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Fantasia 2020 ‘Hail to the Deadites’ Review: An Ode to Fandom in the ‘Evil Dead’ Franchise

This celebration of ‘The Evil Dead’ devotees celebrates the strange bonds between humans (and demons and spirits).

DiggerFilms

You may not know it, but they’re lurking everywhere. Nothing will stop them from satisfying their desires. Their numbers are growing every day. And they won’t rest until you become one of them.

No, we’re not talking about zombies or demons or spectral forces, but rather the rabid fanbase surrounding The Evil Dead franchise, collectively known as “Deadites,” whom Quebec filmmaker Steve Villeneuve takes as the subject matter for his documentary Hail to the Deadites. This ode to the Deadite community who will stop at nothing to get their fix of the film trilogy is by the fans and for the fans through and through.

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DiggerFilms

For the uninitiated, The Evil Dead is a 1981 low-budget horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi. This story of five college students who head out to a cabin in the woods and are haunted, harangued, and horrifically mangled by demonic entities quickly became a cult classic, launching a franchise and endless obsessions from fiendish horror aficionados. These fans are endlessly fascinating, and always willing to talk about their Deadite dedication. Lucky for them, and for all of us, Villeneuve is more than happy to listen. 

In a series of talking-head interviews, everyone from actors and crew involved in the production to cinephiles and horror geeks celebrate the film, praising its astonishing artistry despite its low budget. Raimi’s blood and guts and stop-motion effects are admittedly gross-out and gruesome, but there is also a sense of humor and innovative spirit to the franchise, which constantly reinvents itself in each successive iteration. The cast members frequently remark about how surprised they are about the film’s lasting impact, and there is a cute wholesomeness to the mutual affection and admiration shared between the people who made the movie and those who watch and love it. The level of dedication people have to a horror movie is absolutely astonishing, and countless Deadites consider the movies a key part of their upbringing and identity formation.

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DiggerFilms

For a documentary about an admittedly ultra-gory film franchise, this is surprisingly feel-good. This is a portrait of the strange bonds forged between horror aficionados united in their love of a movie and all its mythology. With the vast success of The Evil Dead through home video, where Deadites amass vast collections of DVDs and bootleg tapes and trade them amongst one another, there is an intimacy to how the film is shared — it’s like discovering an underground gem, sometimes literally as viewers watch in basements or sneak late-night viewings away from parents. While some of these movie buffs first encountered Evil Dead much to their parents’ chagrin, others experienced it as a family affair, with the movie passed down between generations like a cherished heirloom. One couple gets engaged with the blessings of Evil Dead castmates and plenty of memorabilia, while the “Ultimate Evil Dead Fan” competition brings devoted followers together to unleash their passions.

Some of the narration feels a bit overkill as it offers some unnecessary voiceover repeating sentiments that have already been said, but for the most part, Villeneuve’s documentary lets the fans speak for themselves. It can’t be understated just how much this movie means to some people. The protagonist of The Evil Dead franchise is Ash Williams (portrayed by Bruce Campbell) who faces off against the ancient evil of the Kandarian Demon;  he is flawed and relatable, but still pretty badass, and has enchanted viewers everywhere as an often incompetent antihero who still always manages to survive. Ash has a profound impact on people who turn to him for inspiration: we meet Dennis, who dresses up as Ash and has refined it into an “art form” with every bit of dirt and every scratch made to perfection, while another man emotionally recounts how he named his infant son, who died due to medical complications, after Ash because of his fighting spirit. 

Whether or not The Evil Dead franchise is ultimately for you and you can stomach its terrors, you have to at least appreciate it simply for the sheer joy it brings so many people. The Evil Dead refuses to ever die, and the thrills it inspires live on in each new fan. Hail to the cast, hail to the crew, hail to all of the fans and supporters and film-lovers everywhere, hail to Villeneuve for making this wonderfully weird celebration of fandom and friendship — and hail, of course, to the Deadites that show us all what true dedication looks like.

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