REVIEW: Hail to the Deadites (2020)

dir. Steve Villeneuve.

The story of how Sam Raimi – barely out of his teens – made Evil Dead (1981) a grindhouse classic is the stuff of legend. With Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) also garnering respective cult followings a documentary about the fandom surrounding such a revered franchise had the potential to be a scintillating deepdive.

Sadly Villeneuve’s film stops shot at being little more than a protracted geek-out. Talking heads from key players are present (except for Raimi, who is conspicuous by absence), although these are rarely revealing, mostly comprising of sound bites which are stitched together with a lack of overall focus or cohesion. Instead, the runtime is topped up with interviews with Deadites (read: superfans) who duly show off their memorabilia, dress in cosplay and attend conventions. It’s not that this isn’t charmingly affectionate – it is – but the lack of narrative through-line leaves one flailing for something more substantial.

Occasional anecdotes are moving – such as the story of one fan who lost a child named Ash – and there’s some welcome insights into the character of Bruce Campbell (who apparently paid $800 for a fan to come cross-country to meet him). However other opportunities for analysis are missed, such as Ellen Sandweiss’ admission that she was not properly consulted before the infamous “tree rape” scene: a revelation which is almost laughed off, despite Raimi subsequently expressing his own regrets about that controversial moment.

The gold standard for documentaries on cult films remains Michael Paul Stephenson’s Best Worst Movie (2009), an insightful exposé on the highs – and frequent lows – of the legacy of Troll 2 (1990). Unfortunately, despite – or perhaps because of – his love for the source material, Villeneuve fails to achieve a similar level of incision, instead staying with well meaning hero worship.

Tim Coleman

HAIL TO THE DEADITES had its World Premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival, and its International Premiere at Frightfest 2020 Digital Edition.

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