With a brand-new Evil Dead movie — the big-city tale of terror Evil Dead Rise — currently in the works for HBO Max, there’s no better time to look back at the ever-popular horror series. It spawned a respectable remake a few years back but will forever be most beloved for the Sam Raimi-directed, Bruce Campbell-starring films that started it all.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness, plus the delightful recent TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead. Forty years after the release of that first film, Evil Dead fever is as strong as ever — and a new documentary, Hail to the Deadites, has a bloody good time meeting some of the franchise’s biggest fans. Written and directed by Steve Villeneuve, who also appears on camera as a sort of tour guide along the way, Hail to the Deadites was obviously made on a tight budget, but it gets around that in a way that’s perfect for its subject matter.
Instead of using actual footage from the Raimi movies, it uses clips from fan-made films, recreations, and animated homages, including at least one stop-motion claymation project that recasts all the Evil Dead characters as cats. It also sprinkles Evil Dead-themed songs on its soundtrack throughout. And though it contains a lot of interviews with the stars of the films, including King Campbell himself, it’s mostly a love letter to people who just really, really, really dig Evil Dead, as the title suggests: collectors, cosplayers, convention-goers, people who run the movie’s many fan pages, people who stage Evil Dead-themed musicals, and so on.
It’s hard to fault a movie that was made for fans, by fans, with an underlying message about how the power of cinema — even goofy, gory cinema that involves limbs being hacked off and cackling demons — can bring people together and even lift them up during hard times. That point is underlined over and over throughout Hail to the Deadites, and Campbell, no stranger to fan adoration, makes it clear that he appreciates and understands how important that support has been toward making Evil Dead such an enduring classic.
However, at times you wish there’d been a bit more editing applied to certain segments — especially those that are just fans meeting their idols at various horror conventions. (There are several instances of this and they drag a bit.) While those are cool and often emotional experiences for those specific people, they’re not as universally interesting as the scenes that show us some of the more gob-smacking collections those mega-fans have filling up their homes — or nifty unexpected moments, like a quick visit to the now-dilapidated cabin used decades ago as a key filming location, or a chat with Bruce Campbell’s brother, an extra in several of the films who’s held onto some incredible props over the years.
In addition to Campbell, Hail to the Deadites features interviews with special effects artist Tom Sullivan, as well as cast members Ted Raimi, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard Demanincor, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley Depaiva, Sarah Berry, Rick Domeier, and Bill Moseley. It arrives on digital and on-demand on July 27.
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.