Horror and comedy often go hand-in-hand as both genres rely on visceral reactions from the audience, whether they be laughs or scares. And no movie or franchise understood this concept better than Evil Dead. Most horror comedies are really just horror movies with lots of jokes or comedy movies with a few scary elements.
What set Evil Dead apart was the way in which its source of comedy and horror were the same: an over the top sense of gore and violence that made you cringe and then laugh, and then cringe again. There is truly no other franchise or style quite like it and there’s a reason it’s spawned 40 years, 5 films, and a TV series.
So with the recent release of Evil Dead Rise, we wanted to take a look back on the franchise as a whole and rank each movie. Now to be clear, none of these are bad movies by any stretch of the imagination, and just because some are ranked lower it doesn’t mean we don’t like them. It just means we liked the other ones more.
Another note, we thought very long and hard about this, but we will not be including Ash vs. Evil Dead in the ranking. Trying to compare a 90 minute movie to an entire season (or three) of a TV show is like comparing apples to oranges. The mediums are far too different in story, pacing, and style, so massive shoutout to Ash vs. Evil Dead or being an amazing series, but we will only be ranking the movies!
5. Evil Dead II (1987)
At risk of sounding sacrilegious, one of these movies must take last place and that movie has to be Evil Dead II. Again, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. It’s incredibly fun, it elevates Ash to the catchphrase slinging badass that he’s famous for, and it improves on a lot of things from the original.
All that being said, while Evil Dead II has been “proven” to be a sequel, it very much just feels like a remake of the first movie but with a bigger budget. This results in better effects, better acting (as Bruce Campbell had better figured out his character), and better most things. But it lacks that charm the original had, and almost seeks to replace it.
Compared to its predecessor, it’s very polished, but polish is not why so many people loved the original Evil Dead. It has some amazing moments, but it feels like there’s very little about this movie that was its own rather than something it took from the original and just did with more money.
4. Evil Dead (2013)
While it may rank on the lower side, make no mistake, 2013’s Evil Dead reboot deserves immense credit for having the guts to try and do an Evil Dead movie without Ash. There was certainly a great deal of apprehension from fans going into it.
And to the film’s credit, it pulled off an incredibly component supernatural horror film that took base elements from the original but went a more horror-centric approach rather than horror comedy.
Part of the challenge with ditching the comedy is that when your movie takes itself more seriously, it’s under a great deal more scrutiny from the audience. And this movie falls into that trap just a bit from time to time. It wants to recreate some of the same shots and scenes from the original, but devoid of comedy and it doesn’t always work.
But again, it deserves so much credit for pulling off what it did. Even if it played things a little too safe and didn’t try to change more. To be fair, the filmmakers probably felt like they were already ditching Ash and the fans would be upset. So opting to keep everything else the same helped lessen fan backlash. However, it still would have been nice to see it take on more of its own choices.
3. Army of Darkness (1993)
Following a sequel that pretty much just remade the same movie as the original, Army of Darkness is an incredible breath of creative fresh air as it completely changes genres to medieval fantasy. By this point, the series had lost any sense of gravitas (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and we just get to have fun with Ash fighting Deadites in the middle ages.
It was a bold attempt to tell a completely new story with a familiar character and while it didn’t get to be everything Sam Raimi had planned, it’s still an incredibly fun and campy sword and sandal-esque horror film that you really don’t see that much of these days.
Granted, it’s held back by some of its larger flaws, but most of these were the result of budget issues, or last minute changes that were made due to studio interference. But it remains a shining example of how a film series can still change things up three movies in and keep the same ideas but change up settings and even genres to keep things fresh.
2. Evil Dead Rise (2023)
Full disclosure, there may be some recency bias around this one considering how new it is, but our opinions still stand: Evil Dead Rise is everything the 2013 version should have been. With exception of its cold open, we’re nowhere near a cabin in the woods, with the action taking place in a creepy, decrepit, high rise apartment building in the pouring rain that’s about to be condemned.
In doing so, it’s still able to go full Evil Dead with over the top Deadite violence and gore that makes you go from cringing to laughing. But it feels like an interesting variation in how it takes that premise with a different set of characters, this time a family with children, as opposed to a group of friends.
It’s the equivalent of how Prey took the iconic Predator and put him in a different time setting. Likewise, Evil Dead Rise posed the question, “what if we dropped the necronomicon into this cold and rainy city amidst a tense family drama?”
It opens infinite possibilities of where or when you could have people fighting for their lives against Deadites, and it’s everything a reboot should be: respectful to the original, but also unafraid to make its own unique choices. It’s a great addition that could be the start of many more awesome installments. (Check out our full review here)
1. Evil Dead (1981)
Of course the original was always going to be in first place, but not for the reasons you would assume. Just because a movie is the original in a franchise doesn’t make it automatically the best, although it often is the case and it is so here as well.
The whole point of these movies is to be gross, in your face, and absurd. And nowhere is that more prevalent than in this original movie. Due to its very limited budget, the whole thing has a very underground, almost snuff film quality to it. As if you could believe this is really just a documentary of the terrible fate that befell these people on their vacation.
But even with limited everything and massive inexperience on the part of Sam Raimi, what he manages to do with the cinematography is nothing short of amazing. Here’s a movie that has an amalgamation of random aspects that shouldn’t all work together, yet somehow they all do.
And as amazing as CGI has gotten over the last few decades, no amount of it will ever look as creepy when creating a Deadite as the grotesque makeup effects did in this one. Upon its UK release, Sam Raimi was brought up on obscenity charges, and frankly none of the movies in this franchise since have gone so far or so depraved as this one!
Which ones were your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
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