Off the back of its triumphant premiere, Evil Dead Rise is poised to bring the iconic horror series back to audiences this spring. With support from franchise creators Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert, who all return to produce, this newest entry enlists fresh blood at the helm. Filmmaker Lee Cronin, who directed 2019's The Hole in the Ground, writes and directs this latest installment. And if the positive reviews from its South by Southwest debut are any indication, Evil Dead Rise brings gore and scares in equal, terrifying measure.
As horror hounds prepare to flock to theaters for their latest dose of terror, let's turn to the history of this beloved franchise. From the original movies to the TV series, video games, and comic spin-offs, the Evil Dead universe has captivated audiences for decades. Join us as we dive into the origins and evolution of the franchise, shedding light on the macabre mythology of its Deadites, the journey of protagonist Ash Williams, and behind-the-scenes details on how it all came to be.
The History of the Evil Dead Franchise
The Evil Dead (1981)
Armed with their short film Within the Woods, writer-director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and actor Bruce Campbell secured investment to turn it into a full-length feature. The result? 1981's The Evil Dead. While the franchise's reputation consists mostly of a blend of splattergore and slapstick, this opening entry is something else; a scary, stomach-churning gorefest.
The story follows a group of friends who venture to a remote cabin for the weekend, only to accidentally awaken an ancient evil that lurks in the woods. One by one the group are possessed by Kandarian demons and transform into Deadites. The sole survivor is protagonist Ash Williams who goes on to become the face of the series.
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Is the Evil Dead 2 a remake or a sequel? Fans have pondered this topic for decades. Campbell confirmed to Bay at the Moon that the confusion boiled down to copyright. The creators didn't hold the rights to The Evil Dead, so the sequel required creative workarounds. As a result, it recaps the original – but without some of the main characters. The sequel opens with Ash and his girlfriend Linda returning.
In short – they made what Campbell terms "a requel." Part remake, part sequel. In the years since Evil Dead 2 has become a firm fan favorite. Its madcap plottings cast Ash against more Deadites taking even weirder forms. Not only does he tussle reanimated humans but possessed deer heads and even his own hand become two of his foes.
Army of Darkness (1992)
Raimi's third film picks up where Evil Dead 2 left Ash, transported through time to the Middle Ages. This marks the series' leap into broad comedy. This sequel charges out of the gate, letting Campbell's comedy chops shine as Ash introduces medieval townsfolk to his modern ways including his shotgun – aka his boomstick. This scenario freshens up the Evil Dead formula by locating Ash's new battle against the Deadites in a distant historical period, the perfect setup for slapstick fight sequences galore.
The original ending Raimi shot found Ash bumbling his return to modern times. As a result he's catapulted forward to a post-apocalyptic world, which the studio felt was too depressing. The reshot ending seen in the theatrical cut follows Ash back to the present at his S-Mart job, where it's revealed he brought the Deadites with him.
The Reboot: Evil Dead (2013)
Progress on a fourth installment sputtered for years until eventually the franchise reins were handed to Fede Alvarez. Prior to its release and for many years after, it was considered a remake or reimagining of the 1981 original on account of its similarities to the events in The Evil Dead. But in 2018 Alvarez confirmed that it was in fact, a sequel. "It continues the first one," he told a fan on Twitter. "The coincidences on events between the first film and mine are not coincidences, but more like dark fate created by the evil book."
Like the first outing, the story revolves around a group of five friends who venture to a cabin in the woods. In this film they meet to conduct an intervention for Mia, an addict. Jane Levy's performance as Mia, a sole survivor who becomes possessed by the evil force, is outstanding.
The TV Series: Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015-2018)
While legal reasons prevented Ash vs. Evil Dead from explicitly referencing the sequel, the series is a direct continuation of the Army of Darkness timeline. It was produced by franchise veterans Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert and aired on Starz for three seasons. Campbell returned as Ash Williams, who has spent the thirty years since his jaunt in the Middle Ages on cruise control. Working at Value Stop he befriends coworkers Pablo and Kelly. When the Deadites return, the trio unite to save humanity.
