Groovy! Revisiting the ‘Evil Dead’ Franchise at 40

Editor’s Note: Hey Red Mango Readers. Forty years ago today iconic horror film The Evil Dead was released. The low budget supernatural splatter fest defied all odds to become a beloved horror franchise, spawning two sequels (or one sequel and a semi-remake), a reboot and a TV series along with comic books and video games. With all this content it would take more than one writer to capture all of it. It would take three!

So with a time portal-sized SPOILER ALERT chain your cellar door and dust off your Necronomicon because we are revisiting the Evil Dead franchise in four slices starting with Alice and the first two films.

Alice’s Slices: The Evil Dead (1981) & Evil Dead II aka Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

Be quiet and go back in the basement, grandma!

Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult horror classic The Evil Dead celebrates its 40th anniversary today. The low-budget film has managed to become a permanent part of horror film history but hasn’t aged too well. Raimi has also come under some heavy criticism for the violence depicted against the women in the film. The Evil Dead was also banned in several countries. It very quickly became categorised as a “video nasty” which was a term coined in the United Kingdom. A video nasty is a film that is censored for its violent content by various religious organisations.

The story follows five young people on their way to a remote cabin for a little getaway. After an incantation is played out loud from an old recording device found in the cabin they unknowingly manage to summon an evil entity lurking in the woods. Things get progressively worse until only one was left standing, reluctant hero Ash Williams played by actor Bruce Campbell.

EDITOR JULES: What an attractive group of young peop… RED QUEEN: They’re all going to die down here! EDITOR JULES: Yeah. Pretty much

The film’s creepy, unsettling atmosphere is achieved by intelligent fog, bright lights, skillful camera angles, and a fair amount of spookily-timed jump scares. But, of course, we can’t talk about The Evil Dead without mentioning the overly gory and graphic sequences that represented the deterioration of the body after being possessed by the demon. The costume designs do not hold up well as the faces of the possessed are portrayed by clumsily-fitting masks that do not seem to adhere to the actors’ faces. But the makeup and special effects are among some of the goriest that have been seen in horror movies.

Somebody’s had too much coffee

Now let’s fast forward a bit to 1987. The horror genre heralded the addition of the film’s sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. ED2 began to take this developing franchise in a whole new direction. Although Evil Dead 2 is referred to as a sequel, there are both plot similarities and vastly different tones. The first ten minutes of the second film abbreviate the events that took place in the first film in a major way. It cuts out three of the previous main characters and introduces four new characters. Bruce Campbell is the shining star of ED2 as he displays a twisted character who is a cross between slapstick comedy and serious acid trip.

The special effects hold up much better in this version as Raimi has a larger budget at his disposal. There are even more severed limbs, and ridiculously large amounts of fake blood in several colours this time around. He also employs the use of stop-motion animation which adds a cartoonish vibe that meshes perfectly with its overall quirky tone. One must admit, though, that once you decide to break into a more comedic theme the scare factor is going to drop a few notches. Unlike its predecessor, it is not as scary and dark but what it lacks in that area, it makes up for in its energy and insanity.

Ah crap. I think I have a wedgie

Bruce Campbell’s iconic Ash Williams also undergoes significant changes by turning a moderate introvert into a more resourceful (albeit not the sharpest tool in the shed), assertive, and quippy character. The result is the successful creation of a pop culture icon for the ages equipped with his right-armed chainsaw.

So, in conclusion, where does Evil Dead ’81 and Evil Dead 2 finally stand after all these years? ED2 is my personal favourite because who can resist the charm of a groovy, borderline maniac fighting against an ancient demon using hardware tools?

Julien’s Slice: Army of Darkness (1992)

ASH: Wanna know what I call this? AUDIENCE: OH YES WE DO!

I have mentioned before that I am not the biggest fan of supernatural horror, so what in the Sam Hill am I doing in an Evil Dead collab? Well of all the five franchise entries Army of the Darkness turns down the supernatural horror and turns up the wacky comedy the most, and I absolutely love it.

The film picks up directly after Evil Dead II with our hero Ash having been sucked into a time portal and sent into medieval times. And guess what? There be Deadites in this here land! I feel like Bruce Campbell had a time making this movie because I had a time watching him in this movie. Ash is a one-liner spitting, swagger throwing, Deadite shotgun blasting force of nature. From “Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun” to “Gimme some sugar baby” to “This…is my BOOMSTICK!” to “Hail to the king baby”, there is so much quotable stuff here and much of it has entered the cultural lexicon.

Nice to see the Grateful Dead are making a comeback

And while Campbell displayed his physical comedy skills in Evil Dead II but he turns it up to 1000 here. It is bit after hilarious bit and I was laughing for all of it. Highlights include him fighting the mini-Ashes and Bad Ash and his frequent berating of the medieval folk.

The practical effects are cool if somewhat dated, and there is an off-looking stop motion scene of some skeletons pushing a battering ram that would make Ray Harryhausen shake his head in disappointment. But it adds to the wild, quirky quality of the film. And there is a good bit of decent Deadite dusting action here, whether it is a dismemberment, decapitation, inventive car chopping blade, shotgun shot or some big old explosion. And seeing a skeleton get exploded will never get old to me.

