Hail to the Deadites review – affectionate documentary about the love fans have for the Evil Dead trilogy

August 25, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews
3.5

Summary

Steve Villeneuve’s affectionate exploration of Evil Dead fandom: memorabilia, cosplay, and passion. Primarily made up of interviews with cast, crew, and fans, broken up with songs and fan-made film clips.

3.5

Summary

Steve Villeneuve’s affectionate exploration of Evil Dead fandom: memorabilia, cosplay, and passion. Primarily made up of interviews with cast, crew, and fans, broken up with songs and fan-made film clips.

If you have any awareness of key horror films from the last fifty years, especially from the United States, you will probably have seen at least one of the Evil Dead films. Within the universe of that series, “Deadites” are undead spirits that seek to possess a body and feast on the souls of living creatures. In this world of ours, though, “Deadites” are the living fans of the Evil Dead trilogy; and Hail to the Deadites is a documentary tribute to those fans.

And it’s great. I’ve seen documentaries about the rising popularity of certain films and genres, but I’ve not come across any until now about the people who love the films they do (although I understand there are some about Star Wars and Star Trek fans). I’m used to seeing horror fans, cosplayers etc. ridiculed on-screen – cheers, Galaxy Quest – so it’s about time the “community” of horror fandom gets back some of the love they grant their subjects.

That’s what Hail to the Deadites does; at least in relation to fans of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Steve Villeneuve, a horror lover and Evil Dead fan himself, takes interviews and a camera crew around conventions, an Evil Dead museum, and even an Evil Dead musical, to meet all kinds of fans and admire their collections. Steve started collecting memorabilia when the remake was released in 2013 and discovered a world made up of all kinds of people with a common interest. And it is so nice seeing everyday horror geeks being treated with affection and respect by a film crew, not gawked at like they are weirdos.

As well as the fans, the documentary also included interviews with a number of the stars and crew behind the original films, such as Betsy Baker (Linda in The Evil Dead), Tom Sullivan (responsible for the props in The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II) and of course Bruce Campbell (Ash in the original trilogy and the TV series). None of them were there to talk about the films, but rather its popularity and followers: Hail to the Deadites is all about those who surround the films with their admiration. Campbell had a particularly nice message to fans towards the end of the film, about the appreciation the cast feels towards their fans.

I found Hail to the Deadites eye-opening. I’ve been to horror festivals and comic conventions, though nothing either as big or as niche as the ones shown in this documentary. Indeed I had no idea such a niche fandom existed, let alone that there was a museum or musical! But when you discover people who love something, it can pique your interest to revisit that subject: I enjoyed each of Raimi’s films when I saw them (years ago), but I know I’ll now look at them in a different light. In fact, the documentary prompted me to shop for the triple-film Blu-ray set, so I’ll be watching them again very soon.

I must say, Hail to the Deadites also made me feel almost nostalgic about conventions. In this late August of 2020, when we still don’t know what stage of the pandemic we are in, it’s impossible to know whether comic cons and other similar events will return in a familiar format. This documentary succeeded in taking me back to that scene, feeling like I was a part of it. I got to know some of the fans that Villeneuve followed, watched an engagement, a cosplay contest, and signing sessions.

As if to reinforce this grassroots approach to the subject, the first frame in the documentary declares “Everything you will see in the next 80 minutes was created by Evil Dead fans”. The joyful songs, the claymation and animated clips, the costumes and art: they came from the Deadites themselves, and are gathered here to share with fellow enthusiasts. Although it felt a little odd that Sam Raimi himself did not feature (as Campbell put it “he doesn’t do this stuff”), by the end of the film I realized that was OK: if he had appeared, the focus would have changed from the people who adored his work to how he made it.

There was something else a little odd about Hail to the Deadites. Although it was released just this year, I really cannot tell when all the interviews were captured and collated, but it must have been some years ago. The remake is only mentioned once in passing, and the television show, Ash vs Evil Dead isn’t mentioned at all. There’s no sense that the remake is dismissed, and there is a clear sense that anyone can be a fan of whatever films they want, but it did leave me feeling like the story needed to be brought up to date a little.

There can be a lot of divisiveness within genre fandom, and one of the sure strengths of Hail to the Deadites is the absence of any judgment. People came from all over the world to celebrate these films, some having been introduced to them out of order, many as kids, and many giving love to the series with their own creativity. The documentary is worth watching simply to relish the shared joyful spirit that common interests can bring to a crowd, and to see affection and appreciation being shared between everyone involved. Regardless of one’s own opinions or film tastes, the mood of the film was uplifting overall, and I was disappointed when it ended, like home time at the end of a favorite convention.

This review was filed from FrightFest 2020. You can check our full coverage of the festival by clicking these words.


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