The series ramps up the comedy and splatter, each episode featuring new Deadites and additions to the franchise mythology. We learn of Ash's stewardship over the Necronomicon, and that his hometown disowned him following the events of the movies. As it stands now, an animated series revival is in the works according to Campbell.
The first comic based on the franchise was published by Dark Horse Comics in 1992 as an Army of Darkness adaptation. In 2004, Dynamite Entertainment took over production and this spawned a timeline that largely takes place within an alternate universe separate from the movies.
These comics follow Ash's further adventures battling the Deadites and teaming up with horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. They connected to the larger Marvel Comics Multiverse following the 2007 five-part series Marvel Zombies vs. the Army of Darkness.
The Evil Dead made the leap to gaming back in 1984 with the release of The Evil Dead for Commodore 64. Since that retro gaming gem, a range of titles have integrated and overlapped existing franchise lore. Evil Dead: Hail to the King and Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick released in the early 2000s with both serving as direct sequels to Army of Darkness and carrying on the storyline.
In 2005, however, Evil Dead: Regeneration skewers off from the end of Evil Dead 2 and imagines a world where Ash wasn't sent back in time. With the exception of a few mobile games, Evil Dead: The Game released in 2022 is the biggest tie-in, linking itself to the movies and TV shows through easter eggs and gameplay features.
Based on the movies, Evil Dead The Musical debuted in Toronto in 2003 with the blessing of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Its success led to an Off-Broadway run and over 300 productions worldwide. Highlights include an Ultimate 4D Experience that positioned 100 people in the front row in a "splatter zone" wherein they would be doused with fake blood.
Exploring the Mythology
Ash Williams is the main protagonist throughout the Evil Dead franchise and is played by horror icon Bruce Campbell. He is introduced in The Evil Dead as a college student turned survivalist who must battle against the Deadites. Over the course of the films and series, he transforms into a skilled Deadite hunter despite his inherent laziness with a penchant for quippy one-liners. His last screen appearance was in the season finale of Ash vs. Evil Dead.
In Army of Darkness, when Ash is confronted by three books bound in human skin. These are known throughout the series interchangeably as the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, Naturom Demonto and The Book of the Dead and contain forbidden and ancient rituals used to summon demons. It was never made clear whether those three books Ash sees are copies of the same text or different versions entirely – until earlier this year.
Recently Evil Dead Rise director Lee Cronin made reference to this, telling Empire: “In one of the early meetings I had with Sam Raimi, I said, ‘You know the way in Army Of Darkness, there's three [Necronomicons]? You had one, Fede had one, I'm going to take the other one.’ … we live in a world where there is more than one copy of the Necronomicon. Those books may all have slightly different personalities – it's not exactly the same book, necessarily, that Ash had in the cabin. But it's very, very firmly related. It could even be more dangerous…”
So one exists in the original movie, one in the 2013 remake/sequel and one in this new sequel.
Deadites are demonic entities that possess the living or reanimate the dead. This occurs when a person comes into contact with a Kandarian demon. In the movie timeline, before Ash and friends stay at the cabin, Professor Knowby awakens a Kandarian demon in the woods which then attacks his wife Henrietta, turning her into a Deadite. A person can also be turned if they're attacked by another Deadite.These entities are the main antagonists of the series and often share similar physical attributes, including white, sunken eyes.
Cabin in the woods
The original cabin introduced in The Evil Dead is referred to as the Knowby Cabin – named after the Professor whose research with the Necronomicon sparked the events of the franchise. It is the setting for Evil Dead 2, is referenced in Army of Darkness and Ash vs. Evil Dead, and several games and comics. Evil Dead Rise looks set to include its own cabin based on glimpses in the trailer.
Evil Dead Rise
We know that Evil Dead Rise is set within the same world as the original run of movies and the TV series, and will carry on the timeline started with Ash Williams in 1981. But will it stay there, or will it splinter off into an alternate continuity? Based on the history of the Evil Dead franchise and its complex web of mythology and lore, who knows? It could go either way.
Evil Dead Rise premieres in theatres on Aril 21st! See it at Regal.