SHEILA: Is that a lance in your pocket? ASH: No baby. I’m just happy to see you

The film still looks a bit low budget, is not all that scary and it is campy as all hell but man is it fun. And it holds up so very well. And just a bit of trivia, the incantation Ash has trouble remembering “Klaatu Barada Nikto” is a line from iconic Sci Fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Now that is a sweet Easter egg.

Sommer’s Slice #1: Evil Dead (2013)

Yeah, I won’t even wait for the Red Queen. You all are all gonna die out here! (l to r) Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, and Lou Taylor Pucci in TriStar Pictures’ horror EVIL DEAD.

When Julien told me he was doing a retrospective of The Evil Dead franchise, you just know I had to get in on that, especially since my right hand threatened to beat the crap out of me if I didn’t.

I adore each and every one of these zany films and I’ve seen the originals at least a dozen times. But there’s an outlier here that also deserves much love from Deadite fans even with the stain of the dreaded “RE-” tagged to it, and that’s the 2013 soft REboot (but I like to think of it as a sequel) Evil Dead.

Fede Alvarez, who also gave the world Don’t Breathe,  tackled the near impossible job of making The Evil Dead into the kind of movie that could be enjoyed by audiences who knew nothing of the prior films (boo!) and diehard fans who would happily summon demons to drag him to hell if he got it wrong. Being one of the latter, I found myself wary when I first sat down to watch this. And as it unfolded to its blood-filled bonanza of a conclusion I couldn’t help but think one thing, “Damn! Now I want a sequel.”

Dang girl. You’re all skin and bones. Eat a sandwich!

So what works here? Well first and foremost I dug the more serious tone of the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love the over-the-top humour of Raimi’s version. But whenever I’m in the mood for some Ash Williams chainsaw wielding action and I only have time for one of his films, I’m picking The Evil Dead 1981 because it’s more horror and less comedy than the follow-up movies. Then there’s the atmosphere. Alvarez knows gore alone isn’t going to get it done (although there’s more than enough here to satisfy gore hounds) and the look of the cabin, the cinematography and the sound design are all used to great effect here.

As for the characters and story, well it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The reason for these folks being at this creepy-ass cabin in the middle of nowhere is to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick her drug habit. The cabin belongs to their family and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), with the help of his nurse-in-training girlfriend Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and friend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), believes keeping her isolated and as far away from the temptation and access to drugs is the best thing to do. Makes sense right? Or at least it works a bit better than four people deciding to vacation in the creepiest, ugliest place they could possibly find, as was the case with the original film.

My, what a sticky situation

What’s lacking here is the screen presence and energy the original cast brought. One of the reasons the original film works is you believe these people are actually experiencing all that insanity (even the more ridiculous aspects of it) and that’s because the actors make you believe. This cast here is okay but with the exception of the extremely talented Jane Levy, everyone else come across more like your clichéd mix of horror tropes.

Evil Dead 2013 was never going to be better than the movie that originated it but what it could be was an addition to the world that Raimi built worthy of the name, and that’s absolutely what Alvarez delivers with his version. Filled with intensity, brutal wince-inducing moments and a solid screenplay, it’s a better-than-average horror movie that can be enjoyed by new and old fans alike.

Sommer’s Slice #2: Ash vs Evil Dead (TV series, 2015-2018)

Just another day at the office

Ash Williams is back baby and this time he’s bringing his unique brand of swagger to the small screen. Bruce Campbell fans rejoiced when we heard that Sam Raimi and company were set to bring the Evil Dead universe to our television sets. And while the series was short lived IMHO it still managed to bring the laughs, the gore and all the Deadite craziness our hearts desired.

Taking things up a few notches was the wonderful addition of Lucy Lawless, who is perfectly cast as Ash’s nemesis Amanda, Ray Santiago as Ash’s loyal sidekick Pablo (he calls Ash “El Jefe”) and the beautiful and deadly Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly. Raimi doesn’t miss a beat here and his singular style of directing and writing goes a long way in making this more than just a cheap attempt to tap into fans’ nostalgia of the movies. Ash vs Evil Dead gives us a much deeper look into the world of the Necronomicon and all the creatures/demons aka Deadites that Ash has to battle to keep humanity possession-free and in control of all their limbs.

Yes, it’s a book. What about it?

My favourite of the three seasons is the second one which introduced (of all people) the Six Million Dollar Man himself Lee Majors as Ash’s Dad Brock. Pitch perfect casting if I ever saw one. Ruby also gets a lot more screen time, Pablo gets to be a badass as they face off against one of the more famous demonic entities horror fans may know, Baal, and the Delta itself is possessed and starts killing people. Yes you read that right, the car made famous by the first movie (which also pops up in Raimi’s films as Easter eggs) gets possessed and starts killing people. And it’s just one of the kooky crazy moments that makes the chaos found in this franchise so much fun.

As I mentioned before the series was cancelled after three seasons so sadly we never got to see how things truly ended. I won’t spoil it for anyone but that final scene was bonkers and I hope at some point in the future (whether we get a movie or a limited series to finish things off) we get to see what Sam Raimi had in store for his chainsaw-wielding hero.

I have the same expression when I see my doctor’s bill. HI OH!

I honestly don’t have anything negative to say about the series as a whole because I enjoyed it from beginning to end, daughter sub-plot and all.

So whether it’s a remake, reboot, original movie or series The Evil Dead franchise is one of the best horror has to offer. And if I had to describe it in one word, that word would be Groovy!

So which of the Evil Dead franchise entries is your favourite? And you can check out more great horror content below:


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