There are few cinematic legacies as peculiar as that of Stephen King.

He’s the author of 65 novels and hundreds of short stories, many of which have been transferred to the screen, yet the one film he’s perhaps best remembered for is the one film that he apparently loathes. That film would be Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining, which is both among Kubrick’s best but also the best adaptation of King’s work we’ve seen on the screen (the other probably being The Shawshank Redemption).

Why the animosity? Well, Stephen King’s The Shining suddenly became Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and you can see how that might be a problem for the author. Yet what Kubrick did was transform The Shining into something less Kinglike and for good reason. Films based around King’s work tend to feel… well… very King-like. There’s usually some troubled youth steeped in the pop culture of their day (usually the rock and roll music of 1950s middle America), who is progressively haunted by some presence that makes itself known to them via an object or person. Cars come to life. Dogs become rabid. A clown starts to grab their ankles from grids. In the original novel, it was the sculpted hedgerows that came to life, something that Kubrick sensibly dropped.

With brings us to the latest adaptation of a King story. The Boogeyman is full of the staples of King-world. We have a troubled, slightly dysfunctional family, coming to terms with grief after the loss of their mother. The patriarch is psychologically an absentee father, which is ironic given that he works as a psychologist. When a patient arrives to warn him about some evil that’s been killing his family, the father doesn’t listen and is oblivious when that same evil begins to appear inside his home. His eldest daughter, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), is not too popular at school – one of those outsiders that King often uses – trying to contact the spirit of her dead mother. Yet it’s the younger daughter, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), who first begins to see some evil manifesting itself in the dark closet.

Yes, it’s the “things that go bump in the night” ghost story and a standard premise that really doesn’t go anywhere interesting. Yet the fact the film holds together so well is, in part, attributable to King’s ability to create structurally sound stories and director Rob Savage admirably delivers that to the screen, even if this punchy and enjoyable film doesn’t ultimately surprise. And very little of it makes much sense. It’s one of those films where the evil cannot be defeated until the clock ticks around to the 90-minute mark and then they seem to die by whatever (usually symbolic or heavily foreshadowed) object the hero has in their hand at that time. Death by biro or particularly pungent sock is equally believable, though here the ultimate weapon isn’t even that inventive.

To say that The Boogeyman is both derivative and quality is not a contradiction. It’s a more than competent horror movie but at the same time, it’s nothing special. Had it been packaged under the Insidious or Conjuring franchise there would be no reason to complain when leaving the theatre.

Derivative, however, is not a word that applies to Evil Dead Rise, which is notable for not following in the footsteps of the three films it is sourced from.

Just the name Evil Dead will, of course, bring to mind the hysteria that greeted the VHS age when films such as Sam Raimi’s horror classic first began to appear in people’s homes. It was then classed as a “video nasty” but the reputation was cheaply earned. It was barely more than a student film made by a talented new filmmaker. Little of that film’s ability shock remains and the only point of contention remains an exploitative scene involving a tree which the director himself came to regret. He remade the film as Evil Dead 2 with that scene desexualised. There were two other Evil Dead films. Army of Darkness was notionally a horror movie but it was essentially a rather broad but light comedy, a cross between Twain’s ‘Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur’ and a tribute to stop-go animation legend Ray Harryhausen. A rebooted franchise was attempted in 2013 but, despite other attempts to restart it, this is the first to do so successfully.

Unlike King’s novels, this one is grounded in an older notion of horror. This looks back towards the work of decadent luminaries such as H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machan who wrote about the old religions and ancient evils restored. It’s a film about books that should not be read, texts that are sealed for good reason, which is perhaps one of the few nods to the original films, with the so-called “Necronomicon” making an appearance. The infamous tree scene is here done via an elevator (though without the troublesome sexploitation) and, in fact, the elevator is also a deliberate reference to the most famous horror elevator of all, found in Kubrick’s classic topiary-free horror.

Evil Dead Rise is certainly for horror fans if they’re into the Tiswas-school of the gloopy red stuff. If so, you too might be grinning from beginning to end with the sheer audacity of it all. It’s certainly gruesome in a way that will appeal if you’ve been brought up in the video game and film cultures of the last thirty years. Along the way an ancient book is recovered, evil unleashed, and possessions happen in truly grotesque ways but half the fun is spotting the references, whether it’s some classic peephole footage lifted from the video game horror, Silent Hill: The Room, some wall climbing taken from William Friedkin’s Exorcist, and with a healthy dose of Aliens as the story deals with the themes of fearing childbirth and the role of the surrogate mother.

There are some wonderful performances, primarily from Alyssa Sutherland who tears into the role of Ellie and it also gives an excellent sense of career progression from the young director Lee Cronin who leaves his fingerprints (including a perfect title card) on the genre. It’s everything a clever, calculated, and self-consciously intertextual horror film should be, along with the kind of frights that makes one wonder what people were complaining about back in 1981.


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