The Evil Dead series is one of the cornerstones of genre film and horror fandom. Fans absolutely adore the Evil Dead trilogy, and one of the most interesting things about that trilogy, to me, is the fact that if you poll the fans by and large, you’ll get almost three equal groups with three different favorites. That’s a testament to what Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert and the whole gang did. That’s a testament to how well they work.
The original Evil Dead is a masterpiece of DIY horror. These guys had almost nothing to work with and they made the absolute most of it. It’s a straightforward, scary movie. But it’s funny at the same time. People tend not to realize that, thinking they’re just laughing at its accidental goofiness, but The Evil Dead did have a sense of humor. That didn’t come out of nowhere in Evil Dead II, it simply grew. It was an aspect of the first that became the central focus of the second. Still, just looking at that original feature, it’s very focused on being a grueling experience. Even if there is a lot of quirkiness and an overall offbeat sensibility, but there’s still a lot in The Evil Dead that is not fun. You wouldn’t see anything like the infamous “tree rape” in Evil Dead II or Army of Darkness. It’s a darker movie, it’s a meaner movie, and the franchise did get lighter as it went a long.
Interestingly enough, the series got darker the more Ash had to deal with as a character. Evil Dead II was a bigger and objectively better film than the first. It’s fun, funny, even though it’s really mostly about Ash by himself in a cabin slowly losing his mind. The very fact that half of it centers on one man fighting himself and screaming inside of a cabin, yet is still engaging, is truly a testament to Bruce Campbell’s acting ability. Horror fans almost immediately latched onto Evil Dead II as a sort of holy grail. It was huge with readers of Fangoria in the late 1980’s.
The most famous of the three, Army of Darkness, was not a huge success when it was first released. In fact, it lost money. Now it’s regarded as one of the biggest cult classics of all time, but it took a long time to actually gain that cult following. It didn’t happen overnight.The most interesting aspect of Evil Dead as a trilogy is the growth—or lack of growth—of Ash as a character. It’s such an interesting arc to follow because he’s actually more mature and level-headed in the first movie before any of the terror starts. He’s completely braggadocios, oafish and self-gratifying in Army of Darkness, almost a totally different character but it is a journey that is clearly mapped throughout the three films. Now, Ash vs. Evil Dead has finally arrived and is clearly continuing that journey in a very particular way set out by the creators. We meet up with Ash as if nothing has changed. He’s been sitting in a trailer and avoiding responsibility and his past for thirty years.
I think just about everyone is grateful that Ash vs. Evil Dead has finally arrived and has arrived in the form we’ve been given. But why did it take so long? What happened to not be able to get it as a film following Army of Darkness?
There are honestly a good number of reasons for this. Raimi did reveal in a recent interview that there was a planned follow-up to Army of Darkness that would have carried off of both endings of the film and followed Ash in two separate timelines. But as mentioned earlier, Army of Darkness was not the hit that everyone hoped it would be, even though old-fashioned sword & sorcery was back on the rise at the time. It wasn’t what people were expecting—which is almost baffling if they saw the ending of Evil Dead II—and so they didn’t really react to it at the time. That definitely affected the possibility of a fourth film. When it didn’t work out, there really wasn’t a plan to do another one for years and years, until the cult following of Army of Darkness really began to take off.
There’s also the undeniable fact that Sam Raimi’s career really took off after doing Army of Darkness and Darkman in the early ‘90’s. He directed For Love of the Game, which was a major baseball movie and then he struck gold with Spider-Man in 2002. Spider-Man had the highest grossing opening weekend of all time and remains one of the biggest successes in film history in terms of its financial success at the time. Of course, Spider-Man was an undeniably larger franchise than the Evil Dead series. It was something that Raimi got tied to for almost a decade and gave him a lot of pull in Hollywood. He was still passionate about that character and didn’t want anything else to happen without his involvement, but he had a ton going on at that time. From 2002 to 2009 it was really impossible to think about a new Evil Dead happening with Raimi’s involvement, at least if they wanted to do it right.
This was the major issue with the first attempt to get Ash back on the screen at that time. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was the intended follow-up to the huge success of Freddy vs. Jason. There was a discussion on the part of the studio and Raimi and Campbell did entertain the idea, but they wanted to make sure that it would be the end of both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises. Ultimately, it didn’t work out, Raimi didn’t license out the Ash character to them and so it just didn’t happen.
Around this time, Raimi and Campbell first began discussing the idea of the Evil Dead remake. After a few years, rumors began to circulate that Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan were working on an Evil Dead 4. Eventually, they confirmed this, but during the majority of that time would freely admit that the Evil Dead remake was their focus. This makes perfect sense. Remakes were at their peak in the mid-late 2000’s and sequels just weren’t getting made as often. There wasn’t a marketplace for Evil Dead 4, at least not in theaters, even as huge a following as Army of Darkness had gained by that time. But there was a huge market for an Evil Dead remake. That was just the reality of the previous decade.
And so it was the Evil Dead remake that wound up happening first, even if it didn’t come out until 2013, right at the tail end of the remake surge. But it was very successful, well received and—more than anything—proved their was value to the Evil Dead name. Raimi and Campbell did not waste the opportunity. It became clear that people actually wanted to see Ash back on the screen in some form or another. TV was becoming more and more of a market for horror—and it still is—which perfectly suited Raimi as his ideas for the fourth Evil Dead had only grown and grown over time.
In the past few years, we’ve had versions of Hannibal, Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, Dracula, Scream and so many more on the big screen. If there was ever a possibility of doing Evil Dead on the small screen, now is the time for it. And clearly, fans have responded pretty well to the first episode already. People are still just grateful that we got this show when we did and almost baffled that it’s actually good. But it’s good for the right reasons. It’s good because they waited for the right time to tell the story they wanted to tell. Ash is back. It’s so strange to type that even now, but it’s true. Ash is finally back and as oafish as he is and as much as he probably deserves his fate, I can’t wait to see how his story unfolds.