The Ultimate Guide to Every ‘Evil Dead’ Movie and Game
When director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and producer Robert Tapert began making a short film called “Within the Woods” at a Michigan farmhouse in 1978, they had no idea they were starting a journey they’d still be on 45 years later. That 32-minute short, made for $1,600 by a couple of Michigan college students and their dropout friend (who was so committed that he sometimes slept with his make-up on to save time and money), laid the groundwork for the Evil Dead franchise, an enduring and ever-expanding web of movies, TV series, comics, and video games.
Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert’s are all credited as producers on Evil Dead Rise, a major studio release out this weekend. It’s a fast-paced, unapologetically gross horror film set in a decrepit Los Angeles apartment building, seemingly outside of the universes ofRaimi’s original Evil Dead films and the 2013 remake Evil Dead. But the swooping camera work, splattering blood and chainsaws, and taunting demonic foes add up to an unmistakably Evil Dead movie.
If you’re planning to see the movie, or just want a refresher on one of the longest-running, most purely entertaining pop culture franchises, read on.
Raimi and Campbell had been friends since high school, making Super 8 movies together, building up to their most ambitious project to date:Within the Woods, a horror film about two couples who run into some supernatural trouble while staying at a cabin in the woods. Woods is predictably crude and some of the elements central to the Evil Dead mythos are absent. (Instead of an evil book, there’s a Native American burial ground.) But the restless energy that defined Raimi’s subsequent Evil Dead films, and much of the rest of his filmography, is already evident.
“Within the Woods” also served its primary purpose, serving as a proof-of-concept that would allow the team to make the (relatively) bigger budget feature they wanted to make.
The Classic Trilogy
In 1979, Raimi, Tapert, Campbell, and Within the Woods co-star Ellen Sandweiss reunited to film The Evil Dead, shooting much of the film at a remote cabin in rural Tennessee. It was, by all accounts, a brutal production. It was also a tremendous success. Raimi makes a virtue of his tight budget by using inventive tricks like a point-of-view shot to capture the perspective of an invading demon, and the result is a kinetic and scary film made all the more effective by its grunginess.
The Evil Dead also laid the foundation for the films that followed. The Evil Dead world is, to put it mildly, not governed by tight continuity and clear rules, particularly in these early films. In this first outing, Ash Williams (Campbell), his girlfriend Cheryl (Sandweiss) and three friends stumble on a book and recording of a professor reciting its incantations, having previously traveled to the cabin to do research (as one does). This unleashes demonic forces (later to be called “Deadites”) who possess the unfortunate vacationers and just about anything else they feel like possessing. The Deadites essentially do whatever the film needs them to do to be scary, whether that’s mockingly threatening the non-possessed or sexually assaulting a victim after taking over a tree.
The film’s stylishness and extreme content attracted the enthusiasm and support of admirers like Fangoria magazine and Stephen King, who talked it up every chance he got after seeing it at Cannes in 1982. Released in 1983, it became a minor hit in theaters but an even bigger one on home video. That paved the way for Evil Dead II. Sort of a sequel to The Evil Dead, sort of a remake, it opens with a condensed version of the first movie, but retcons the events so that Ash and his girlfriend (now named Linda and played by Denise Bixler) were vacationing alone when they found the book, now called Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, and were attacked.
The fuzziness doesn’t matter; Raimi throws one wild set piece at the audience after another, mixing bizarre make-up and stop-motion animation as Ash deals with his increasingly aggressive undead foes. The humor of The Evil Dead is even more prominent in Evil Dead II, which, while legitimately scary, does little to hide how deeply the creative team was inspired by The Three Stooges. Here, Campbell masters playing his leading man looks against his cornball instincts.** **
That skill is even more crucial to Army of Darkness, the third Evil Dead film, released in 1992. It picks up where Evil Dead II ends, with Ash stranded in medieval England fighting the Deadite threat in the past. This one turns the humor all the way up for an adventure film that owes as much to Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion spectacles as George Romero.
Army of Darkness underperformed in theaters, stalling any immediate plans for a third sequel. But, fittingly, Evil Dead refused to die. The original had inspired a 1984 video game for the Commodore 64 and in the long gap between film entries, games again picked up the slack. Released, respectively, in 2000 and 2003, Evil Dead: Hail to the King and Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick served as sequels to Army of Darkness. Campbell reprised his role in each. Ash’s adventures have also continued in many comic books put out by several different publishers. Some of these have realized team-ups and crossovers of fans’ dreams, bringing in Marvel characters, and horror icons like Freddy and Jason.
The most notable spin-off, however, came in the form of Ash vs Evil Dead, the Starz TV series that ran from 2015 to 2018 in which Ash, thirty years on from the events of Army of Darkness, has become a blowhard drifter haunted by the events of his past and trying to figure out what to do with the Necronomicon. Mixing humor and horror, it brought in a fun supporting cast that included Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Lucy Lawless and, in later seasons, Lee Majors as Ash’s dad. (Its final episode seemingly finally put Ash into retirement, but the recently released **Evil Dead: The Game **connects to it directly, and there’s been talk of an animated series.)
In 2013, Evil Dead, like so many of its horror peers at the time, got the reboot treatment. This new take on the Evil Dead world is seemingly unconnected to what had come before, until a stinger in the credits. If nothing else, it’s widely different in tone. Jane Levy stars as Mia, a heroin addict brought by her friends and family to a remote cabin to kick her habit. This, predictably, does not go according to plan, particularly once the group discovers—you guessed it—an evil book that summons the dead.
Directed by Fede Alvarez, (who would later garner acclaim for his clever thriller Don’t Breathe) it’s a stylish and deadly serious film that reimagines Evil Dead as a work of straight horror. It’s effectively unnerving, but not any fun, which had always been the series’ trademark. Nonetheless, Campbell shows up in character as Ash in the credits, seemingly a hint of what was to come.
What might have come was a team-up between Mia and Ash in a film that brought the two Evil Dead universes together. That was not to be, however, and while talk of another Evil Dead film circulated for years, nothing came of it.
That changed, however, with Evil Dead Rise. Directed by Ireland’s Lee Cronin, it is more aligned with Alvarez’s intense take on the Evil Deadverse, though Cronin at least allows for some hints of levity. Shot in Australia (with a largely Aussie cast trying their best to cover up their accents) it stars Lily Sullivan as Beth, a guitar tech whose visit to her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her family coincides with a Deadite invasion of Ellie’s apartment building. It’s slick, gory, and stays true to the original Evil Dead’s spirit by going to some admirable extremes, even as it confirms that the touches Raimi and Campbell brought to the series are pretty much impossible to replicate. Still, change was probably inevitable all these decades out from a bunch of kids making a movie in Michigan. What gets resurrected is never quite the same as it was before.
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