With the recent release of Evil Dead Rise, we felt it was only fitting to revisit the entire franchise and document exactly where we stand on the films. Evil Dead has had a rather unique run throughout five films and a television show, now also adding a video game to its ranks; within those cinematic offerings has been a mix of comedy, visceral gore, and even outright horror, giving viewers of all different ilk something to enjoy. That means that a ranking of the films is going to largely depend on the individual and their preference for horror or more slapstick stylings; here, we present one viewer’s opinion on the best and worst of the series.
The Evil Dead
For me, Sam Raimi’s best has always been his first. The Evil Dead was certainly an inspiration in a variety of ways, from the Deadite design to its occasional slapstick to the use of the flying camera technique. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is less of a character here, but the focus on the cabin itself and the slowly growing sense of demonic presence is actually quite effective – just see that shot of Ash’s Delta creeping up the overgrown drive as the porch swing keeps bashing into the house. While the Evil Dead franchise would come to be known for its use of humor, The Evil Dead manages small moments of over-the-top comedy in between some truly frightening sequences, and in my opinion it’s the most successful use of the format.
Army of Darkness
I’ve always had a soft spot for Army of Darkness due to nostalgia alone, but revisiting it recently cemented it as one of my favorite movies in the series. What it gives up in horror it adds with a unique setting, a more surly (and sometimes offputting) Ash, and a memorable villain that could be a study in psychology. The Deadite designs are varied here and the use of Harryhausen-style skeletons is just hokey enough that it works. But the best part is that Army of Darkness is just an overall fun film with a lot of heart, something that makes it stand out in an admittedly strong overall series.
Evil Dead II
It’s easy to see Evil Dead II as just a remake of The Evil Dead with a better budget, but this retelling of events from Raimi succeeds in a number of ways by defining itself as a unique offering that spins off in a different direction from its predecessor. Evil Dead II is more manic, more comedic, more violent, a bit less misogynistic, and a lot more focused on playing up Campbell’s Ash as a central character than the first film. Here we really see Ash come into his own as a protagonist, and Raimi’s techniques are even more prevalent here. The only reason it gets placed third on this list is that it’s just slightly too over-the-top for my personal preferences; I think The Evil Dead is better at tempering the insanity.
Ash vs. Evil Dead
Is it appropriate to be including Ash vs. Evil Dead on a list with feature-length films? I’m not sure, but I’m going to anyway. While I’ll admit it has been a while since I’ve finished the series – I watched it when it aired – and I don’t remember a lot of specific elements, I do know that Ash vs. Evil Dead was a treat for fans that seemed almost too good to be true. The show introduced a number of instantly memorable characters (Kelly, Pablo, Brock), showed how badass a post-Xena Lucy Lawless could be, and offered a combination of hyper-comedic antics and effective horror set pieces. It also showed that Raimi and company’s penchant for pushing the envelope had not subsided with time (looking at you sperm bank episode!). Why does it rank lower on this list? Because at 30 episodes and over 900 minutes, it’s not easy to revisit.
Evil Dead (2013)
While I have to admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled with Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake from 2013 at the time, subsequent revisits of the film have left me a bit more forgiving of this flawed but mostly effective offering in the series. The film is hyperviolent, stylish, and features a unique-enough plot to set it apart from the rest of the Evil Dead universe – while still offering a specific post-credits fan service encounter that places it in the canon. If violence and gore is your bag, then Evil Dead 2013 is certainly going to have a certain allure that the previous films in the series can’t match. However, it never hit the heights that I expected of a film in the franchise, which is why it appears towards the bottom despite my enjoyment.
Evil Dead Rise
Evil Dead Rise is much more reminiscent of Evil Dead 2013 than the original trilogy, and that means that its focus is largely cemented on serious horror rather than a mix of humor and scares. That’s fine, but unfortunately the film often treads too much (bloody) water exploring generic ideas that don’t feel unique to the Evil Dead franchise. Truthfully, the Evil Dead moniker feels tacked onto what could otherwise be any other exorcism-style movie; not only that, but it is ultimately too meandering for its own good, too busy exploring tropes that have been better used in films like Hereditary and The Shining. While I feel Evil Dead Rise is a perfectly acceptable, watchable movie, I was looking for something a bit more worthy of the title.
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