Imagine being forced to protect your sister’s children after their mother begins to show behavior that is maniacal, deadly, and otherworldly. That, essentially, describes the plot of writer and director Lee Cronin’s EVIL DEAD RISE, which – despite its relatively simple concept and singular setting – is one of the most highly anticipated AMC Thrills & Chills movies coming out in 2023. The source of the excitement – in addition to the big scares it promises – is that this is the latest installment of one of the most enduring, versatile, and beloved horror movie franchises of all time: the EVIL DEAD movies.
The series created by Sam Raimi and predominantly starring Bruce Campbell is not like other horror movie franchises that can be categorized by one subgenre. While the topics of spiritual possession and grotesque transformation would remain staples, the tone would change dramatically with each new chapter, becoming either sillier or grittier, but almost always bloodier. As we wait to bask in the “Thrills and Chills” in EVIL DEAD RISE – which comes to AMC Theatres on April 21st – let’s take a look at the previous timeline of “grueling terror.”
The Evil Dead
While thrillers about a group of debaucherous youths at odds with a malevolent entity at a cabin in the woods are nothing new by today’s standards, writer and director Sam Raimi’s breakout hit – which was officially given a wide release in 1983 – was called “the most ferociously original horror film” of its time by none other than Stephen King, according to ET. More than four decades later, it is still easy to see why.
In his debut performance as Ashley J. “Ash” Williams, Bruce Campbell is desperate and left to his own devices when his four friends are transformed into murderous, monstrous creatures after discovering a strange book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. In addition to inspiring relentless terror for years to come, THE EVIL DEAD has also inspired many to pursue their dreams of becoming the next great success in low budget, amateur filmmaking.
Evil Dead II
Despite his mastery of the macabre, you can see very subtle hints of Raimi’s obsession with The Three Stooges throughout THE EVIL DEAD. The filmmaker would employ elements of slapstick far more overtly in his 1987 follow-up, which could arguably be the finest blend of horror with comedy that cinema has seen yet.
Campbell solidifies his Scream King status and begins to show signs of Ash’s signature wise-cracking, bumbling hero persona in EVIL DEAD II, which the star has explained is not a remake – as many fans have assumed – but, indeed, a sequel that starts off with a reimagining of the first film’s events before picking things up exactly where it left off. The wonderfully cartoonish thrillride also marks the debut of Ash’s iconic replacement of his severed right hand: a working chainsaw.
Army Of Darkness
Ash’s chainsaw hand and his double-barreled “boomstick” sure come in handy when he finds himself stranded in the Middle Ages in ARMY OF DARKNESS. Picking things up where EVIL DEAD II left off right at the start, the 1992 sequel sees our hero at his most bold, brash, and brave, but also his most asinine and accident-prone as his attempt to return to the present, instead, unleashes a new swarm of Deadites on the kingdom that took him in.
The third installment of the EVIL DEAD films is the biggest diversion from the franchise’s more traditional elements. While the manic, cartoonish camp introduced in the second chapter is kicked up several notches, it is much lighter on horror elements, in favor of being an epic, medieval fantasy adventure with some of Raimi’s signature spin.
Any fan of the EVIL DEAD movies who craved a return of the more earnest, thoroughly bleak, and unapologetically disturbing vision of the original certainly got what they wanted when Raimi and Campbell picked Fede Alvarez to take over the franchise in 2013. The director would not only resurrect the darkness, but escalate it a hundred fold.
This time, the cabin is not the site of a fun getaway, but a group of friends’ latest attempt to help a young woman (an astonishing Jane Levy) beat her addiction, only to be interrupted by a ruthless, demonic entity’s reawakening. Whether you call it a reboot, a remake, or just a new chapter in this story, EVIL DEAD is a worthy addition to the universe for taking everything that made the original film special, but making it more grounded, more character-driven, and – most importantly – more brutal.