It’s Halloween, everybody! And guess what, this Halloween Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi make a triumphant return to the franchise that made them both famous: Evil Dead. In preparation for the new series Ash VS. Evil Dead, I thought it would be groovy to look back on all the previous films, so lets take a look at what makes them great!
The Evil Dead (1981)
The making of Sam Raimi’s original feature length debut is practically the stuff of legend. A bunch of kids in their early 20’s heading out into the woods and just making a movie. Hardly any money to spare, just getting it made. And more than 30 years later it still ain’t half bad. Granted, the lack of budget, amateur actors, and sophomoric dialogue dwindle the experience a bit, but those details can’t take away just how raw the original Evil Dead really is.
Real blood, sweat, and tears went into making this film, and you can tell. It’s the small things that really make The Evil Dead work. In particular, I’m still in awe of that opening shot with the camera gliding over a waveless creek and continuing into the woods. I mean, think about that: how the hell did 20 year old Sam Raimi, with a skinflint budget, manage a shot like that? It’s incredible! I still can’t be sure how he did it.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Six years after the original release Sam Raimi returned to the woods with Bruce Campbell in tow. The two childhood friends set out to expand upon that original film that kickstarted their careers while showing off a few new tricks. Raimi and Campbell both learned a lot about their craft in the intervening years, and they make it abundantly clear. Evil Dead II marks the first use of some of Raimi’s trademarks and original inventions (Bruce Campbell’s memoirs details some confounding contraptions made only to torture the leading man).
Whereas Campbell delivers one of the finest physical performances in horror cinema… maybe all of cinema. Listen to the tragedy in his words as he begs the Evil to give back his possessed hand. Watch as Ash and his hand become mortal enemies, before he is made to cut the it off with a chainsaw. Campbell bounces back and forth between mania and genuine pain with ease. Ash’s isolated descent into madness remains enthralling to this day, and it makes his transformation into the iconic hero we know today all the sweeter… and groovy.
Army of Darkness (1993)
It would be another six years before our dynamic duo finished out this manic trilogy. Army of Darkness represents the evolution of the franchise: beginning as a genuine, gruesome, and mean exploitation horror film, and slowly morphing into an absurdist comedy. While Evil Dead II had the perfect witches brew of horror and comedy, Army of Darkness throws nearly all of the horror elements out the window to focus on Raimi’s other great love: screwball humor. Raimi throws every gag he has at Campbell, and Bruce channels his inner Curly (and Moe) Howard. While Evil Dead II contains some of the franchise’s most iconic imagery, Army of Darkness most definitely contains Ash’s most iconic lines. From “Boomstick” to “She-bitch,” there’s a reason we remember Ash is just “the guy with the gun.”
The film infamously had two endings, depending on which region it was released. There was the triumphant happy ending, and the grim defeated ending. Fans (as well as the filmmakers) are divided on which ending is better. Raimi himself finds the apocalyptic ending to be the one he prefers, believing it is more in line with Ash’s dopey nature as a screw up. However, I feel that because the story of the original trilogy is essentially one long, continuous story, it pays to give your frequently berated hero a victory lap. This is why Raimi was perfect for the Spider-Man films, he knew just how to beat down on Peter Parker, as well as when and how to reward him. The S-Mart ending remains one of my all time favorite moments in film history. “Hail to the King, baby.”
Evil Dead (2013)
I’m not gonna lie, I have as many misgivings about this remake as I do praise. It’s not the easiest film to digest, as it clearly owes so much to the original yet works so damn hard to be something new… or rather, return the franchise to it’s bloody, horrific roots. Evil Dead is one of the most violent, disgusting movies you’ll ever see, and I mean that as sincere praise. Lou Taylor Pucci goes through so much physical trauma it’s almost relief when he finally meets his end. Jane Levy also turns in one of the franchise’s best performances. It’s emotional, traumatic, and cathartic. Her finale with the chainsaw is one of the most brutal “cheer moments” I can think of. She may be a “Final Girl,” but no heroine of horror would ever want to be stuck in a room with Jane Levy’s Mia.
However, the film does indeed have it’s problems, and they mostly stem around the fan-service callback to an infamous scene from the original: the tree rape. Raimi himself has voiced his regret in filming that sequence for The Evil Dead, saying it was youthful ignorance that allowed him to go through with it. 30 years later and the subject of rape is as topical and important as ever. The tree rape of the remake is indeed less violating (in some ways) compared to the original, but truth be told it really shouldn’t exist. It’s always been in poor taste and has very little to do with the progression of the story. But I know why they kept it in, which makes it even worse.
The tree rape is one of the “iconic” scenes from the original Evil Dead. Fans have talked about it for decades. When it came time for a remake, the new filmmakers knew they needed to pay homage, one way or another, to moments such as that. They new the hardcore fans wanted it, so they gave it to them. What’s most disgusting about this is the fact that some fans actually cheered in the theater (in mine and, on good authority, others) when the remake recreated the sequence. I understand it’s basically a gut reaction, but at the end of the day those fans are cheering for a depiction of rape… is that not disgusting at least on some level? It’s a stench that festers around the film, and I’ve never quite been able to exorcise that demon.
Ever since the 2013 remake the future of Evil Dead has been nothing but questions and false promises. There were talks of a sequel to the remake, a sequel to Army of Darkness, and potential plans to bring the two disparate stories of the franchise together by pairing Ash with Mia for an all new adventure/horror. Those ambitious plans have been struck down, but we get an answer to the future of Evil Dead tonight. This Hollow’s Eve, we witness the return of Ash Williams in his never-ending battle with ultimate Evil! Ash Vs. Evil Dead premieres tonight on Starz.