There’s no other franchise like the “Evil Dead.” No other franchise has such wildly disparate tones working in tandem. No other franchise has gotten a legacy TV series and a gritty reboot within two years of each other. This is the only franchise that has maintained a baseline continuity while at the same time rewriting the rules with each new installment.
Such is the creativity of director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell. These two men have shepherded some of the most beloved cult movies of all time, and it’s a testament to both of them that they have refused to rest on their laurels. The latest installment, “Evil Dead Rise,” is now in theaters, so we felt it only fitting to provide a definitive ranking of all the films in the franchise. Groovy indeed.
5. “Evil Dead” (2013)
Remaking a stone-cold classic is not easy. Fede Alvarez had big shoes to fill when he signed on to direct the 2013 version of “Evil Dead.” Fans were skeptical, even though Raimi gave him his blessing and worked as a producer on the film. “Evil Dead” has none of the laughs of the original trilogy (unless you count uneasy chuckles) and instead focuses on the devastating consequences of messing with the Necronomicon (aka the Book of the Dead).
“Evil Dead” opened to mixed reviews, but the film has gradually been recognized as a cult classic in its own right. The central performances by Jane Levy and Shiloh Fernandez are strong, and the set pieces are among the goriest and most memorable of the decade. We challenge you to watch the scene involving the box cutter and the tongue of a possessed cabin-dweller, or the self-amputation with the electric knife, without wincing in horror. “Evil Dead” may serve as the bottom of our list here, but that speaks more to the overall quality of the franchise than the lack of quality here.
4. “Army Of Darkness” (1992)
“Army of Darkness” is a point of contention for some fans. It was never going to reach the dizzying heights of its predecessor, so Raimi and Campbell decided to expand their reference points to include literature like “Gulliver’s Travels” and “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court.” The result is a film that veers away from horror and towards swashbuckling adventure, with plenty of absurdist comedy to keep things light.
Campbell is firing on all cylinders here. He has such an intuitive read on the character of Ash Williams and such impeccable timing that it’s hard not to laugh at everything he says. Raimi also has a ball regarding world-building, as evidenced by the haunted windmill sequence and the climactic battle involving undead warriors. We still think the film’s working title is better (“The Medieval Dead”), but either way, “Army of Darkness” is a delightful detour.
3. “Evil Dead Rise” (2023)
“Evil Dead Rise” is a perfect marriage of new and old. It carries over the gore of the 2013 remake while bringing back the black comedy that distinguished the 1981 original from its genre peers. It then turns both of these components up to eleven and delivers a nonstop barrage of thrills, scares, and laughs.
Lee Cronin had proven himself to be an adept horror director with his debut, “The Hole In the Ground” (2019), but few could have predicted how well he would be able to honor the “Evil Dead” brand while injecting it with new energy. We don’t wait to get too specific with the highlights and risk spoiling anything, but we will say “Evil Dead Rise” has some of the freakiest manifestations of the Necronomicon to date. That’s saying a lot.
2. “The Evil Dead” (1981)
Raimi and Campbell had no money when they embarked on their shared debut. All they had was enthusiasm and a refusal to be limited by their own limitations. Things worked out, to put it mildly. “The Evil Dead” is one of the most influential horror films of the last fifty years; an ingeniously simple premise executed by a storyteller who had nobody to please but himself.
While some effects look dated in 2023, most of “The Evil Dead” holds up surprisingly well. Campbell is a genre-defining revelation, of course. But the committed performances by lesser-known actors like Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker really help to sell the lunacy of the whole thing. It would all be enough to take the top spot, were it not for…
1. “Evil Dead II” (1987)
“Evil Dead II” should not have worked. The original was six years prior, and there was a lightning-in-a-bottle quality to it that suggested a second outing would be a disappointment. Then there was the fact that “Evil Dead II” was basically a remake of the original story, with a few tweaks and an emphasis on black comedy… an angle that would have been widely ridiculed had social media existed back in the 1980s.
Somehow, it all worked. “Evil Dead II” is one of the greatest sequels of all time, regardless of genre. It manages to take all of the elements that worked well in the original and amplify them while adding flourishes we didn’t even know we wanted. This is the film that made Campbell’s Ash Williams a cult icon, from the catchphrases to the chainsaw hand, and the film that made Raimi a hero to generations of DIY directors.
What do you think of our list? What is your favorite “Evil Dead” film? Have you seen “Evil Dead Rise“ yet? If so, what did you think? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.