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Review: ‘Hail to the Deadites’ doesn’t cast a wide enough net (Includes first-hand account)

Being a fan has never been more accepted. Flaunting you’re passionate about something is no longer limited to sports teams or mainstream franchises. The ever-rising popularity of fan conventions is evidence people are actively seeking opportunities to connect with their fandoms and fellow enthusiasts. For some, this cultivated community of like-minded individuals is the only place they feel comfortable letting their freak flag fly, as it were. Others value the occasion to discuss and debate the nuances of a minute detail at length with people who don’t scoff at what they consider nit-picking. Hail to the Deadites is a letter of recognition to the fans of the Evil Dead franchise.

Director Steve Villeneuve’s first documentary, Under the Scares, was an exploration of the production and promotion of an independent, ultra low-budget horror film. Now, he narrows his focus to enthusiasts of the Evil Dead film series, also known as “Deadites.” Travelling to multiple horror cons across Canada and the United States, interviewing original cast and crew, and speaking with the dedicated fans themselves, the documentary tries to capture the heart of the cult following and what draws people to the franchise.

Beginning with his passion for collecting physical entertainment, Villeneuve recruits his Evil Dead¬-obsessed friend to travel across North America and immerse themselves in the Deadite culture. Interviews with the original cast, including legend Bruce Campbell, and special effects artist Tom Sullivan are quite revealing as they express their surprise and appreciation for the devoted fanbase that keeps the films alive through their zeal and special events. Somewhat lowering his typical bravado, Campbell speaks fondly about his interactions with the fans and how privileged he feels for being part of something so beloved. In spite of “The Chin” being synonymous with the series, Sullivan’s presence in the documentary is somewhat more prominent, though it’s unfortunate more time is not spent on his many souvenirs from the pictures.

On the flipside, a disproportionate amount of time is spent with specific Deadites. A couple who were engaged with the help of Sullivan, a cosplayer who ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to meet Campbell, a couple of fans who’ve amassed large collections of memorabilia, and the winner of a promotional contest that set out to name the ultimate Evil Dead fan are some of the interviewees. But not all of these stories are very compelling and it’s nearly halfway through the film before viewers get a close-up look of someone’s collection. The documentary may have been better served by speaking with a greater number of fans and stringing together multiple perspectives rather than focusing on just a few.

The soundtrack is an excellent compilation of music about Evil Dead, opening with Holy Light of Demons’ “Hail to the King,” which is a lyrical summary of the first picture. In addition, rather than including clips from the released films, all the interwoven scenes are taken from fan-made homages to the franchise. Campbell proposes Ash’s rise to popularity is connected to his rare horror hero status since most of the genre’s other icons are villains — and the charismatic Chin may have point.

Hail to the Deadites had its world premiere in the Documentaries from the Edge category at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.

Director: Steve Villeneuve

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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