BY BECCA JOHNSON APRIL 20, 2023
Cool, campy and crazy, The Evil Dead franchise always comes out on top when discussing the greatest horror franchises of all time. Admired for it’s batshit premise, unhinged performance from scream king Bruce Campbell and Raimi’s unique vision and passion behind the direction, there’s a little something for everyone. With a strong trilogy from the 80’s-90’s, a remake from the 2010’s that is held in high regard by both fans of the franchise and fans of the genre in general, and even a popular 3-season TV series, Evil Dead Rise has big boots to fill. Join us as we look back on the story so far, and chat with fans about why this franchise is so well loved.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Directed by Sam Raimi at just 21 years old and starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker, our story begins in a remote cabin in the woods. When a group of college friends find a mysterious book and eerie recording in the cabin they’ve rented for the weekend, they unwittingly unleash a demonic force from the surrounding forest.
The first in the trilogy is first and foremost a masterclass in practical effects, showcasing what you can achieve on a tight budget. With creative cinematography, ear-piercing sound design and gruesome gore, it reeks of passion project in the best way possible. It may not be serious, but horror is definitely present with creepy visuals aplenty. The humour works just as well, and the balance of both is masterfully done. It’s full to the brim with enthusiasm, energy and action, and is one of the rare occasions that over-the-top works. It puts the pedal to the metal from very early on and doesn’t slow down once throughout it’s swift 85-minute runtime. It may show its age a little in places, with questionable treatment of its female characters, yet it’s still so much fun and completely deserving of it’s cult status.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Six years later, Raimi and the team join forces once again to continue final guy Ash William’s story. Considered as both a sequel (or re-quel!) and remake of the original story, and widely renowned as the best in the franchise, we are back in the woods with Ash and his girlfriend Linda. When they find a log cabin with a voice recording from an archaeologist who has recorded himself reciting chants from ‘The Book of the Dead’, an evil power is unleashed and takes over Linda’s body.
Audiences didn’t believe it could get any crazier than 1981’s The Evil Dead, but the second instalment proves that it can. It does everything it’s predecessor does but better – it up’s the stakes, laughs, gore, fear factor and campiness. It’s even more self-aware than the first one, the comedy working incredibly well despite its silly nature. The fear factor is also present; it’s not necessarily the practical effects that are scary, but the mind-set (or lack thereof) of Ash. His descent into madness and loss of ability is frightening to watch, heightened by another terrific performance from Campbell. The visuals are great, and the fact they have aged a little only adds to the charm. The cabin is a really cool setting that is utilised perfectly – it’s now an iconic setting that many horrors have attempted to replicate, a true fan favourite. To put it simply, Evil Dead II is A LOT, but it all seems to work.
Army of Darkness (1992)
Raimi and co are back, but this time, things are a little different – including our setting. Trapped in time, Ash is accidentally transported to 1300 A.D., where he must battle an entire army of the dead in order to retrieve the Necronomicon to send him home. The shortest in the franchise at just 81 minutes, Army of Darkness is bold in it’s approach and what it attempts to do.
I may be repeating myself here, but again, this one seems to go even crazier than its predecessor. The shift in location and plot is a welcome change, as Raimi manages to capture the essence of the first two instalments whilst shaking things up a bit. The battle scene during the last half of the movie is some of the franchises best stuff, with awesome practical effects and fantastical imagery. The action is fun in its ‘period piece’ setting, adding something fresh and exciting to the trilogy and looking great whilst doing so – the set, hair and make-up design is immersive and stunning. The slapstick humour won’t impress everyone, but Army of Darkness has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Again, Bruce Campbell is amazing with the material given, and Embeth Davidtz is a welcome addition. The horror element gets left behind a little, but once the army of the dead start rising, you forget all about that.
Evil Dead (2013)
Horror remakes are hit or miss, but Fede Alvarez’ rendition of Raimi’s story is nothing short of a success. It both changes up the story and pays homage to the original, creating a nice ode to the original trilogy that is also a solid horror on it’s own. A young woman struggling with sobriety heads to a remote cabin with her friends, where the discovery of a ‘Book of the Dead’ summons up dormant demons which possess the friends one-by-one.
Evil Dead is a strong remake that can somehow make you fall even more in love with the original. This remake does well with what its predecessor does well – the gore. The kills are fun, the deaths are nauseating and the raining blood ending is completely iconic. The addition of the detox storyline is good, as it’s developed enough to have something to say, and gives our set of characters a reason to be out in the woods that’s a little bit different, as well as stopping the characters from realising something sinister is going on. There is plenty happening throughout the entire runtime to keep us entertained, yet the third act ups the anti and goes completely crazy. Jane Levy’s lead performance as Mia is utterly fantastic, almost giving Bruce Campbell a run for his money. There are some average side performances, unlikeable characters and a few more generic tropes than we usually get in this franchise, but for a remake of a cult classic, it’s damn good.
Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015 – 2018)
On paper, bringing back a final guy from the 90's and giving him a TV show sounds like a risk – but it's the Evil Dead franchise – of course it worked. Now an ageing lothario who has successfully avoided any and all responsibility, maturity and heinous villains since his previous exploits, Ash somehow knew the Evil Dead would be back for him. This occurs when he commits an act of carelessness, unleashing a Deadite plague that threatens mankind. True to the movies in it's use of gore, humour and an incredible performance from Bruce Campbell, all three seasons are worth the watch for fans of the franchise.
Let’s hear from the fans – why is this franchise so beloved?
‘As a youngster, Evil Dead shaped my idea of the horror genre. It’s a classic, a well established success in independent film-making. Raimi and Campbell had a vision like no other. I love the re-watchable entertainment, well timed humour, quirky characters and awesome gore. I recommend this to all – join the Deadites!’
‘I wish I could say that I’ve been a fan for decades, but I didn’t become a fan until recent years. It wasn’t until I saw the highly entertaining Ash vs. Evil Dead show in 2015 that I was compelled to go back and watch the original films and Alvarez’s excellent remake. I’ve grown to appreciate both Raimi’s wacky trilogy and Alvarez’s brutal and gory reimagining. Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise looks to be the most intense instalment yet, and I cannot to see where it ranks amongst the films in this classic franchise’
‘Evil Dead is one of my favourite horror franchises for many reasons. One – because Raimi is a genius. The films know how to blend horror and comedy so well. You knew from the first film that Raimi really had something and changed the horror game during the 80’s. The films stand on their own two feet and don’t rely on anything. You get what you’re given, and boy are they something else. The franchise has been well taken care of and whenever a film has come, it’s never disappointed.’
Raimi is a director I go back to time and time again. The franchise is one I not only enjoy immensely as a horror fan, but also find absolutely fascinating as a genre film-maker. Whilst I have always admired Sam’s style and strived to emulate the gory but funny style and his use of practical effects, it was after reading Bruce Campbell’s book 'If Chins Could Kill' that cemented his innovative approach to directing and indeed to ensuring his projects came to fruition. The Evil Dead (1981) used every trick in the book to get made and Sam, Bruce and co. practically begged, borrowed and stole everything they could, even using friends and family members to supplement the cast and crew. They couldn't afford expensive rigs and dolleys for the camera (which itself was on loan and came with the DOP), so Sam created things which would these days make a Health and Safety exec. have a heart attack. Thank god they persevered as now, 42 years later, we are about to be treated to another instalment' - @JaninePipe28
'The Evil Dead franchise is a cocktail, each film a completely different flavour and each with a special place in my heart. Though it’s easy to call it a horror franchise, these movies aren’t just trying to scare you, they’re an experience that’s just as fun as it is terrifying. Raimi, through his three movies, creates an atmosphere of terror with a surprisingly strong dose of comedy to go with it. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is easily one of my favourite movie protagonists, not just because he oozes cool in every frame he’s in, but also because he’s just a regular guy very literally thrown into hell. The passion and determination from Raimi and Campbell to bring these masterpieces to life has also been a great source of inspiration in my own film-making journey and it’s proof that with perseverance, a few friends and a whole lot of fake blood, anything’s possible.'
'It’s almost funny looking back on my relationship with the Evil Dead franchise because I think I loved it before I even knew I liked it. I was shown Evil Dead 2 when I was kind of young and the splat-stick comedy went entirely over my head. Cut to years later and horror movies have become my calling card essentially. The franchise became an ol’ reliable for me, with Ash Vs Evil Dead coming through as a serotonin boost when needed. '
'As a new fan of the Evil Dead franchise, it has been a complete game-changer for me. I grew up on elevated horror but Evil Dead is slapstick, dark comedy and almost a parody of the films that inspired it. It's technical achievements showcase creating a lot with a little, and I want to give a big shout out to Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for going zanier and bigger with each movie. Evil Dead II has become one of the best sequels of all time, right up there with T2 and Aliens!'
'Evil Dead as a franchise always finds ways to reinvent itself, balancing so many different genres yet landing. When I saw the first Evil Dead at the age of 12, I was equally enamoured and terrified. When I later found out 'the making of' story it cemented itself as my one of, if not my favourite horror film. It was every aspiring film-makers dream - a few friends go and make a film together. Money can’t buy that passion.'
'The Evil Dead was the first horror franchise I fell in love with and the original film is the one that got me into horror movies. The DIY filmmaking and insanely inventive special effects made me realise that there is more to horror than lazy jump scares. Practical effects, sound effects and camera movement can all be made scary when done right. Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are my franchise favourites, bringing an over-the-top goofiness to the horror. Evil Dead (2013) went in a different direction and brought some much needed gore.'
