Sam Raimi's original three Evil Dead films may represent one of the most bizarre trajectories for a film franchise ever. What started as violent, disturbing horror morphed into a dark and funny slapstick parody of the sword-and-sorcery genre. But each film stands as a worthy entertainment in its own right.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Michigan school chums Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell collaborated on this horror film with a budget in the neighbourhood of US$300,000 and ended up with a cult classic. Banned in many countries, including Germany and all the U.K., the film's relentless gore and horror was a success largely due to its extreme content.
In the starring role of Ash, Campbell has admitted he was learning to act as he went along, which is why his performance at the end of the film is more assured than it is at the beginning.
Spoiler alert: The closing shot of the film implies Ash finally succumbs to the demonic assault on the cabin.
The Evil Dead II (1987)
You might say the Evil Dead movie that opened in theatres on Friday is the second remake. Evil Dead II, a sequel in name only, saw director Raimi essentially starting from scratch with original star Bruce Campbell reprising his role of Ash. The reason: Raimi was trying to get his Hollywood career back on track after a 1985 attempt at a studio film, Crimewave, proved to be wholly unsatisfying.
This time, Ash visits the remote cabin with only his girlfriend. She is possessed. He takes steps to destroy his now demonic squeeze by cutting off her head and burying the body. The daughter of the cabin's original owner shows up (with three other people) to look for her dad and realizes pop's research into the occult has taken a ghastly turn. More possessions follow.
This film uses lots of latex-constructed demons, which gives the movie a more cartoony quality. Campbell's performance is more overtly comic, especially by the film's exciting conclusion, which sees Ash transported (along with the giant forest demon) to the Dark Ages, leading the way to ....
Army of Darkness (1992)
Conceived as Evil Dead 3, this $8-million studio-produced conclusion to the trilogy sees Ash doing battle with demons and sundry "Deadites." He's on a personal mission to get back to his own time, but along the way, he grows a spine and helps the beleaguered "primitive screwheads" take on the army of the undead with modern technology.
This is an unabashedly comic horror film, which, at one point, sees Ash doing battle with tiny versions of himself, and with skeletons, with whom Campbell pulls off Three Stooges-style slapstick. Raimi finally got a chance to express his comic sensibilities, and the result is a one-of-a-kind comedy-horror gem with the emphasis on the former.
At last, it was an Evil Dead movie one could comfortably watch with the kids.