By: Emily von Seele
If there is one thing unique to horror, it’s the fans. Horror fandom is a special and unique place where we celebrate everything macabre, bloody, strange, and otherworldly. We can recite lines from our favorite films, make obscure references to one another, and cosplay the most minor characters knowing that if we go to a con, someone there will know who we’re dressed as and give us a high five.
Fantasia International Film Festival entry Hail To The Deadites explores and celebrates a tiny corner of the greater horror fandom — that of die hard Evil Dead fans. These are people who find their comfort and bliss with Ash Williams, broken down cabins in the woods, and all of the evils and hilarities that come with reading aloud from unholy books.
Director Steve Villeneuve takes us to horror and Evil Dead-specific fan conventions across Canada and the US, interviewing Deadites and cast members from the films. Everyone has a different story about how they first discovered and fell in love with the franchise. Some fans discovered it in childhood, others came to it later in life; some people have massive collections of photos and memorabilia; others cosplay as Ash and are mini-celebrities in their own right.
The commonality among all of these people is their shared love for this property and the way it has unquestioningly enriched their lives. Every one of us has that Thing — the Thing that comforts us when we’re down, that we celebrate when we’re happy, that we simply can’t get enough of. For this group, it’s the Evil Dead films. For one reason or another, that is the film series that has made its mark on this particular group, and this film explores the whys and the hows.
In addition to interviewing the fans, the filmmakers also speak with a number of stars from the three films. We don’t get to hear a ton of behind the scenes stories (because this film focuses on the people who love the films rather than the content of the films themselves), but we do get to hear from a number of stars, including Ellen Sandweiss, Richard Domeier, and Dan Hicks, among others. FX artist Tom Sullivan also gets a lot of screen time as he has become an important convention fixture. He loves chatting with fans and telling stories, and his enthusiasm is boundless.
No Evil Dead doc would be complete without the presence of Bruce Campbell. The Chin himself sits down with the filmmakers and happily contributes his own perspective on the fandom and the way it has grown over the years.
The film celebrates fandom not only in its interviewees — it also utilizes a number of pieces of Evil Dead fan art in order to tell its story. Songs, fan films, and Evil Dead-inspired artwork pop up in the form of transitions and illustrations throughout the film. It’s really a cool way to acknowledge the greater fanbase that lies outside of the people who are appearing on camera. You don’t have to be a regular con attendee to be inspired by a film.
Though it never dives particularly deep, it’s a fun and uplifting look at the celebration that is fandom. The feeling of walking into a con and knowing that you have something in common with every single person in that building. The fact that fans that can reach out to one another via social media and find like-minded people who have developed an obsession with some weird little movie from the 1980s and we can celebrate that together. Fandoms like this have kept some of these films alive in ways nobody could have anticipated, and will keep doing so for years to come.