The Evil Dead premiered at the Redford Theatre, where Bruce Campbell spent most of his formative years, in Detroit, Michigan in 1981 and would go on to wide public release in ’83. 30 years later in 2013, the Evil Dead franchise was rebooted for a new generation of fans, and the story continues a decade later with 2023’s ‘Evil Dead Rise’. Join me on a journey back through time in honour of these monumental anniversaries as I follow the series from the present day back to its humble origins.
Evil Dead Rise (2023)
A dizzying first-person shot, flying through the woods, careening through title cards, and landing us at a creepy cabin. This is how we begin Lee Cronin’s ‘Evil Dead Rise’, firmly cementing that we are back in Evil Dead territory. After this however, the film departs from its typical stylings, choosing a ramshackle apartment building situated in downtown Los Angeles as the setting for this evening of horrors, puppeteered by a family of misfits. Elle (Alyssa Sutherland) demonstrates incredible character acting as perhaps the scariest Deadite (the demons summoned by the Necronomicon) of the series, facing off against her estranged sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) and her three children. The new characters and franchise first introduction of children allows Cronin to explore maternal anxieties, of not only pregnancy but protecting your nieces and nephew from their Deadite-possessed mother.
Evil Dead (2013)
Fede Álvarez certainly had a challenge rebooting the beloved franchise 20 years on from its last film, but satiated audiences’ bloodlust in his retelling of ‘The Evil Dead’ through the lens of drug addiction and mental health. Embodying the torture porn sensibilities of its era, the film is firmly grounded in its cruelty and uses the Necronomicon as little more than a jumping-off point to explore its potent themes. While suffering somewhat due to the lack of physical comedy, the film more than makes up for this in its brutality. With 50,000 gallons of fake blood raining down upon Mia (Jane Levy) and the Abomination (Randal Wilson) in the final scene alone, Álvarez’s unrelenting film never lets the audience catch their breath. The film successfully blends the old and the new, paying respect to its origins whilst standing alone as a great horror in its own right.
Army of Darkness (1992)
In direct contrast to Álvarez, the conclusion to the original trilogy is arguably more comedy than horror. In ‘Army of Darkness’, Sam Raimi mutates the cliché medieval romance, penning a love letter to Ray Harryhausen and The Three Stooges through his use of pratfalls, eye gouges, and stop-motion skeletons. Bruce Campbell delivers the definitive Ashley J. Williams performance and creates a new archetype of ‘incompetent womanizer’ (I would affectionately use the term himbo) in contrast to the ‘human punching bag’ he played in prior films. ‘Army of Darkness’ is a completely ridiculous, over-the-top foray into the comedic side of the first two films in the best way imaginable. It is divisively different but in a way that not only retains Raimi’s signature style but exemplifies it.
Evil Dead II (1987)
The film that introduced the iconic Oldsmobile, Ash’s chainsaw prosthesis, and of course, his Boomstick. Some would argue ‘Evil Dead II’ is even more iconic than The Evil Dead, with the original film as a prototype for the sequel to refine and trim down to 84 minutes of pure insanity (it’s my personal favourite). Raimi has come into his own in terms of cinematography and directing here, refining, and sometimes reusing elements of the first film to craft this ode to 80’s horror cliches and B-movie tropes that expertly communicates the absurdity and futility of trying to combat the denizens of Hell itself. And I’d be remiss not to mention Bruce Campbell’s zany, comical acting, the heart and soul of the original trilogy (though he lacks the brains).
The Evil Dead (1981)
Almost impossible to watch in England upon its release due to the tyrannical rule of Mary Whitehouse (look her up) in the video nasty era, the gritty, low-budget horror became a cult classic and made the rounds through close-knit circles of horror fans until the uncut DVD was finally released in 2001 and “The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror” was seen by wider audiences. Full of one of a kind, dynamic camerawork, handcrafted special effects, and striking stop motion, with gore that challenges Álvarez and my favourite Deadite of the franchise Henrietta (played by a 16-year-old Ted Raimi!), this film bested the odds of its torturous production, and a 22-year-old Raimi quickly cemented his place in the horror pantheon with “The most ferociously original horror film of the year” (Stephen King.)
For those who want to start at the very beginning, check out the trailer for ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981) below…