Film Review: ‘The Evil Dead’ Film Series (1981-2013)

The Evil Dead film series is something I watch quite a lot. I probably have a mini-marathon about once a year or so. With the Evil Dead revival TV series making waves at Starz, I figured I’d rewatch the films again. I have had a strenuous few weeks with work, travel and helping people move. So I needed a nice relaxing weekend to veg out and soak in some good film watching. Well, what’s better than a series of classic horror comedies to get lost in for several hours?

The Evil Dead (1981):

Release Date: October 15th, 1981
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

Renaissance Pictures, New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained on those hot coals, burning my pretty flesh.” – Shelly

If you have never seen the original The Evil Dead, then you have done yourself a disservice.

First off, this film introduced the world to Bruce Campbell – one of the greatest horror icons of all-time and a good actor who has the comedic timing and presence of some of Hollywood’s greatest comedians.

Secondly, it introduced the world to director Sam Raimi – a man who has gone on to make some pretty amazing films, the most notable (after the Evil Dead trilogy) being Spider-Man 2. We’ll ignore Spider-Man 3.

The Evil Dead follows some friends who go to a cabin in the woods, a formula that wasn’t redundant at the time. There they discover an evil book and some tape recordings that release some demonic evil on the group. Their horrible misfortune becomes our violent, frightening yet very hilarious entertainment. Never has a film offered up so much disturbing dread and still nailed it with comedy. Well, except Evil Dead II.

The most amazing thing about this film is that it was well below even being low budget. I don’t think there was really any budget at all and that is where the filmmaking skill of the young Raimi came through. He was able to create a world full of high quality practical effects for next to nothing. Filmmaking like this is truly a lost art for the most part. The Evil Dead is a standard bearer of what can be done when money is non-existent but passion far exceeds limitations.

Evil Dead II (1987):

Release Date: March 13th, 1987
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier

Renaissance Pictures, Rosebud Releasing, Embassy Communications, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Palace Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Groovy” – Ash Williams

Evil Dead II is an interesting follow-up to the original. The first ten minutes are a condensed loose remake of the first film while the following hour and fifteen minutes continue where that story left off.

This film is superior to the first in that there is a slightly higher production value and that allowed Sam Raimi’s ingenuity to be that much better. They still had a shoestring budget but that extra cash improved the look of the practical effects, as well as the sets, costumes and overall use of gore. Everything was more refined and cleaner than its predecessor.

From a story standpoint, this is the strongest of the films. It is also the fan favorite, as it is the quintessential Evil Dead movie. It is bookended with a rehash of the first film and the introduction to the world of the third film. It is a perfect bridge, tying the trilogy together. As the centerpiece of the three films and adapting elements of each chapter, this one also allows the tale to evolve the most and it plays like The Empire Strikes Back of this gore-filled, hilarious horror trilogy.

Evil Dead II is everything that made the first film great but done more masterfully. It is an amped-up successor that is one hell of an insane ride.

Army of Darkness (1992):

Release Date: October 9th, 1992
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Music by: Joseph LoDuca, Danny Elfman
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz

Renaissance Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes (US), 88 Minutes (International)

Review:

“Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my boomstick! The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?” – Ash Williams

The third film isn’t even called Evil Dead. It also takes the most liberty of all three of the original films, as it deviates from the environment established over the course of the first two chapters – bringing our hero into the Middle Ages where he must find a way back home while combating the evil forces once again unlocked by the evil book, the Necronomicon.

This film is the least terrifying and has the most comedy. Although, it is still dark, twisted and can be frightening at times. It is also the only one that I saw in the theater when it came out, as I was too young and unaware of these films when the previous ones were released.

Where Evil Dead II is the quintessential Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness is the quintessential Bruce Campbell movie. Never has he been better and more bad ass. By this point, Campbell was really comfortable with the role and played it so naturally, that he and Ash Williams have become one. He’s tough as nails, even more hilarious and this is probably where audiences most fell in love with him.

The Middle Ages setting is refreshing and gave this series a much needed curveball while still being true to the heart and spirit of the great films before it.

Evil Dead (2013 remake):

Release Date: March 8th, 2013 (SXSW)
Directed by: Fede Álvarez
Written by: Fede Álvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Based on: The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi
Music by: Roque Baños
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Bruce Campbell (post-credits cameo)

Ghost House Pictures, FilmDistrict, TriStar Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Mia’s not here, you fucking idiot! Your little sister’s being raped in Hell!” – Mia

The remake isn’t really a remake but more of a retelling that happens in the same universe to a different group of people. While it takes certain liberties to differentiate itself from the original films, each film in the original series also found ways to deviate from the established plot. It may be hard to figure out where this fits exactly but that isn’t much different from how the second film fits with the first, as it treads the same water but alters the original’s back story.

This film is the first to not be directed by Sam Raimi, although he produced it, oversaw its production and gave it his blessing. Also, the addition of Bruce Campbell in a cameo after the credits adds credence to the film.

Evil Dead is different in tone in that it focuses a lot more on horror and is truly terrifying from start-to-finish. The cinematography is top notch, the acting is better than one would typically get in a horror film and the characters are mostly likable. Plus, this film had a nice budget.

Compared to the original trilogy, this film isn’t as good. Compared to modern horror, it could very well be a masterpiece. It isn’t some PG-13 CGI fest with nothing but jump scares and irritating teenagers. In a sea of “found footage” horror schlock, this movie is refreshing and kind of groundbreaking. It doesn’t really give anything new to the genre, it just reinvigorates it and reminds us of what true cinematic terror can be.

I like this film a lot, as I have been a huge horror fan my entire life and this, at least, sets itself apart from the mediocre shit that modern horror has become.

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