Evil Dead and Evil Dead Rise Have Prologue Problems

Even the best, most consistently great horror franchise has two key scenes that fail, and they do so in very different ways. ...

Evil Dead might be the best horror franchise. No other is as consistently strong. All its contemporaries have huge dips in quality while Evil Dead currently has five films and three seasons of a television show that are all good, if not great. This high bar adds extra pressure to future instalments but also makes the few scenes in past films that don’t quite work stick out like a sore thumb. After a rewatch of the franchise, two scenes stood out to me, two scenes with problems: the prologues to 2013’s Evil Dead and 2023’s Evil Dead Rise

In 2013 we were exiting from an era of bad horror. The genre was dominated by self-serious, dark, nasty gorefests, usually remakes of eighties classics. Fede Alvarez’s reboot/reimagining of The Evil Dead could have been just another of these films. It certainly leans on the sensibilities of the time, it’s unapologetically brutal, but it ultimately transcends them into a fun, scary welcome addition to the franchise. The film’s opening scene however feels like one of these lesser 2000s remakes.

The prologue makes very little sense. A possessed girl is captured, tied up, and then burned alive and shot by her father. The filmmakers want to hide that the girl is possessed at first, tricking us into believing she’s a victim. But it’s only tricking the viewer. There is no reason for her to be acting this way; it’s for no one’s benefit but the audience’s. Why would a possessed character stumble through the woods, looking vulnerable, if all the other characters know she is possessed? 

She’s captured by people who seem more like Texas Chainsaw characters than Evil Dead. Deformed characters who play no further part in the film, not fitting with the lore of the series. The scene is designed purely and transparently to be a big, shocking opening to the movie. The film goes from 0 to 100 immediately. There’s no build up to the horror. The opening has no patience or tension. Alvarez doesn’t want to have to wait for the Book of the Dead to appear before he can start killing people. Although, despite the book unleashing things, even the original film couldn’t wait that long, with the evil POV force and a hand being possessed before the book is discovered.

The possessed characters, or deadites, usually have some wit and purpose to what they say. They’re fun and profane but also get to the root of the characters they are mocking, often taunting people psychologically as well as physically. But the opening scene can’t do that. Because we’ve jumped straight into the action, we don’t know these characters. There’s nothing the say about them, so all the demon does is scream “fuck” repeatedly. The scene feels like a much lesser version of The Evil Dead, of which the rest of the film has to convince us otherwise. Thankfully possessed Mia is much better later, with Jane Levy delivering an all-time great horror performance.

This isn’t the last time director Fede Alvarez makes this mistake. Don’t Breathe, a solid movie, begins with a cool shot that ruins the end of the film. I hope he figures out how to begin a horror movie successfully for Alien Romulus.

The opening of 2013’s Evil Dead is the only scene in the film, perhaps the franchise, I dislike. And it’s a strong dislike. By contrast, I really like the opening of Evil Dead Rise. It works in all the ways its predecessor doesn’t. But it has its own problem.

The opening of Rise is a wonderful little Evil Dead short film. It plays into some tropes of the series and subverts others in fun ways. The opening POV ‘evil force’ shot clearly uses a drone rather than the classic taping of a camera to a plank of wood and pushing it along like the classic film. But then it’s revealed to actually be a drone in-story, operated by a character in a fun twist. The three characters are quickly defined and the setting is the classic cabin in the woods familiar to the franchise, although now by a lake for some Friday the 13th vibes, which are appreciated considering that franchise has been MIA since 2009.

Teresa just wants to spend her time reading, making her perhaps the series’ most relatable character. But she checks up on her cousin Jessica who is sick and revealed to be possessed. Despite not looking at the page, Jessica can read Teresa’s book, an apt passage of Wuthering Heights, faster than she can, which is both effectively creepy and a nice connection to the playing card scene in the original. And then, after a little build up, there’s some quick imaginative violence. They are brutal Evil Dead deaths but feel different, too. The scalping is brilliantly done. After killing her two companions, Jessica rises from the water of the lake alongside an amazing title card reveal.

So, I love Rise’s opening. What’s the issue? I think as its own piece it’s great but it doesn’t connect to the rest of the film naturally. It’s a great short film stitched onto the start of a different film entirely. The film flashes back 24 hours to another story which then awkwardly connects back to the opening at the end. Even logistically I was puzzled. The entire rest of the film takes place in a 24 hours window? We get the pregnancy test scene with Beth, who is at a venue with her band, and it very much doesn’t look like a place that does matinee performances. Then she catches a plane, arrives at LAX, goes home to her sister Ellie in time for dinner before all hell literally breaks loose? All in the same night? Surely the pregnancy test scene would have to be the night before. Then the next morning Jessica is possessed in the building but for some reason doesn’t become a deadite until later in the day when she reaches the lake.

I’m absolutely overthinking it but the film underthinks it. Writer/director Lee Cronin clearly had an idea for a great mini Evil Dead story and stuck it onto the film proper despite it not fitting. If the two stories do have to be connected, I would prefer the prologue actually be set before the rest of the film so we could see how the evil travelled from the domain we are used to seeing it in (the woods) to LA, rather than it making the opposite journey. But really the film’s prologue/epilogue feels like Cronin wanting to have his cake and eat it too. This way Beth is able to escape alive, a happy ending for the hero, but also have the final sting of the original with the evil force flying down someone’s throat in the last shot. 

There are more Evil Dead films coming and I am here for them. Why wouldn’t I be, they’re consistently great. As I said, it’s the best ‘franchise’, even though I don’t like calling it that. The style has been updated and altered, the location moved, the tone capable of horror and comedy, and new directors can put their stamp on it while it remains ‘Evil Dead’ at the core. The endings now feel very familiar: chainsaw the demon to a bloody end. In Rise it felt fairly contrived to get both a chainsaw and woodchipper in an LA apartment building but it was an entertaining bloodbath nonetheless. Hopefully the beginning of the next movie, what let the last two down, will be an improvement because that’s pretty much the only element that can be improved.

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