Fantasia 2020: Hail to the Deadites

Some things stick with you. It could be a moment, something that touches your senses or brings you great joy. These are the moments that last.

Horror fans hold such reverence for iconic films that are near and dear to their hearts, not only because they speak to them, but because they can be relatable. We all don’t need to be attacked by trees, shop at S-Mart and read incantations to relate; it’s the characters in these situations and the great universality of them that can leave a mark.

In this regard, not too many can live up to the grand shadow of the Evil Dead films.

Hail to the Deadites. Dir. Steve Villeneuve.

In comes Hail to the Deadites, a documentary for fans, by fans (directed by Steve Villeneuve). The doc follows fans as they speak up on the impact the films have brought to their lives, and the lasting legacy the series has enjoyed over the decades.

This is paired with imagery of set props, memorabilia, fan films, and talking heads of said fans, combined with the cast who promoted the films. All of these work together to tell the full story of Evil Dead’s staying power.

Hail to the Deadites works best when it focuses on the touching stories of how the films have affected lives far and wide, how it’s been a touchstone not only for friendships, but for love. One is particularly heartbreaking, but has the promise of hope and kinship at its heart that speaks volumes about how, sometimes at least, fandom can be a force of positivity.

Hail to the Deadites. Dir. Steve Villeneuve.

These are punctuated by the always charismatic and entertaining Bruce Campbell, along with fellow cast members from the films over the years, as they share their experiences of conventions and festivals that have kept the Evil Dead franchise alive and well with the fervor of the fans waiting for the next chapter.

But the more interesting aspect, alongside the personal stories, comes with the small moments of fans showing off their collections of the various releases over the years, the figures and the props, the signed posters and the photos of other fans who themselves have become celebrities in their own right at cons.

When the film focuses on that, along with how much the films means to the fans, it’s hitting all of the marks and is rather promising. But there is this feeling of omission, as though the full story is incomplete or as focused as it could be.

Hail to the Deadites. Dir. Steve Villeneuve.

An odd note is that the 2013 remake and the TV continuation, Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015), are only mentioned in passing. It’s not quite explicit if this is due to a focus on the original three, recency bias, or dismissiveness, but it feels like a missed opportunity when the legacy continues on so vibrantly.

By the end, the missing film clips (likely due to licensing) and the omission of the granddaddy of interviews with Sam Raimi, do leave a feeling of Deadites being an unofficial documentary of sorts; but the thing to remember is that this is about the fans and their love of the films more than the films themselves, and so the fan films and shorts that play over sequences make sense for that reason.

Here, it does succeed. But there’s this feeling that can’t be shaken off that there could be just a little more under the surface to fill out the full picture.


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