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Review: ‘Hail to the Deadites’ hits The Fantasia International Film Festival

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Review: 'Hail to the Deadites' hits The Fantasia International Film Festival

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Hail to the Deadites is a new documentary about The Evil Dead fandom. Directed and edited by Steve Villeneuve, premiering at The Fantasia International Film Festival, it’s a surprisingly tender look at The Evil Dead subculture. It’s a documentary about the fandom, but it’s really about the power of liking things.

There are interviews with interesting characters: collectors, cosplayers, artists, musical-theater deadites, and Ash Williams himself — Bruce Campbell. Campbell, dashing as always, talks about the positive side of fandom. He understands his fans because he was a fan of actors, too, when he was young. He liked Steve McQueen so much that he wrote him a letter and wondered if he ever received it. A little wistfully, too? I see some of McQueen in Ash now that I think of it. I think of McQueen in Papillon, when he makes jokes at his jailors after being starved and beaten. He laughs at them because he’s brave and funny and not broken though he’s nearly dead — that’s a streak of Ash!

Nowadays, we can tweet at horror icons, but in those days, the only thing you could do was write a fan letter. It takes more time to write a letter so it means more. Campbell said it surprises him when he meets people at horror-cons when they are too shy to look at him. I understand it a bit, I’m not shy usually, but I’m shy around people I admire. Not all celebrities are open to fans, and many of us are afraid of being annoying. It’s a bit crude to force someone to acknowledge you, isn’t it?

Hail to the Deadites Fans

But perhaps it isn’t annoying to let a performer know that you admire their work if it’s genuine and you’re not seeking anything from the interaction. Campbell tells a story about how Gena Rowlands received a letter from a fan. The fan wrote a twenty-page letter about her career, breaking down specifically why she was so amazing, listing each film. She carried that letter with her for the rest of her life. So positive fandom, Campbell says, can have a real impact on performers. It does mean something.

Hail to the Deadites focuses on the non-toxic aspects of the fandom that The Evil Dead spawned. It’s a refreshing look at horror subculture. It ignores the negative side, such as trolls, who harass creators and fans alike for their opinions. The documentary focuses on the goodness that exists instead, which is a powerful thing in itself. It shows happy people cosplaying The Evil Dead and hanging out at horror-cons. A couple even gets married at a horror event. I chose to ignore the fact that they divorced a year later.

Hail to the Deadites Evil Dead II Signed Poster

Tom Sullivan, who created the infamous Book of the Dead, pops in on the married couple, wishing them well with a video message. Campbell’s brother makes an appearance and discusses his role in Army of Darkness. It’s fascinating to listen to their stories, although the most interesting part of the documentary — is the fans. Their passion and earnestness are both revealing and uplifting. Their energy fuels the fandom. Don’t forget; we got “Ash vs. Evil Dead” because of them and another Evil Dead film on the horizon. 

The documentary also gives superfans a chance to show off their Evil Dead collections. And what a collection! Posters, T-shirts, pins, stickers, buttons, patches, masks, figurines, and copies of the Necronomicon. Plus, genuine artifacts from the house built for the original The Evil Dead (1981). I was so impressed with their finds that I made a list of some of the outstanding items:

  • an original mold of Ash’s hand with letter of authenticity
  • Army of Darkness tombstone miniatures
  • front shudder from the Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn cabin
  • The Evil Dead Japanese laserdisc with a blue tint transfer
  • $300 figurine of Ash with his chainsaw hand

Towards the end, there is an interview with a grieving father who talks about how Ash was an inspiration for his family. Because Ash is a fighter. Ash fights evil. Ash is trying to save the world. He sees Ash’s character in those he loves because they have his spirit. It’s a moving moment to see that The Evil Dead films helped a person overcome tragedy. So many of us are inspired by Ash. Ash fought it out alone in that cabin, and when the deadites mocked him, he mocked them back and cut off his own hand. It’s inspiring, which is why heroes exist, I imagine. I consider Ash a hero, not an anti-hero, but that’s a discussion for another time.


If you are curious about The Evil Dead fandom, check out Hail to the Deadites. Its world premiere is streaming online at The Fantasia International Film Festival, tickets are relatively cheap, eight dollars per screening. Check out Hail to the Deadites before it’s too late, ya deadite. Dead by dawn! Dead by dawn

Hail to the Deadites Ash Williams

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