Horror and comedy are strange, but highly compatible bedfellows. And when we’re talking about the “Evil Dead” franchise, they are natural, gruesome complements.
Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” is arguably the most important horror movie of the 1980s. It’s a shoestring-budget fright-fest that masks its financial limitations with dizzyingly inventive framing and gonzo explosions of gore. Though it drew inspiration from George A. Romero’s zombie films and the demonic possession craze kicked off by William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” its full-throttle exuberance was rooted in everything from Looney Tunes cartoons to Jerry Lewis comedies. Raimi’s sequel, “Evil Dead 2,” leaned harder into the zaniness, invoking The Three Stooges as we watched our hapless protagonist, Ash (Bruce Campbell), turn into a one-man Larry, Moe, and Curly (and if there was any kind of justice in the awards universe, Campbell would’ve won that year’s Academy Award).
Raimi has since handed the “Evil Dead” reins over to a new generation. Fede Álvarez took a decidedly non-comedic approach to his 2013 remake, while the Starz series “Ash vs. Evil Dead” doubled down on the slapstick brutality. The word out of the 2023 SXSW festival is that Lee Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise” is the tonal culmination of the franchise’s wildly varying flavors. According to /Film’s Jacob Hall, “‘Evil Dead Rise’ is the most ‘Evil Dead’ movie, from the mind-melting body horror to the outrageous creature design to the darkly comedic spring in its step.”
How did Cronin pull it off? He looked to the 1980 spoof classic “Airplane!”
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In an interview with /Film’s Ryan Scott, Cronin cited the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (aka ZAZ) as crucial to his deployment of scare set pieces. As he told Scott:
“I went after the story and the characters first. I hunted down those personalities. I hunted down the themes and the metaphors before I actually then went and looked at the horror. Now of course, in my brain, I was boiling ideas all the time, but I didn’t let myself go there until I just had cracked into those people. I think it’s the Zucker Brothers, and they talk about when they were writing movies like ‘Airplane!’ back in the day, it was like, ‘Get the story right, and then work on the jokes, work on the gags thereafter.'”
Cronin is spot-on. The ZAZ boys basically used Hall Bartlett’s 1957 disaster flick “Zero Hour!” as the narrative spine of their gag-laden masterpiece. Indeed, some of the movie’s biggest laughs are lifted straight out of Bartlett’s movie (including the food poisoning subplot). So it’s rather canny of Cronin to introduce the ZAZ DNA to the “Evil Dead” franchise. Surely, it’s a perfect match.
“Evil Dead Rise” takes possession of theaters on April 21, 2023. And I know your name’s not Shirley.
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