Nerds Gets Spooky: 40 Years of ‘The Evil Dead’ Films

Hannah - Editor/Instagram Manager
12 Min Read
New Line Cinema

1981 cult horror masterpiece The Evil Dead is celebrating its 40th anniversary in just a couple of weeks. As such, it only feels right to start off spooky month with a look at one of the largest and most successful horror franchises to date.

The Evil Dead (1981)

New Line Cinema

At the time, director Sam Raimi had just left Michigan State University after three semesters to seriously pursue a career in film with his close friends and colleagues, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert. Through family, friends, and investors Raimi was able to finance production to film The Evil Dead, which launched his career that now spans over five decades. While the film was not wildly successful initially, it has become a monolith in the horror genre. The Evil Dead is the pinnacle of cabin in the woods movies, truly setting the bar for how terrifying the woods and isolation can be. It may have been low-budget, but through innovative visual storytelling Raimi truly establishes his one-of-a-kind style.

The cast as a whole delivers, with Campbell’s portrayal of Ash Williams instantly becoming a classic in the horror genre. Ash is a different type of character that we don’t see a ton in the genre; rather than a final girl, we have a final boy. Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl Williams), Richard DeManincor (Scott), Betsy Baker (Linda), and Theresa Tilly (Shelly) all deliver believable and gripping performances as their characters. However, we would be remiss to not mention the stand-out performance of Baker, who’s maddening giggles following Linda’s possession just have a way of sticking with you. The laughter is truly one of those sounds you will never forget.

Why You Should Watch it This Halloween

The Evil Dead is not the steady, slow-build that horror audiences see in most of the genre. The evil isn’t hiding around a corner to jump out and scare you; the evil is in the woods and at the same time the woods themselves. It surrounds and engulfs its victims mercilessly. Following the, in our opinion, unnecessary woods scene with Cheryl (you know the one, about 25 minutes in) the film does not let up, providing viewers with violent scare after violent scare. With no interest in censorship, Raimi elected to make The Evil Dead as violent and gruesome as possible. The decision resulted an X rating for Raimi’s debut film, which at the time was mostly reserved for pornographic content. The film was, and still is, banned in some countries due to its graphic depictions of violence.

If you really want to elevate your The Evil Dead viewing experience, we recommend staying up late and figuring out when to turn the movie on so the film ends as the sun rises real-time for you. This method is much more immersive and will truly leave you on the edge of your seat.

The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

Rosebud Releasing Corporation

The Evil Dead 2 took a sharp turn out of the horror genre and directly into the horror-comedy genre. It might not seem that different, but the differences are immense when you watch the films back to back and watch with a critical eye. The sequel came six years following the original and takes on some humorous themes that manage to make the continued extreme violence from this franchise more palatable.

If you’ve already seen The Evil Dead 2, you probably still have a couple of questions: Is it a sequel, or is it a remake? The answer is yes, and also yes. We could probably personally have Bruce Campbell explain this to us and still not completely understand. He refers to the 1987 film as a “requel,” meaning it is both a remake and a sequel. I’m honestly just not quite sure how that works, but regardless, the film is both a continuation of the original film and a remake of the story at the same time. Regardless of whether or not we understand the “requel” premise, we remain enthusiastic about the second film in this franchise.

Why You Should Watch it This Halloween

The Evil Dead 2 narrowly missed receiving an X rating due to a transfer/sale of domestic theatrical release rights just before the release of the movie. The result was that the movie came out with no rating, though The Evil Dead had already made a reputation for itself and audiences knew what to expect the second time around. Studio executives were positive The Evil Dead 2 would receive an X rating had it gone through evaluation, but were unwilling to push for cuts to be made to the movie. Before the release of the film, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group president of marketing and distribution Lawrence Gleason stated it would have been “…very tough to cut the film for an R rating and keep it in the same spirit its audience expects from it.” Thankfully, the film’s original cut was kept and the franchise had the opportunity to continue to flourish.

If for nothing else, you should watch The Evil Dead 2 this Halloween to see the birth of Ash’s chainsaw hand.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Universal Pictures

The Evil Dead 2 ended with a perfect set-up to a third installment to the franchise, which would five years later become Army of Darkness, again starring Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. Rather than fighting demons in the secluded Tennessee woods in the 1980s, Ash is now fighting both the dead and medieval knights in his journey to find the Necronomicon in order to return home. Unfortunately, Ash instead unleashes the evil in the book once again and with it an army of the dead.

Army of the Dead not only elevates the humor aspect that was brought into the franchise with The Evil Dead 2, but adds a new adventure element reminiscent of films Raimi grew up loving such as Clash of the Titans. Where The Evil Dead 2 put horror on the back-burner to be a comedy, Army of Darkness puts both horror and comedy on the back-burner to evolve to an action/adventure film, with the aforementioned genres still making themselves known throughout the film.

Why You Should Watch it This Halloween

If you have already watched the first two movies in this installment, it really is worth going ahead and watching Army of Darkness to finish out the original trilogy that spawned a media empire and launched the careers of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The film is much more lighthearted than its predecessors, and might be a nice relief to watch after the heavy violence of the first two films.

Evil Dead (2013)

Sony Pictures

If you’re not one for remakes, you probably gave the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead the side-eye and made a promise to yourself to never watch it. This article is your sign that you should break that promise to yourself and go ahead and give this particular remake a fair chance. Almost a complete reimagining of the 1981 classic, Raimi and Campbell still teamed up to bring The Evil Dead back to the big screens.

Rather than a group of teens trekking away into the mountains for a booze-filled weekend, this group of five heads to the remote cabin so Mia (Jane Levy) can safely stop using drugs cold turkey and go through withdrawal surrounded by friends and family. The original The Evil Dead was critiqued (by some) and even made its way onto “banned movies lists” in some places for its violence, but the remake makes the original look tame. This is the type of gore that will make you want to look away because it is just too hard to watch some of the violence.

Why You Should Watch it This Halloween

To put it as simply as possible, 2013’s Evil Dead will simply scare you more than the rest of the franchise. Thanks to advancements in technology and special effects, everything about this film feels incredibly real (almost too real). Evil Dead is bloodier, more gruesome, more violent, and more tangible in the current day and age.

Plus, what says Halloween more than a scene where blood rains from the sky?

Evil Dead Rise (2022)

If you haven’t had enough of The Evil Dead just yet, there’s good news for you. After just about every further film development stayed in purgatory for years following 2013’s remake. However, a fifth film installment to the franchise started filming June of this year. Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin will head Evil Dead Rise as writer and director, with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell as producers. The film is set to be released by HBO Max in 2022. Check out the official premise for the film below.

“In Evil Dead Rise, a road-weary Beth pays an overdue visit to her older sister Ellie, who is raising three kids on her own in a cramped LA apartment. The sisters’ reunion is cut short by the discovery of a mysterious book deep in the bowels of Ellie’s building, giving rise to flesh-possessing demons, and thrusting Beth into a primal battle for survival as she is faced with the most nightmarish version of motherhood imaginable.”

The original trilogy is available to stream on HBO Max, and if that’s not enough to sink your teeth into there is plenty more Evil Dead content to soak up, including television, video games, and even a musical!

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By Hannah Editor/Instagram Manager
Hannah’s a lifelong nerd, but has been with the team since May 2021. Her life is easily classified by two abbreviations - BBG3 and ABG3 (before Baldur’s Gate 3 and after Baldur’s Gate 3). Especially nerdy about: video games, folklore, Star Wars, D&D, Spider-Man, and horror (all of it). Based in Denver, CO.
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