Sam Raimi’s three Evil Dead movies – augmented by a remake and three seasons of Ash vs the Evil Dead – have been issued on so many variant special collectors’ editions in multiple formats that there must already be several feature-length documentaries’ worth of making-of material available to the true fans who’ve bought every reissue from Betamax to 4K and also collected the action figures, slivers of props from the film, the autographs of (and the experience of meeting) key cast and crew, and tattoos based on images from the movies.
This documentary is more about those fans than the films – it’s niche in that Evil Dead fandom is a less extensive phenomenon than, say, being a Star Trek devotee or a Stephen King reader … but it’s also not quite as out there as being, say, the most committed fan of the Slumber Party Massacre franchise or memorising all the dialogue from Troll 2. Director Steve Villeneuve chats with Bruce Campbell, who tells two contrasting revealing stories (one about Gena Rowlands, one about himself) about interactions with fans, and catches up with a few of the other creatives, who are bewildered but cheered at the attention they get at a series of conventions where there are Evil Dead tributes. Raimi is missing in action, and we seldom get a sense of why these people like these films as opposed to other, similar, comparable things – which makes the uberfans vaguely mysterious. Most encountered the franchise in childhood, and very few as part of the original audience – the two British fans who pop up late in the film are too young to have been around for the video nasty controversy to which the first film was central. One incidental character – not even a fan – tells a moving story about why he named his baby son Ash.
Campbell points out that the character of Ash is unusual among the horror icons of the Fangoria era (or any era of horror, actually) in being a good guy rather than a monster – though Raimi admitted years ago that the reason he loves making the films and that he thinks fans like watching them is that Campell is ‘the modern Buster Keaton’ – he can take endless punishment, which audiences love to watch, and keeps getting back up for more abuse. Is this a healthier role model than, say, that guy with nails in his head or the machete killer from Friday the 13th? Possibly, though the Evil Dead films are almost gleefully shallow – free of the subtext that you find in practically every other genre classic, and committed to gag-driven gore. The documentary doesn’t use clips from the original films, though we glimpse parodies (including a splendid Claymation effort from Lee Burgess) and some scenes from the stage production of Evil Dead The Musical.