Some b-movies go nowhere, and others become cult classics. People love this latter category of movies. People go out of their way to see them in special screenings and to collect memorabilia. What makes these films resonate is a question worth examining. Not only do they have to have a certain je ne sais quoi about them, whether that is amazing effects or the cast having a great time, or them being perfectly of their place and time, something causes them to connect with audiences in a profound way.
Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Evil Dead movies are all three of them, this type of movie. The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness are all definitive cult classics with a wide fanbase. Hail to the Deadites, this new documentary about the fandom surrounding this trilogy, presents itself as an opportunity to answer the question of why and how these movies resonate.
It’s a pity then that it does not do that.
In the early scenes of the film, we are introduced to Steve, the director of the film and an Evil Dead enthusiast as he heads to a store in 2013 to buy 4 copies of the just-released Fede Alvarez directed Evil Dead remake. Why four? Why, because that’s just what collectors do says the faceless narrator of the piece.
This is about the level of examination that the rest of the film provides. Steve goes on a road trip to meet other Evil Dead fans, the titular Deadites, but in most cases, we get a quick introduction followed by some quick exposition and then we’re off to the next subject. Early in the film, Steve contacts a woman who won a contest to be crowned the biggest Evil Dead fan in the world and their conversation via skype centres almost entirely on that she won that contest, rather than how.
The biggest bright spot in the film is the conversation that the filmmakers have with Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell. Campbell is known for being sardonic but in this film, he opens up about his experiences with fans, and how they can have a meaningful impact on a performer’s life.
But all in all, the film doesn’t seem to be much more than a self-congratulatory tour of the people the filmmakers met and the things they’ve managed to collect. With opportunities to speak with most of the cast and some behind the scenes players almost entirely squandered Hail to the Deadites becomes not about the fandom of the Evil Dead, but about these few fans of Evil Dead in particular. Unfortunately, that is not enough to carry the film to any meaningful conclusion.