True to its name, a documentary documents a subject and provides an examination of it in the process. Horror documentaries usually offer insight, analysis, and context for various aspects of the genre, either on a broad or niche scale. Hail to the Deadites doesn’t seek to provide any new details or analysis of the Evil Dead franchise but instead turns the camera back on the fervent fandom that’s tirelessly supported it for decades. It’s a charming presentation of some of the franchise’s biggest fans, but it never delves below the surface.
Filmmaker Steve Villeneuve assembles a variety of talking heads to capture the fandom at its best. A select few horror journalists and historians introduce this niche world, and prominent franchise mainstays like Bruce Campbell pop in throughout to share stories of fan interactions. The bulk of the doc’s short, breezy runtime is dedicated to Evil Dead’s most devoted.
Villeneuve highlights the most prominent Ash cosplayers in the community, a romance that blossomed from a shared passion for the movies, avid memorabilia collectors, and even a touching tale of a fan that named his ailing infant son after the plucky franchise hero. The doc swiftly passes over conventions, Evil Dead stage shows, fan gatherings, and more with great affection.
Seeing each face light up as they discuss their adoration of the franchise is endearing; each talking head plucked directly from the fandom is genuinely happy simply getting to relay how much the Evil Dead movies mean to them. It’s sweet to see them enthusiastically show off their cosplay process or various rare collectibles. But Villeneuve never delves any deeper beyond that.
Those looking for any insight into what it is about this franchise that draws such a loyal fanbase won’t find any here. Villeneuve never connects any dots between the films and their devotees. Or explores the psychology behind their steadfast obsession at all. Villeneuve presents the fandom at its best and brightest but fails to question the fandom in any meaningful way. It’s just a series of doting but mostly empty testimonials. It loses personality and identity in its failure to inject substance behind the gushing. Without any specificity or analysis, there’s nothing here that distinguishes this doc from other fandoms. The director instead chooses to showcase, in part, how cast and crew members like Tom Sullivan or Campbell connect with their fans. The most insight comes from snippets of interviews by the franchise’s cast, played over the film’s closing credits.
Hail to the Deadites succeeds as a joyous celebration of Evil Dead fans and nothing more. It’s likely to put a smile on your face, but there’s nothing informative about it. Villeneuve simply gives back to those that give so much of themselves to the franchise. That means that it’s a very niche fan documentary; it’s only for Evil Dead fans by Evil Dead fans.
Hail to the Deadites releases On Demand and Digital HD on July 27, 2021.