Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us E is for Evil Dead! When childhood friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell decided they wanted to make a low-budget horror film in 1978, they did their research, gathered some funds and made a proof-of-concept short called Within the Woods. It screened well and helped them secure funding for their first feature-length film, the now classic The Evil Dead (1981). Little did they know that they were launching a horror franchise that would spread from film to video games to comics (including a crossover with Marvel Zombies), and would even eventually inspire a stage musical adaptation! But in 1981, The Evil Dead was simply a brutal horror film about a group of friends who discover the Book of the Dead in a cabin in the woods, and then accidentally unleash demonic forces they call Deadites and suffer the consequences. With little money and experience, the shoot was a nightmare for just about everyone involved, with multiple injuries and sickness, painful effects, and freezing conditions. But when filming was complete, Raimi had somehow crafted one of the 80’s most iconic horror films. Even Stephen King loved it when he saw it at Cannes in 1982 (out of competition). In fact, it was King’s praise that helped the film find distribution and it ultimately earned nearly eight times its production budget. Although the film is gut-wrenchingly brutal at times, featuring violent murders and even a scene where a tree rapes a woman, by the time the film ends, Raimi had embraced an almost-Three Stooges style of action; practically inventing the genre Splatterstick single-handedly. But it probably wouldn’t have worked without the bravura performance of Bruce Campbell as Ash. After failing to find an audience (or critical love) for his next feature, the crime comedy Crimewave — a team-up with Joel and Ethan Coen, no less — Raimi returned to the world of Evil Dead with Evil Dead II (1987). Whereas the first film had at least started out more serious before shifting its emphasis into gross-out humor, Evil Dead II kept its tongue firmly in its cheek from the very start. As much remake as it was a sequel, Evil Dead II tells pretty much the exact same story as The Evil Dead, but with more money allotted to making the film look better and allowing for more confidence in the comedic storytelling. There are changes, of course, but in the end it all boils down to Bruce Campbell’s Ash taking on Deadites (as well as his own possessed hand) in a splatterstick showdown that features more gore than just about any other film up to that point. What really helped to make Evil Dead II stand out was the way it used humor to help soften the blow of the horror. There are jokes scattered throughout the film, some hilarious, some ridiculously corny, but all helped to create an infectiously goofy atmosphere that makes the film a joy to watch. At the same time, when it’s gory, it is over-the-top gory, comparable to the climactic scene in Peter Jackson’s notorious Dead Alive, which clearly found inspiration in Raimi’s approach. In one of the most inspired endings in horror cinema, Evil Dead II concludes by (Spoiler Alert!!) hurling Ash — along with the broken down Oldsmobile — back in time to the 1300 AD, where he is confronted by a group of knights before saving them from a flying Deadite and being hailed as a hero. This had been an idea that Raimi wanted to incorporate into the film, but budgetary concerns forced them to simply include this short bit at the end. Little did they know at the time, their next jaunt into the world of the Evil Dead would pick up just where this one left off. Thanks to the international profits for Evil Dead II, Dino De Laurentiis was willing to finance a third film, so while working on his next film, the superhero adventure Darkman, Raimi and his brother Ivan developed the script for Army of Darkness, continuing Ash’s adventures into the Middle Ages. Drawing inspiration from Ray Harryhausen classics like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, the film relies heavily on stop-motion animation to bring an army of skeletons and other demonic monsters to life. While Evil Dead II had shifted more into a horror-comedy approach, Army of Darkness is almost pure comedy; it just happens to be set in a medieval fantasy setting and involves the dead returning to life. Regardless, it’s still a shoe-in for our ABCs of Horror, if only for the fact that it has become just as beloved a cult classic as either of its predecessors. It’s my least favorite of the franchise, but I have issues. Since the release of Army of Darkness in 1992 there had been many rounds of rumors about a new film, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the rumors came true. With a screenplay by Rodo Sayagues and director Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead 2013 serves as yet another reboot/remake of the original film, produced by Raimi and Campbell. The film almost entirely eschews the splatterstick of the previous installments, but when it does go for the gore, it reaches levels more common in recent Japanese splatter films like Tokyo Gore Police or Machine Girl. Instead of the gang heading out to the woods for a weekend retreat, this time out the point of going to the remote cabin is so that four friends can help a fifth kick heroin. Jane Levy plays Mia, who essentially serves as the Ash in this new incarnation. The addition of her heroin addiction allows for a very effective means to keep the other characters from just leaving when things start getting weird, and it also means that Mia herself, can’t be sure if the things she’s seeing are real or not. And by the time things get out of hand (heh, see what I did there?), things are so batshit crazy that Evil Dead ends up being one of the most hard-core sequels of any film franchise. One might even say that it stands up extremely well to the original — something just about no recent franchise reboot can say (except maybe for The Hills Have Eyes). There are very few film series out there about which you can say every single installment is a must-see, but Raimi, and now Alvarez, have done just that with Evil Dead. There’s no excuse for horror fans to not be intimately familiar with these films. So what are you waiting for? Go watch them! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses Punk Faye October 7, 2014 Love this series. I have not had occasion to see the remake though. Or maybe I haven’t made the occasion. I’m a bit leery of remakes/reboots in horror films. Log in to Reply Paul Brian McCoy October 8, 2014 It really is one of the best reboot/remakes I’ve seen. Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.