Clever ‘Evil Dead Rise’ mangles and mutilates like a mom possessed

Woman inhabited by a demon terrorizes her kids in the franchise’s bloody new installment.

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A single mom (Alyssa Sutherland) is possessed by a demonic beast in “Evil Dead Rise.”

Warner Bros.

Mommie Fearest.

Forget about Norma Bates from “Psycho” or Margaret White from “Carrie” or Eleanor Iselin from “The Manchurian Candidate” or Joan Crawford from “Mommie Dearest,” you’ve never seen a mother turn on her children with such vitriol as Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie in the blood-soaked gorefest that is “Evil Dead Rise.” There’s a moment where she hisses at her youngest that all she wants is to pop off her head, and if that doesn’t earn a child a lifetime of therapy, nothing will.

Of course, if you’re familiar with the beloved horror franchise that kicked off with Sam Raimi’s cult classic back in 1981, you know that’s not really Ellie who has the horribly cruel tongue and the voracious appetite for human flesh, blood and soul; it’s a demonic beast aka Deadite that has taken possession of Ellie and has turned her into a horrific and terrifying and seemingly invincible monster.

‘Evil Dead Rise’

Untitled

Warner Bros. presents a film written and directed by Lee Cronin. Rated R (for strong bloody horror violence and gore and some language). Running time: 96 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.

In the hands of writer-director Lee Cronin, a brilliant makeup and practical effects squad and a terrific cast that really sinks its teeth (sorry) into the material, the first film in the “Evil Dead” franchise in 10 years ramps up the gore and the supernatural elements while remaining true to its creatively gruesome origins. (The tone is more in keeping with the 2013 “Evil Dead” than the original trilogy, but even if you’ve never seen an “Evil Dead” movie, this one stands on its own.)

Not much makes me squirm in my seat after all these years, but there were at least three occasions in which I felt myself grimacing like a cartoon character at the fantastically disgusting antics onscreen. Bravo, you sickos!

After a cold open set in the obligatory Creepy Cabin by the Lake in which one character is literally scalped, Cronin takes the story back one day previous and cleverly shifts the setting to a dilapidated apartment building in a shady Los Angeles neighborhood. Lily Sullivan’s Beth is a guitar tech who pops in for an unannounced visit with her estranged sister, Ellie, a tattoo artist who has recently been abandoned by her husband and has three children: Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies) and adorable little Kassie (Nell Fisher), who seems to have a bit of a morbid side, what with her making an imaginary friend out of a sharp stick with a doll’s head on it.

There’s a nice, confident sense of pacing in these early moments; we come to know and like Ellie and the kids, who are decidedly and deliberately more than a little rough around the edges, but clearly loving and supportive of one another. This raises the stakes for the mayhem we know is just around the corner.

As Beth and Ellie hash out their issues (there’s a lot of motherhood stuff at play, a theme that will be explored throughout), the kids go out to get some pizza. They’re in the garage when an earthquake strikes, opening a portal into an old underground bank vault—and that’s where Danny finds a certain dusty old book and some ancient recordings, and makes the fatal mistake of taking the items to his room, where he inadvertently unleashes the demon that possesses Ellie. Forget about that pizza, it’s time for some real dining!

The apartment building is sparsely populated—it’s been condemned, and people have already started packing to move out— and the city locale is further isolated by the earthquake and a power outage that renders the elevators useless and seems to have affected cell phone reception as well. As Deadite Ellie spider-crawls and flies about, a handful of neighbors try to come to the aid of Beth and the children, and you can imagine how well that plays out. (There’s a wonderfully executed sequence in which Ellie dispatches victims through a peephole. It’s horrifying and it’s hilarious.) And the concept of Chekhov’s Gun is taken to the next level, as virtually every closeup of a household item, e.g., a pair of scissors or a cheese grater, guarantees that item will eventually be turned into a weapon.

In addition to dropping in visual tips of the hat to certain elements from the “Evil Dead” franchise, writer-director Cronin delivers some outstanding callbacks to “The Shining,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Poltergeist,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Fly,” among other classics. This is a horror movie made by a skilled filmmaker who is quite obviously a huge fan of horror movies in general and the “Evil Dead” in particular. Bloody well done, good sir.

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