For over 30 years, the Evil Dead franchise has been bringing an extraordinary blend of horror and comedy to the movie screen. These movies have protagonist Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) deal with the forces of evil from either the Naturon Demonto or Necronomicon Ex-Mortis — the books of the dead. Usually through audio recordings, readings from the books are played, releasing evil Deadites and demons to cause murderous havoc.
The first two films essentially share the same plot; people go to a cabin in the woods, pages of evil are read, and demonic forces terrorize the local area. Besides the similar plots, the movies function quite differently from one another. The Evil Dead (1981) is a horror movie, while Evil Dead 2 (1987) is a horror-comedy. The third of the franchise, Army of Darkness (1992), is a cult classic dark comedy. From the first film to the third film, the series has undergone a shift from scary to humorous.
The upcoming Evil Dead releases April 5th 2013 and is a remake of the original. This will break the increasing comedic trend and return the series to its horror roots. While the other three films were directed by Sam Raimi, the new film will be directed by Fede Alvarez. Don’t fret — both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell will be co-writing and producing the film. While the film is taking a slightly new direction after 32 years, the elements you love from the classic will still be there.
Looking at the original The Evil Dead, you get your iconic five students going to the creepy cabin in the woods for spring break. These Michigan State University hot shots get a bit more than a relaxing vacation when they discover the Naturon Demonto and some tape recordings. While they can't read the text, the words from the cassette were enough to awaken and summon evil. One by one, each of the five friends are possessed and killed until there is only one left — Ash Williams. Through burning the pages of the evil tomb, he frees himself from the darkness. That is, until he tries to leave at the end and something in the woods stalks him.
In Evil Dead 2, Ash Williams (a different-but-same character) and his lady friend go to a cabin in the woods for a nice getaway. Nothing quite says romance like finding excerpts from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and an archeologist’s tape recorder. The whole ‘my girlfriend is possessed and I had to decapitate / bury her’ makes for a depressing weekend. Evil gets in his hand and it gets so bad that he chops it off at the wrist with a chainsaw. Later, other members of the archeology team find Ash at the brink of insanity. Once again, people start getting possessed and killing each other. With a cameo from a Deadite in the cellar, all but Ash and Annie die. She is able to read the passages to send the evil back, but the process opens a portal. Annie gets stabbed and killed, while Ash is sent back to the medieval era.
The third film, and my personal favorite, Army of Darkness is one of the most quotable films of all time. The movie consists of one-liners, poor CGI and hilarious dummies. The combination of these aspects and the popularity of the best films make Army of Darkness a cult classic. For me, it’s just one of those movies I force my friends to watch if they’ve never seen it. After traveling though the portal, Ash finds himself in 1300 AD. Knights strip him of his weapons and throw him into a pit with a Deadite. After defeating the creature, he gains a slight hero status and is given the quest to return the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, thus returning him to his own time.
This quest leads the antihero into a dark forest where something in the woods chases Ash to a windmill. There, he is forced to battle tiny mirror images of himself. Once one grows out of him, he is forced to defeat evil Ash. The process of dismembering and burying the incarnation allows him to continue on with the quest. Unfortunately, he forgets the words to pick up the book and releases a Deadite army. This leads to defending a siege and the book from the horde. With the assistance of modern chemistry and steam, the “army of darkness” is defeated. In the end, he returns home, but Deadites still attack him.
A couple of elements are required to make an Evil Dead movie: a book of the dead, an evil in the woods, possessions, and those quick-changing, close-up Raimi-style shots. Sure, Sam Raimi won’t be in the director’s chair, and Bruce Campbell won’t be the protagonist, but they are both working on the project. I find this very comforting. From what I've seen in the trailers, this Evil Dead looks far more terrifying than any of the past movies. As a fan of the franchise, I hope they do the series justice; it’s always frightening to tackle cult favorites. Fanatical fans are often the most critical.