(Photo by Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection)
In the late 1970s, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and a few more childhood pals picked up a camera to fulfill the classic American filmmaking dream: Making a movie with friends with no budget but plenty of demented imagination somewhere deep in the filthy woods. What’s emerged since is one of most consistent (if infrequent) horror franchises in American history, starting with 1981’s The Evil Dead. The film introduced the series core elements: The Book of the Dead (aka the Necronomicon) unleashing havoc on anyone unlucky enough to be around, transforming people into malevolent demons called Deadites, with all the gore, blood, mutilation, and fluids gushing from questionable orifices your screen can handle. A rave review from Stephen King praising The Evil Dead‘s equal measures of cruelty and creativity got it picked up by New Line Cinema after screening at Cannes in 1982.
Quasi-remake Evil Dead II (1987) cemented the staple formula of high guts and gore paired with lowbrow slapstick, with Campbell fully embracing the blue tattered button-up in his role of hero Ash Williams. Beef-witted but plucky in the face of all evil, here Ash picks up all the iconic elements of the series: the shotgun, the chainsaw, and the ridiculous one-liners, making II one of the all-time great horror-comedies.
1992’s Army of Darkness goes hard on the humor, sending Ash back to 1300 AD to further run against the supernatural, with emphasis on Three Stooges-style physical comedy. Once getting back from the Middle Ages, he then confronts middle age in Ash vs Evil Dead. Running for three seasons, the Starz series significantly expanded the Evil Dead universe, bringing in kids, parents, sidekicks, and dropping Deadites into an urban setting.
Two reboots adopt the more serious tone of the original: 2013’s Evil Dead, which sends us back to the cabin in the woods for the most sadistic and violent episode yet, and 2023’s Evil Dead Rise, set in a condemned Los Angeles apartment high-rise that raises the personal stakes by literally tearing a family apart.
According to lore theory, everything Evil Dead is set in the same universe as there are three Necronomicons (as seen in Army of Darkness) about: the one Ash has to deal with, and one each for the 2013 and 2023 movies. Of course, one of the appeals of Evil Dead is how malleable its approach to its own material can be, and that we’re really here just to get grossed out witnessing poor saps get tortured by a naughty book, continuity be damned.
And now, watch out for flying eyeballs and don’t forget to shop smart, shop S-Mart, as we rank the Evil Dead movies and series by Tomatometer, with Certified Fresh stuff first! —Alex Vo