Ranking The “Evil Dead” Franchise
In 1978, Sam Rami and some of his buddies filmed an 8MM horror short on a shoestring budget. The project was Within the Woods, a proof of concept that would launch one of the greatest horror franchises of all time. Three years later, Rami and Co. would return to the woods to make the landmark feature film, The Evil Dead.
Starring B-movie powerhouse Bruce Campbell, the Evil Dead franchise maintained its cult status for over forty years. The ravenous love fans have for the series shows no signs of waning. At the time of this writing, we are at the precipice of the hotly anticipated Evil Dead Rise being released. Before returning to our favorite Necronomicon Ex-Mortis passage, let’s look back at the five previous on-screen entries. Now, there isn’t a bad entry in the bunch here. In fact, one could see this list as a ranking of masterpieces.
5. Army of Darkness (1993)
At its release, Army of Darkness was bit of an odd duck. It was an R-rated dark fantasy adventure picture and the second sequel to a horror cult film. Despite copious advertising and stellar production design, Army of Darkness didn’t put butts in seats upon release. Though not a box office sensation, the film would garner a cult following.
Army of Darkness is hands down the strangest entry in the Evil Dead franchise. However, oddly enough, it’s also the most accessible. The film certainly featured a lot of hallmarks the series is known for but eschewed the gore and viscera of its predecessors. Sam Rami leans into the silliness and playful attitude of Evil Dead 2 without dropping any sense of dread or terror. Despite all this (or maybe because of it), Army of Darkness is a blast from start to finish. It’s also a solid “gateway horror” film, unlike its brethren.
4. Ash Vs Evil Dead (2015-2018)
Before Ash vs Evil Dead, it had been over 20 years since Bruce Campbell portrayed demon-slaying goofball Ash Williams. The character’s return to the franchise was thrilling for horror fans and lived up to their expectations. This series was able to flesh out Ash in ways the films never really had time for. We saw more into his psyche and how the films’ events truly affected him emotionally. No one can witness that much carnage and walk away unscathed in any capacity.
The show breathed new life into the franchise with an impressive supporting cast of characters to pick up Ash’s slack. Ray Santiago’s fledging brujo, Pablo, quickly became a fan favorite. Dana DeLorenzo’s reluctant slacker Kelly seemed to be the heir apparent to Ash. Sadly, the show only lasted three seasons and lost a bit of steam near the end. This is the only reason it’s not higher on the list.
3. The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Rami’s 1981 feature film debut set a high watermark for future independent horror filmmaking for decades after its release. Packed to the gills with copious blood and guts, The Evil Dead was met with controversy upon its release. The level of extreme horror caused the film to be slapped with an X rating; something reserved almost exclusively for adult films. Even the current-day uncut version of the film is still saddled with an NC-17 for its onscreen violence.
The Evil Dead is a masterpiece and a trailblazing piece of cinema. However, the sheer level of relentless violence (and a scene of sexual assault involving a tree) might be too much for some viewers. There is a level of sadistic glee to each nightmarish scene, which makes it a gem for horror aficionados. Despite The Evil Dead being the start of a franchise, this film might not be the best gateway for newbies. It might be too much for some folks, but then again, that’s kind of the point.
2. Evil Dead (2013)
It might seem blasphemous to have the remake of a classic sitting above the original, but here we are. Nothing will ever replicate the shock and awe of the original 1981 debut, but Fede Álvarez’s bold re-imagining isn’t trying to take the crown. If anything, Evil Dead (2013) acts as a companion piece. From its horrific cold open to the visually stunning, bloody finale, the film strives to stand out and does so with flying colors.
With a stellar young cast, including Jane Levy (Castle Rock) as heroine Mia, the film focuses more on interpersonal character dynamics than previous entries. It wants the audience to get to know these kids before they go through hell. The death and carnage in this film have the most emotional heft of any entry in the franchise. That’s not to say Álvarez has no fun in the mayhem. Even the most upsetting acts of violence play out with a heavy dose of gallows humor.
1. Evil Dead II (1987)
Six years after the success of The Evil Dead, Sam Rami and Bruce Campbell returned for a sequel unlike any other. Part sequel, part remake, and part self-parody, Evil Dead II was a chimera of a film that shouldn’t have worked. At least, not on paper.
The result was one of the weirdest, bloodiest, and funniest films committed to celluloid. From Bruce Campbell’s over-the-top performance to Sam Rami’s quick zooms and smash cuts, Evil Dead II is never not hitting you in the face. It’s a rollercoaster ride through a haunted house. It’s a splatstick comedy that is a self-referential takedown of its own universe. There truly has been nothing like it since. Even follow-up entries in the franchise can’t quite recapture the pure manic bliss of Evil Dead II. The softer edge in terms of tone makes it far more digestible than its predecessor. However, it ups the ante in blood and gore to a hilarious effect. This one is nothing short of a must-watch for comedy and horror fans alike.