'Sam Raimi’s descent into the macabre, lunacy, and exaggerated piling on of misery for Campbell & Co., was born out of a budget of $375,000, and a dream of bringing it to life; And, in ironic succession, has taken a life of its own. Across three films, a TV series, two director-endorsed revivals, comic books, video games, and even a musical, the spirit of Evil Dead is a franchise that’s lived on for over forty years at this point, survived by its own army of Necronomicon devotees. The enthusiasm for The Evil Dead through its fanbase is the undoubted reason that the property has been able to live on for so long, as shown by any number of cult screenings or Bruce-a-Rama events, as they’re so lovingly marketed. Raimi’s vision always kept a pulse, evolving into the next iteration with higher and higher budgets, while never shying away or sacrificing the gleeful gore and midnight movie squeamishness the series revels in bringing to life. '
'As a youngster, I wanted to watch the ‘Evil Dead’ series because they were taboo: apparently one of the movies featured an incredibly graphic scene where someone got stabbed in the ankle with a pencil. “…and then it gets twisted around and around”, my schoolyard chum would tell me gleefully, as I winced at the imagery. When I eventually got around to watching the films, I was less grossed out and more taken aback at the breathless pacing, slapstick comedy and Bruce Campbell’s amazing performance as a human crash test dummy. Decades later, as an adult and a film buff, I just love the creativity behind Sam Raimi’s films - the camera gymnastics, the practical special effects, the insane sound design. ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ also threw everything (great ideas, along with gallons of blood and viscera) at the wall and a lot of it stuck.'
'There are many reasons to love the franchise, the most obvious reason is it’s freaking awesome. It's arguably the horror franchise that is equally the most consistent in quality while being the most diverse in tone. A personal connection to the franchise I specifically have is, as a film-maker based out of Michigan, it’s truly inspiring to see this massive underdog horror film made by Michigan film-makers smash expectations and live on through sequels, TV shows and video games forty years later. I even went to Michigan State, where I got to meet, work with, and learn from people involved with the original Evil Dead. This franchise means a lot to so many people, this Spartan included. Hail to the King.'
'I was first introduced to Evil Dead about 18 years ago, because of a little movie called Spider-Man 2. I remember being pretty amazed by what I had just seen and looked into who this director was. Low and behold, he had made a little movie called “ The Evil Dead”. I watched behind the scenes and it was Sam saying something along the lines of “I wanted to make a movie so, I went to my backyard to make it”. That always stuck with me. I was a bit younger and never got around to watching it; skip about 17 years, I finally watched the movie. I remember the instant feeling of realizing, Sam really just went and made a movie in his backyard with Bruce Campbell. My favourite thing about it is how it makes fun of itself and has fun doing so The idea of what is actually happening is absurd - Sam knows that. It works because it knows what it is and why it is doing it. Evil Dead has personality and heart. I love the Evil Dead.'
What do we want from Evil Dead Rise?
'I hope Evil Dead Rise captures the spirit of the original movies. Not just a horror movie but an adventure with sprinklings of comedy and that charm that made the original trilogy so special. At the same time, Evil Dead Rise should stand as its own movie using the strength of its predecessors to create a unique experience for fans of the franchise. The trailer looks promising, it’s certainly got the gore and there are definitely hints that the franchise is going back to its roots with new characters and locations. I can’t wait!'
'One of the things I hope we see in this new Evil Dead movie (and I know it’s a long shot) is a cameo from Bruce Campbell playing Ash Williams. He’s my all time favourite horror movie character and it would be amazing to see him in this franchise again even if it’s just a cameo. I would even like to see Mia from Evil Dead 2013 make a return.'
'My biggest hope for Evil Dead Rise is that it’ll make me cringe in my seat and force me to close my eyes from the gore (which the cheese grater already did from the trailer but who didn’t love that gag?)'
'Lee Cronin has already directed a horror film about a family unit where one member is replaced by a demonic creature (‘The Hole in the Ground’) and it was pretty cool. I also really enjoy Alyssa Sutherland (‘Vikings', ‘The Mist’) as an actor – she is someone who should be in more things - so getting to watch her play a character in the throes of a psychic meltdown who chomps at the scenery, Isabella Adjani in ‘Possession’-style, will be a treat. Ultimately, what I’m hoping for with ‘Evil Dead Rise’ is the kind of visual inventiveness, twisted humour and intense physicality that I’ve come to expect from the series.'
This franchise has never failed to deliver on gags - both effect and comedy dialogue - excellent characters and experimental shots. For me, Sam is synonymous with the Dutch Camera Angle - you could argue that the camera itself is a major character in a Raimi production and I can only hope Lee Cronin, whilst putting his own stamp on Evil Dead Rise, will pay homage to its creator by treating us to at least a few of those somewhat bold and maverick lens choices. Maybe we’ll even get a shaky cam. And don’t even get me started on how excited I’ll be if a certain Mr Leone ends up making a Ghost House Picture production…' - @JaninePipe28
'I want to see Rise try to be its own thing. I love the Evil Dead Trilogy, and really loved the remake, because it was doing it's own thing and wasn't trying to just tell the same story over again.'