Evil Dead. It’s a franchise started with a simple concept: A small film made by classmates in a cabin in the woods. That basic premise went on to spawn an iconic series that has remained relevant thanks to a fan base that has remained loyal. So much so that a new series is just on the horizon. So with the premiere of Ash Vs. Evil Dead fast approaching I (a huge fan myself) feel that the series deserves an even closer look. In order to understand its impact, it is crucial to understand where it started. So enjoy this retrospective on this iconic horror franchise just in time for Halloween.
The Evil Dead
On a budget of only $350,000, The Evil Dead was the brainchild of director and writer Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert. They came up with the concept of a full blown horror spectacle so they got the funding together and made the film with some of their friends. Most notably adding star Bruce Campbell as the main role of Ash. The film was released in 1983 after being turned down by multiple distributors. It was eventually picked up, but the title was changed from the original title “The Book of The Dead.” What also helped gain its distribution was that horror author Stephen King gave a glowing review of the film stating that it was: the most ferociously original horror film of the year.
The story revolves around a group of college kids going to stay in a secluded cabin alone for a fun trip, but quickly things turn when they unwittingly discover the book of the dead and unleash the evil that lies within the book’s spells and incantations. The film was released in a limited manner, but quickly found a following on the home video market garnering a large cult following in the subsequent years after its release. This inevitably led to a sequel to the film thrown into production several years later.
Evil Dead 2
In 1987, my favorite entry in the series was released. Evil Dead 2 was an interesting sequel in that it isn’t a sequel. It’s a clever reboot of the original film, but taking a completely different turn. This is mainly due to the fact that for whatever reason they could not get the rights to use footage from the first film so major changes had to be made. Instead of a group of kids from college the film starts out with the main protagonist Ash going to the cabin for a getaway with his girlfriend when things go horribly wrong.
This time the budget, experience, and talent of the filmmakers had greatly improved resulting in a film that had a much larger range of special effects. In addition to the effects being greatly improved, the tone of the film became much more comedic. It was a very self-aware film, which I believe may be due to the fact that Sam Raimi was reluctant on doing the project, but he caved when he believed that he could do something different and more original.
Evil Dead 2 is a film that’s very crucial for the series. It helped to establish a lot of the iconic elements that the series is known for. The most notable element is the introduction of Ash losing his hand and rigging a mechanism to have a chainsaw attached to his arm where his hand used to be.
The film garnered strong reviews and ensured its status as a worthy follow-up film that helped establish the once one-off cult film into a cult series. Inevitably a third film would be made, but this time it would be an even more drastic and take an outrageous new direction.
Army of Darkness
After the success of Sam Raimi’s R-rated superhero film Darkman, Universal struck a deal to produce the third film in the series, Army of Darkness. This time around they had a much larger budget and scale of production. This scale helped to shift the tone from a small horror series to a larger than life medieval time travel film with large battle sequences involving a skeleton army.
In addition to the shift in scale the film is known for making the character of Ash a completely lovable, but idiotic horror hero. He’s played more for laughs and ever since that fans have taken on the character as an icon. This character, with a chainsaw on his arm and a shotgun in his hand has without a doubt made a huge cultural impact not only on the genre of horror, but also on film in general.
The Dead Have Risen
The series has gone on to create its own loyal niche within cult popularity and has gone way past the initial three films. It has appeared in other venues including several comic book series, a few video games and most recently a remake in 2013 that garnered some fairly positive reception. It is a franchise that continues to thrive way after most horror films die out. The fans including myself are still loyal over 30 years after the first film’s release.
It has impacted the way horror films are made and it revolutionized the genre in terms of clever filmmaking techniques making it stand out as a unique entity. Ash has sliced his way into the hearts of many horror fans that continue to put Ash up there with the greatest of horror icons including Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. What makes Ash unique though is that he is a hero. A hero in horror is a rare occurrence. If you ever go to a pop culture or Comic Convention there is almost always a cosplayer dressed up as Ash there. The fans are just as dedicated as any Star Wars, Comic Book, or Anime fans out there.
Ash is the heroic symbol for horror thanks to this franchise and he said it best in Army of Darkness.
Thank you for reading this retrospective on this iconic horror franchise and make sure you tune in to Ash Vs. Evil Dead starting this Halloween on Starz.