“Everything you see in the next 80 minutes was created by Evil Dead fans (Deadites).”

Such is the opening quote of writer-director Steve Villenueve’s documentary Hail To The Deadites. The film chronicles the immense fandom that has erupted around the Evil Dead films, a trilogy that gained a cult horror following ever since Stephen King called it “the most ferociously original film of 1982.” 

The film begins with a preamble of horror experts weighing in on the legacy of Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness. “What’s interesting about Evil Dead is its journey which I find fairly unique” says Arrow in the Head founder John Fallon. Fangoria Magazine’s Michael Gingold weighs in on its contributions to the genre, as well: “Sam Raimi really took the form of the low budget horror film and added a real intense cinematic dynamic to it.” Through analyzing the artistry and craft behind the films, filmmakers, critics, and scholars give credence to Raimi’s films as a paramount contribution to horror cinema– and they’re absolutely correct.

Fans fill out the bulk of the 79 minute runtime, showing off entire rooms, cosplay, and handmade art dedicated to the films. The doc includes various fan-created re-imaginings of the Evil Dead movies. Clips of a hand-rotoscoped version of Evil Dead 2 (by Marc L. Taylor) run alongside a Sweded Evil Dead in 60 Seconds (by Luchagore Productions). It’s not just superfans with massive wall-to-wall memorabilia collections;  the narrative meanders into a tangent on Bri Cummings, winner of IGN’s Ultimate Evil Dead Fan Contest, and a couple who incorporate the trilogy directly into their relationship. It’s a heartwarming series of vignettes that nonetheless plod along with little to no connective tissue beyond “people really dig these movies.”

Players within the cult classic provide commentary, as well. A good chunk of the film is dedicated to special effects artist Tom Sullivan, who provided the blood n’ guts on all three films. The evolution of the series itself is duly noted by Bruce Campbell: “We made one film in the 70s, one film in the 80s, and one film in the 90s. We just sort of tick along every so often.” As much of a “get” it is to have The Chin himself providing material for the documentary, his observations are pretty obvious and aimless, and this is when it starts to become apparent that Hail to the Deadites has heart, but stumbles along like undead stop-motion skeletons.

If it feels like the documentary is more about fans and peripheral creators than the films themselves, that’s because it is. It’s difficult to critique a fan-centric documentary without coming across as elitist or attacking the fandom itself. People find comfort and community in fan culture. My own Evil Dead DVDs sit just a few feet away, beside a Dark Shadows Barnabas Collins figure kit. Raimi’s Army of Darkness audio track (with Campbell and co-writer Ivan Raimi) was the catalyst that began my obsession with watching all of the special features on any physical media I purchase. The hard truth remains, however, a Who’s Who of cast and crew plus a parade of number one fans just doesn’t have the depth to justify a feature-length runtime. By the time we hit the 40 minute mark of the fan party, the concept has wrung itself dry. The last ten minutes are padded with extra footage alongside updates on all of the fans featured in the film (spoiler: they’re mostly doing the same as they did during filming). As much of a groovy love letter as it is, Hail to the Deadites would work better as a featurette on a physical re-release of any of the films in the series.

Arrow Video Frightfest Digital Review: Hail To The Deadites
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