibly positive test screenings of the film, scraps the film’s HBO Max release, pushing the film straight to theaters. Now, two months after its run, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is releasing Evil Dead Rise on digital, DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray, and streaming on HBO Max to…somewhat questionable results.
Guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan), upon returning from touring in Thailand, pays a visit to her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) at her dilapidated, soon-to-be-condemned Los Angeles apartment building. Discovering that Ellie’s husband, and father to her three children, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and youngest Kassie (Nell Fisher), has abandoned them days prior, Ellie finds herself emotionally vulnerable and lacking any support other than that she now finds in the often-estranged Beth. When an earthquake hits the building while the children are in the underground parking garage, they soon find a hidden chamber unveiled by the earthquake containing a large, disturbing book (you know where this is going), paired with a mysterious record. Upon playing the record in private upstairs, Danny inadvertently releases an ancient, sadistic demon upon the apartment complex, one who quickly takes possession of their struggling mother. As they discover the horror they’ve unleashed, Beth, the children, and the residents of the complex must band together to survive the night of wrath from poor, possessed Ellie.
Rather than using this as a follow-up to the 2013 film (which I wonder about the logistics of since A – It’s been a decade, and I think Evil Dead would have benefitted from a “picking up right where we left off” type of sequel, and B – Since Evil Dead Rise is produced and distributed by an entirely different studio than Evil Dead (R.I.P. FilmDistrict)), Evil Dead Rise is a standalone, possibly a single film reboot that packs in everything it needs to within a tight 96 minutes and gets you in and out the door before you even have time to check your watch. It’s (mostly) blisteringly efficient, gory as hell, and pretty damned mean for a studio horror film. These are all the things I want in an Evil Dead film, and narrative simplicity at the heart of the wildly creative ways in which to mangle and maul the human body is key. All things, despite a bit of a dragging first act following its brutally effective cold open, writer/director Lee Cronin pulls off wonderfully.
At the center of Evil Dead Rise are two wonderfully different, but equally star-making performances from Lily Sullivan (Monolith) and Alyssa Sutherland (The Mental State), splitting the duties of the Jane Levy-type from Evil Dead as both the possessed and the exorcist. Sullivan is what happens when we airlift the spirit of Ellen Ripley into the Evil Dead films, with a strong, level, albeit very humanly flawed, head and a talent for protecting young children from the gaze of the fiercest beasts you’ve ever seen. Sutherland, on the opposite end, is chaos incarnate, a Tori Amos meets Reagan from The Exorcist meets Pennywise-type of energy that cannot be matched by any of her, admittedly incredibly talented, peers. It’s 10 tons of blood-soaked fun and they play off of each other’s strengths beautifully. Also rare is that the child actors at the center of the film also bring a unique and fun light to the proceedings, never shying away from the bloodshed, with equal opportunity violence across the board for everyone. I like a solid “fuck them kids” mindset from a filmmaker.
Also, a small, but very consequential detail, Evil Dead Rise does beautiful work with the queer identities of Danny (trans male) and Bridget (implied queer/non-binary person). It’s very subtle how things are approached, but it’s refreshing to see it as such a non-issue not needing explaining to the audience, who shouldn’t care when their mother is attempting to drag their souls to hell for eternal suffering.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s audio/visual transfer of Evil Dead Rise to 4K Blu-ray is superb, emulating so much that made the film effective and jarring in Dolby Cinema in the first place. It lacks Dolby Vision in the HDR department, but it never feels lacking from its absence as Evil Dead Rise isn’t a film that necessarily benefits from such a wide range. What’s important are the black levels that the rest of the image contrasts from, and this is done beautifully on this release. It’s a tough image to work with, it being so dark and often so washed out (intentionally), but it strikes a sleek, effective balance regardless.
However, what is perfectly replicated from the Dolby Cinema experience is that of the bombastic, atmospheric, aggressive Dolby Atmos audio mix that from the second the New Line Cinema logo fades out, assaults you from all sides in a bass-heavy sound bath of slashes, rips, breaks, stabs, scrapes, squelches, rips and all other sorts of body horror mayhem, punctuated by Stephen McKeon’s wonderfully shrill score that compliments the horror perfectly. It’s a slam dunk of an audio mix, and one of the better reference tracks for the power of Dolby Atmos in horror.
Where my previously mentioned “questionable result” designation I have put onto this Blu-ray lies is that it features no special features. No commentary, no featurettes, not even a theatrical trailer that so many releases use to make it seem like they did even the bare minimum for the physical media release of their film. There’s nothing. While that’s bad enough, what makes it particularly egregious is that UK distributor StudioCanal’s physical release includes that of a full audio commentary by Lee Cronin, as well as his first short film Ghost Train on the disc. While not an exhaustive list of features, the fact that a secondary distributor can put together a better package than Warner Bros. should be shameful to them, though knowing Zaslav, he lacks anything regarding shame and probably didn’t even know this film was ever even released.
I’m always going to champion physical media, and knowing Warner Bros. Discovery and HBO Max, I do it especially hard, but it also becomes hard to justify paying full price for a new release when they offer you literally nothing in return other than a physical disc for your keeping. It’s yours forever, which is justification enough, but the rate in which studios are releasing bare bones Blu-ray releases for films that have fascinating productions to detail, is insulting, particularly when these things exist, but they simply choose to leave them out to save a quick buck. It’s a shame to see this happen to a release of a film as good as Evil Dead Rise which also has a wonderful A/V transfer at its core. I can’t in good conscience recommend this release when the 4K Blu-ray from StudioCanal UK sits at a similar price with more special features (and a very cool Steelbook should you so wish). If you were going to purchase Evil Dead Rise anyway, it would behoove you to put your money somewhere that upholds physical media with a little more respect.
Available on digital May 9th, 2023.
Available on Max June 23rd, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD June 27th, 2023.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.