why 'evil dead:rise' matters
"Looking with dread at each, ever-more horrible page, you are drawn in by the blasphemous book. The account of Al'Hazred, the book of the dead... more than a book... a gateway of chaos. As you scan the inhuman glyphs and nightmarish drawings, a feeling of coming doom weighs heavy in the air. Evil is, and it cannot be stopped."
For the fans out there, it's hardly news that the legendary EVIL DEAD series has a new installment in theaters. The original, considered by most a creative masterpiece of the genre (if not the inventor of its own genre), was directed by Sam Raimi in 1981. Fast forward 42 years and the series continues at full steam with the 'Rise' film, written and directed by Lee Cronin.
The opening of 'Rise' alone is enough to earn cheers and screams. Beyond great.
Hold on, Hankerin, isn't this a TTRPG blog? Stay on target, Porkins!
Stay with me here... the tabletop thesis is never too far away in ol' Runehammeria...
First of all, it's probably no surprise I'm about to tell you I'm a huge fan of the new film. I've seen every installment multiple times. I made sure to get in the theater for this one, and was delighted with the fidelity with which Cronin treated the core precepts, gimmicks, metaphysical truths, and gross details of the series. I loved it.
Once again I have to shield myself from the purists, but I may have liked it even more than the plucky original.
To the coarse analysis, these movies are all of the same blood-soaked ilk. Woodchippers, chainsaws, evil books, weird chants, unstoppable demons, eating broken glass, fingernail horror. To the connoisseur, though, these films are hardly created equal. They range from goofy to overdone to shrill to boring. 'Rise,' though... simply put... slays.
Ok, ok, for the sake of argument, and not turning this into a movie review, let's just say you agree. "Sure, Hank, it's dope. Move on."
Evil Dead:Rise, put simply, is a perfect example of choosing faith, love, attention to detail, and respect for the classics above despair, fatigue, and laziness. Why does this matter? Because fantasy, that genre we wind up using in 3/4 or more of all our tabletop excursions, is a very similar milieu! Fantasy is shackled in scores of stereotypical elements, shared imaginings, staples, tropes, and expectations. For the unimaginative, pessimistic, or the world-weary 'forever GM,' all this can create a "why bother, it's already been done!" attitude. "More dwarves and elves? Gah!"
Just another elf/dwarf combo? Nope, a timeless friendship many of us quote daily.
My thesis here? These long-running creative spaces, with all their trappings and eye-rolling groans, are fertile gardens for evergreen awesomeness, IF we apply ourselves with full creative potency and care. The true masters could better summarize exactly how this is done, how the hum-drum is overcome to create memorable, magical stories, but I'm going to take a shot at three guiding principles I observed in the new 'Rise' film.
1: Honor thy Elders
Before you write off a genre as trope-saturated, tired, or 'done,' make sure you're sourcing the best of the best. You can't lose faith in car chases without watching The Blues Brothers. You can't lose faith in cyberpunk without reading Snow Crash. You can't lose faith in fantasy without reading Conan, Lord of the Rings, or John Carter. Sure, tried-and-true worlds can get tired, but the master finds the humanity in it, the courage, a fresh perspective. Go ahead! Walk on the shoulders of giants, that's why they're there!
2: Devil(s) in the Details
Any lengthy look into masterful treatment of otherwise overdone genres reveals an attention to detail. Not just clumsy closeups, but touchable, relatable, cringe-worthy or (dare I say) realistic little moments. We all know there's a dragon to slay, but it's a halfling's cooking gear that catches our eye. We all know the mainframe is going to be hacked, but it's pulling your mag-bike up to the noodle shop that makes cyberpunk stick in our heads. The best way to see and celebrate detail is to let yourself love the material. Be an unapologetic fan, make weird reference, hide easter eggs.
The Headhunter (2018) chooses micro-detail to make fantasy feel new and surprisingly badass.
The new Evil Dead film understood a key part of the series: at a certain point, tons of blood makes viewers giggle. There's a ridiculousness about just how seriously the story is treating its material... just how far things are going. The whole thing becomes crazy in its glorious way... blood-funny. Fantasy is no different. Whatever you choose to highlight in your fantasy world, let it grow unchecked! Let specific ideas run wild to the point of madness, let it fold in on itself. A table without laughter is doom for all, so let the blood soak them all, and see the comedy in it all.
You want blood-funny? The feral boomerang-boy in Mad Max (1979) is one of the best.
Now get out there, and be like Lee Cronin: you may be challenged with a well-trodden path to tread, but with love for the genre, boundless enthusiasm, savage energy, attention to detail, a little gross comedy, and the mind of a scholar, you'll always find new frontiers, even in the most familiar worlds.