Over the past few years, there’s been an unfortunate influx in fan documentaries. By this, I don’t mean fan made films, but rather films about fans. It’s unfortunate because there’s little to be gained by letting those – typically straight, white men – who already believe themselves to be so responsible for the success of a piece of art they make it not only their entire personality but form online hate mobs to either demand a different version of it more in tune with their own tastes (as we’ve seen with the infamous “Snyder Cut”), or attempt to wipe out its existence completely (as we saw with the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot). Hail to the Deadites, which proclaims itself proudly to be a documentary about fans of the Evil Dead franchise, is more of the same. If you’ve seen one fan doc, you’ve seen ’em all.
Those looking to learn anything new about Sam Raimi’s beloved video nasty and its two similarly adored sequels will find little to cling to here aside from one, solitary tidbit from genre fave Bill Moseley, whose moment to shine bizarrely only lasts about a minute. Sadly, this is a running theme throughout. Plenty of interesting people who worked on the movies, from actors to special effects artists, pop up to share their stories but writer-director Steve Villeneuve (Crawler) is so intent on making the fans the center of attention he hardly focuses the camera for long enough to let them talk. And yet, charmless nobodies with massive collections of merchandise are afforded long, lingering shots while they painstakingly point out what each thing is (seriously, does anybody find this entertaining? Just watch YouTube hauls if you do; it’ll be faster).
Of course, it doesn’t help that the Evil Dead adjacent types are far more interesting than the featured fans, who all seem like nice people but aren’t what you’d call fascinating documentary subjects. Most egregiously, however, although there’s a tribute to the women of Evil Dead at the end, heralding the actresses who starred in the films and are now charmingly flummoxed by the crowds of fans baying for their autographs at packed conventions all these years later, women are mostly left out in the cold here. It’s revealed that the biggest fan of the franchise in the world is a woman but Hail to the Deadites doesn’t even feature her full interview (it’s possible the footage got lost or damaged, but still). Meanwhile, the talking heads are all male, all white, and all the usual suspects (Chris Alexander looks bored, Michael Gingold is so stiff it’s as though he’s reading off a prompter).
Sam Raimi doesn’t feature, but his brother Ted pops up for a memorable cameo, while the granddaddy of them all, Bruce Campbell, is present, accounted for, and reliably great even though, again, the doc needs more of him (and his hilariously deadpan brother, for that matter). Looking dashing in a powder blue suit, The Chin communicates better than anybody else why it means so much that fans still love this franchise. The idea that most of us watch the Evil Dead movies for the first time with a parent or other family-member is introduced but not fully developed, as though Villeneuve is so concerned about giving the featured nerds enough time to shine that he misses the actual story of how they got to this point. Adding insult to injury, the many fan-made tributes to the movies that feature throughout are overwhelmingly rubbish, with the clear exceptions being a couple fun Claymation pieces. Including real footage would’ve made more sense and, although it likely was too expensive or the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights, it’s a nonsensical choice regardless.
Similarly, the songs about Evil Dead start out cheesy and fun but soon begin to grate. There’s way too much music overall, in fact, which only adds to the doc’s try-hard energy. It’s like it’s screaming “please like me!” at the top of its lungs, which is profoundly odd considering there’s no way anybody who’s this into Evil Dead considers him or herself one of the cool kids. Hail to the Deadites is charmingly DIY, sure, but it’s so desperate to convince us that the featured subjects are actually cool for dedicating their lives to these movies. Without the proper context from those involved in the making of the Evil Dead trilogy, it becomes a needy, vacuous, and ultimately pointless waste of time. Fan documentaries are cringe-worthy in general, so it’s not entirely the fault of Villeneuve or the participants that Hail to the Deadites falls so flat; but it’s difficult to ascertain who is going to care about any of this outside of the people involved.
If you like toys, there are plenty of great shots of those. If you care about the Evil Dead movies, or the people who made them happen, best to look elsewhere. The most telling moment of Hail to the Deadites comes right at the end; the interview snippets with cast and crew that play over the credits are more interesting than everything that’s come before combined, emphasizing the confused intentions at play here. Seriously, who is this for?
WICKED RATING: 3/10