As much as Sam Raimi himself publicly disliked the name when it was first decided upon, there’s always been an undeniable and simple elegance to the title of Evil Dead, a promise of some of the nastiest villains you could think up and then complete and total delivery on that promise. For the fifth instalment in this rather venerable horror franchise, new director Lee Cronin knows exactly what his job is – in Evil Dead Rise the dead do rise and boy oh boy, are they evil. Gore-soaked and genuinely freaky, this is a standout haunted house massacre that lives up to that first guarantee made over 40 years ago.

In this case, Cronin moves the action away from the iconic cabin-in-the-woods location (outside of swift and bloody prologue that nicely sets the tone) and into a nearly-derelict LA high-rise that’s a month away from being demolished. In this already rather grisly setting lives mum-of-three Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), whose worries about finding a new place to live are suddenly pushed to the backburner when she’s possessed by the Book of the Dead (uncovered after an earthquake by her rather irritating son), becoming Patient Zero of a new Deadite outbreak.

From pretty much the moment Ellie is possessed, Evil Dead Rise goes full throttle and refuses to let up, as the formerly loving mother tries to viciously murder her kids, who end up under the protection of Ellie’s unreliable sister Beth (Lily Sullivan), only in town in the first place because of some screw-up in her own life. Though there is some humour to be found here, Rise is definitely more in the vein of the 1981 original and its 2013 remake than the horror-comedies that were Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.

A lot of this film is just *nasty*, both in spirit and in the genuinely freaky images Cronin keeps conjuring, the Deadites’ trademark chattiness adding psychological damage to the gruesome mutilations and buckets of blood. Cronin does a great – and deadpan-ly funny – job of setting up every potential weapon in the high-rise, which is inaccessible after the inciting earthquake, and every one of them pays off in ways that are sometimes cathartic and sometimes just terrifying.

Sutherland makes for a great queen of the damned, her full-bore commitment to the madness and capacity for grotesque grins paying off hugely well, easily entering the canon of 2023’s best villains. Sullivan is, almost by default, less compelling (the film as a whole does miss a Bruce Campbell-level charisma at its centre), at least until the gonzo finale, while the kids are a mixed bag – youngest daughter Kassie (Nell Fisher) is great, but her siblings are pretty hard to root for, their expendability obvious from the off.

As all horror films must do in the post-Babadook era, Evil Dead Rise goes out of its way to be *about something* beyond just zombified mass murder. In this case it’s motherhood, but Cronin does mostly manage to not let the message dampen the scares, and the central physical metaphor he eventually arrives at for a mother losing her identity to her family is a damn effective one. It’s a truly horrifying sight, one of many in a Grand Guignol absolutely packed with gross ideas and big scares, everything you could want out of a blockbuster horror.


Written and Directed by Lee Cronin

Starring; Alyssa Sutherland, Lily Sullivan, Nell Fisher

Runtime: 97 mins

Rating: 18