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"The Many Lives of The Evil Dead: Essays on the Cult Film Franchise" Book Review

Written by ZigZag

Published by McFarland

The Many Lives Of The Evil Dead Book Large

Edited by Ron Riekki and Jeffrey A. Sartain
2019, 211 pages, Reference
Released on March 4th, 2019

Review:

In 1981, three independent filmmakers (Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert) set out to terrorize audiences with their cabin-in-the-woods nightmare The Evil Dead. The plot involves five friends spending the weekend at a remote location where they discover a mysterious recording in the basement that when played back summons demons to possess the living. Our characters are steadily overtaken by the evil forces and in order to stop them they have to be physically dismembered. Ash Williams emerges as our reluctant hero facing insurmountable odds as one by one his friends turn on him. He survives the night but is thrust into a new nightmare, one that in time as the series progresses has him battling an entire army of darkness as the demons continue to try to possess him. Ash develops a skill for dispatching these creatures and is good in a fight – when he isn’t running away.

The picture went on to become one of the top-grossing independent films of all time, sparking a worldwide following resulting in sequels, remakes, musicals, comic books, conventions, video games and a television series. Sam Raimi has become an A-list director in Hollywood, producer Rob Tapert found success in film and television and star Bruce Campbell enjoys life as a working actor and has written a series of books. The character of Ash has achieved cult status and developed a ravenous fan base always eager for the next appearance of their goofy hero. Celebrating the legacy of the series, authors Ron Riekki and Jeffrey A. Sartain have edited a collection of papers written by film and media scholars that cover a wide range of perspectives on the topic for their new book The Many Lives of The Evil Dead: Essays on the Cult Film Franchise.

The collection is separated into three primary sections; part one covers “The Films” with a series of ten essays from a variety of authors expanding on the study and criticism of the four pictures in the cinematic canon. Part two, “The Franchise and Adaptations”, includes ten additional essays that examine the reach of the series into the world of television, video games, stage musicals and even pornography. The third section, “Testimonials”, offers first-person accounts of The Evil Dead film production, featuring material written by three of those connected to the franchise, including actress Betsy Baker.

The articles are wide-ranging and offer some unusual takes on the material. I do not agree with all of these interpretations and opinions, but all of the authors make solid arguments for their work. One of the stronger dissertations included is "“Don’t Call Me Ash” Success the Bruce Campbell Way" by Michael Fuchs and Michael Phillips, examining the carefully crafted public persona adopted by Campbell for interviews and appearances. Tracing his history as a B-movie star turned author and filmmaker, the piece showcases the actor’s inherent ability to provide audiences with a larger-than-life character that is funny, charming and personable without being too revealing of the man behind the mask. Sarah Cleary’s "“The Number One Nasty” How Britain’s Most Popular Eighties Horror Was Banned" reflects on the 1980s “Video Nasties” era in England where a list was compiled of horror films deemed too detrimental for public exposure. The movement was politically motivated and the home video market served as a pawn in a greater game with the horror genre singled out as its primary target. The Evil Dead topped the list of titles and remained banned for many years before being released in a heavily censored version in 1990 and finally made available uncut in 2001, twenty years after its initial release.

Other strong essays focus on the extended franchise, notably the stage show Evil Dead: The Musical. Rob Roznowski covers the creation of the show in "Repulsion and Convulsion in “The Splatter Zone”". Musical director L. Michael Elliott shares his memories of the production in his testimonial "Do the Necronomicon: Evil Dead’s Journey into the Realm of Musical Theatre". There are articles covering the assorted video games inspired by the franchise as well as a study of the television program Ash vs. The Evil Dead (2015-2018). One of the more far-out papers comes from Olga Tchepikova-Treon, whose Deadite Porn studies the adult film parody Evil Head (2012).

Not all of the papers are knockouts, however, as some are over-written and meandering in their coverage. There are those that try to force an angle on the material that simply does not fit. One example of a wrong-headed dissertation opens the book with Brandon Kempner’s "Deadites and the American Zombie Tradition", which tries to make the argument that The Evil Dead is a zombie movie when in actuality it is a tale of demonic possession. Another article, Ron Riekki’s "The First Horror Film Shot in Michigan", makes an empty case as he goes out of his way to connect the three Michigan filmmakers with their home state and downplay the importance of the movie’s primary Tennessee shooting location.

The Many Lives of The Evil Dead: Essays on the Cult Film Franchise is a bit of a mixed bag with its array of authors studying all aspects of the film series. Some are light-hearted and endearing while others take themselves way too seriously and overthink the material. It is fun to realize how popular the film series has become and that it has left a lasting impression on countless fans the world over. Editors Riekki and Sartain have cast a wide net in their collection of essays and while uneven, this is overall a fine collection of love letters to a low-budget movie shot nearly forty years ago.

Grades:

Overall: Threestars The Many Lives Of The Evil Dead Book Small
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About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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