In my previous Fantasia review for Clapboard Jungle, I discussed how I’m pretty much an easy mark for any and all genre-related documentaries. After seeing Hail to the Deadites though, I feel like I need to amend that statement a bit as I’ve come to realize that, while I adore documentaries as a whole, fan documentaries aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I was hoping that Hail to the Deadites might turn me around when it comes to my feelings on fan docs as a whole, but rather, it ended up just leaving me feeling a bit blasé about the whole thing in the end.
For Hail to the Deadites, filmmaker Steve Villeneuve explores the fandom surrounding the Evil Dead franchise by collecting interviews with the folks involved with the films as well as a handful of fans from across the globe. Genre geeks will undoubtedly be excited to see folks like Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Bill Moseley, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard Domeier, FX artist Tom Sullivan, Theresa Tilly, Betsy Baker and more, and they give us insights into the time they spent working in the Evil Dead universe and their interactions with the fandom over the years.
We also hear from select ED fans in Hail to the Deadites, as Villeneuve catches up with the winner of IGN’s Evil Dead fan contest back, which was held back when Fede Alvarez’s remake came out in 2013, some other collectors, cosplayers and several devoted website administrators who eat, sleep and breathe all things Evil Dead. We also hear from some noted journalists to provide historical context of the series (which were all men, by the way), and instead of utilizing footage from the films themselves, Villeneuve incorporates clips from fan films to frame certain discussions as well as the opening of the doc, which was a fun touch to the project.
But then, things get a little tricky for me. When I watch a documentary, I want to take something away from the experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a moment of profundity, or anything monumental like that, but I just want to walk away at the end feeling like maybe I learned something or had a new idea introduced to me. And that’s not really the case here. If Hail to the Deadites had given me just an inkling of a real thesis behind the project as a whole, I probably would have connected with me more; just showing (and telling) me that Evil Dead is cool isn’t really enough because if I’m watching this film, chances are, I already know that.
Which brings me to my other hang-up with Hail to the Deadites. Truth be told, this is a documentary that could have been made about any other horror franchise out there, and the results would be exactly the same. Heck, pretty much any niche retro genre title could also apply here, because so many of those movies have their dedicated fans, too. To me, in a day and age where conventions are pretty much the norm for a large number of horror fans, and we all tend to connect online with other like-minded genre geeks as well, I just felt like Villeneuve missed an opportunity here to explore the “Why?” of it all. Is there a psychology behind fans gravitation towards this series in particular, beyond the fact that Bruce Campbell is a badass (which again, is a well-proven aspect of the ED fandom by now)?
We get a rundown of the series, and interviews with Evil Dead aficionados showing off their impressive collections of memorabilia and such, or sharing some personal stories, but ultimately, that’s where Hail to the Deadites focus ends, which is a real shame.
That being said, for someone looking to revel in hearing from other Evil Dead fans, or just checking in with some of your favorite actors from the franchise, then you’re probably going have fun with Hail to the Deadites. For me, I was looking for something that dug a little deeper, and I don’t really feel like the doc delivers anything that we as horror fans don’t already know about these films in particular, or the passionate nature of genre lovers as a whole. I’m sure that there’s definitely an audience for this documentary out there, but I just don’t think that audience includes me (which is fine – it happens sometimes). It’s well made and I applaud Villeneuve’s efforts, but I don’t think Hail to the Deadites brings a whole lot to the table overall.
Movie Score: 2.5/5