Maybe they should have let the Evil Dead stay dead this time

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Evil Dead Rise ★★
(R) 96 minutes

The prototypical “cabin in the woods” slasher, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) set new standards for low-budget gore, becoming a sensation in the newly booming home video market. But nobody could have guessed how its legacy would endure – including Raimi himself, a self-taught Michigan whiz-kid then barely out of his teens.

Lily Sullivan plays Beth in Evil Dead Rise.Credit: Warner Bros.

Subsequent years have brought us two largely comedic sequels, one reasonably faithful remake, three seasons of a spinoff TV series – and now Evil Dead Rise, in which Raimi’s authorised successor Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) launches the whole bloody story all over again.

The instrument for doing so is the Necronomicon, an ancient Sumerian text with the power to unleash demons that possess both living beings and corpses (known in the past as “Deadites,” just in case we were tempted to take any of the mythology here seriously).

This sinister tome exists in multiple copies, including one tucked away in a vault beneath the dank Los Angeles tenement which is home to newly divorced tattooist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, one of several Australians in the cast) and her kids.

The main action of Evil Dead Rise is confined to this one setting – and while we wait for the blood to start spurting, the film pretends for a while to be interested in Ellie’s problems, especially her tense relationship with her visiting younger sister Beth (Lily Sullivan, another Australian, who roughly speaking is playing Kristen Stewart to Sutherland’s Judy Greer).

Alyssa Sutherland in a scene from Evil Dead Rise.Credit: Warner Bros.

Once the Necronomicon works its malignant magic, Ellie will morph into a grotesque parody of her former nurturing self, while Beth, a newly pregnant rock’n’roll roadie, will be forced to tap into her maternal side. But it’s doubtful that Evil Dead Rise really has much to say on the subject of modern family dynamics, or indeed on any subject whatever.

It really is all about the gruesome set-pieces, conceived and staged in a spirit of wilful excess just short of outright parody: there’s a memorable flying eyeball gag and some creative use of broken glass, along with unsubtle visual allusions to The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even Indiana Jones.

All this is competently executed, and not untrue to the spirit of Raimi’s energetically brainless original. Still, most gorehounds will concur that Cronin falls well below the standard of stomach-churning showmanship set by last year’s indie smash Terrifier 2, a much bolder and quirkier production all round.

By comparison, Evil Dead Rise has the boxed-in quality shared by nearly all recent Hollywood do-overs of yesterday’s hits. The goal, it appears, is to blend moderately queasy excitement with fond nostalgia – which means that even when demonic forces are running rampant, nothing truly disturbing can be allowed to slip through.

Evil Dead Rise is in cinemas from April 20.

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