Hail to the Deadites Movie Review: Evil Dead’s Biggest Fans

Horror movie fanatics are a different breed. They’ve attached themselves to a genre, and usually one film or series in that genre, as an aspect of their identity. This film, this series, this iconic horror character is them, in some small but real sense. Horror being the genre that attracts through repelling, the fan acquires a sense of edge through this identification. I’m part of the killer, part of the danger. This could lead one to believe that horror fans themselves were creepier, meaner, more violent or nastier than the average film enthusiast.

The truth, as both personal experience and Hail to the Deadites attests, is almost completely the opposite. Horror fans are harmless. The edge they acquire is the same edge that a horror film has: apparently dangerous, in truth all affectation. A horror movie, all about killing, cannot kill you. It cannot harm you, but takes on the appearance of harm. The people to whom this appeals as a sense of identity, as opposed to those who watch the movie on a Friday night and never think of them again, are generally sweet, polite, maybe a little lonely, and happy to play act danger without ever intentionally hurting anyone in their personal lives.

The Deadites of the film title refers specifically to fans of the Evil Dead film franchise. This Bruce Campbell-starring trilogy forms benchmarks on the great Sam Raimi’s ascendant career, from his no-budget calling card released in 1981, to his go for broke sequel from 1987 and the genre-hopping fantasy adventure (and major studio film) Army of Darkness in 1993. While they all had varying levels of success, critical or financial, the real legacy of the franchise is the dedication of the fan base it has built up.

Hail to the Deadites is dedicated to these fans, and it shows this dedication by highlighting their stories and their works. This documentary, largely filmed at conventions or in the homes of fans, is punctuated with fan-made recreations of footage from the three films (though primarily from Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.) Some of it is live-action, some animated, but it’s all painstakingly and lovingly made by people who, for whatever reason, have Evil Dead as a major part of their life. Foregoing some enforced narrative, director Steve Villeneuve finds various stories to tell about the lives of the Deadites, and how their love of these scrappy horror films has helped add some meaning to their lives.

There’s a couple whose marriage proposal is partly orchestrated by Tom Sullivan, prop designer for all three films. An Ash look-alike has designs to meet Bruce Campbell but can’t afford to come to a con until a mysterious, anonymous benefactor contributes to his crowd-funding campaign. Bruce Campbell is one of the featured interviewees of the film. His charisma, charm and self-aware sense of humor are always welcome, as anyone who has listened to one of his hilarious commentary tracks to any of the Evil Dead films knows. But wisely he isn’t over-present in the documentary. His at once over-the-top and weirdly plausible performance is the glue that holds the film series together, but too much of him would take the spotlight off what this movie is really about: the fans.

And it is fan dedication that this movie is really about. It is strictly not the story of Evil Dead, or Sam Raimi or Bruce Campbell’s subsequent careers. If you haven’t seen or do not like the Evil Dead films, it might not have much to offer because it takes as read that the level of fandom on display here is not weird, not untoward and not dangerous. It’s good, sweet, and fun. Hail to the Deadites is not a probing documentary, it’s a proud display of friendly weirdness.

Hail to the Deadites is available July 27 on Digital and On Demand from Shout! Studios.

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Kent Conrad

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