After nearly forty years of grueling terror, slapstick violence, sarcastic one liners, and gallons of gore, The Evil Dead is coming to an end. With three original films, a remake, a Broadway musical, video games, comic book tie-ins/crossovers, and thirty half hour episodes of an incredible television series culminating in this Sunday’s series finale, the franchise has created something phenomenal, not only in genre film, but in cinema itself. A Super 8 short horror created by some long time friends in college became an independent horror film that exploded into a pop cultural phenomena during the rise of VHS. And now seems like as good a time as ever to hit “rewind” and take a look back at some of the best moments in Evil Dead History.
These are all purely subjective, mind you, and decided upon by the author who is a long time fan of the series. If there’s one I missed or something that should be higher up on the list, share in the comments and let me know.
10) We’re Gonna Get You
Linda’s sing song, wicked taunt in the original Evil Dead is haunting and exceptionally creepy. Possessed by a Kandarian demon, Ash’s lovely girlfriend sits in the floor with an exaggeratedly painted face and glowing eyes and twirls her hair while singing a childish rhyme in a ghostly voice. It’s the sort of psychological trauma that the Deadites love to inflict upon their victims and even trapped in the cellar, a possessed Cheryl looks in awe as Linda drives her lover to madness.
9) Baby Mama Drama
Ash vs Evil Dead has had mixed reviews at times in it’s brief run but one undeniable fact remains: Elk Grove is a terrible place to raise a family. Ruby decides to drop a litter of Evil Deadlings not once but twice in Ash’s hometown with disastrous results for everyone involved. The only thing more twisted than a bunch of Kandarian toddlers running amok is Ash battling an evil baby version of himself using a decapitated woman as a mech suit. But is it the most uncomfortable, cringe inducing, sickening horror antic in the franchise’s history? Hardly.
8) The Second Coming
I loathe the entire culture surrounding remakes, revisions, reboots, and any other catchy name you can give for the autocannibalism of film is Hollywood. The last 20 years have seen an astonishingly nauseating torrent of regurgitated drek pumped into theaters but one remake stands apart in this vomitous sea. Evil Dead (2013) was a phenomenal update on the original horror shocker from 1981. With a large budget -thanks in no small part to the huge fan base and popularity of the franchise- a great cast, and th best source material imaginable, the film captured the environment of horror and brutality that the original strived for in the early 80’s. Let the fan arguments begin but I will go to my grave swearing that the remake was every bit as good as the original.
7) Cellar Shenanigans
Now days if you visit a cabin in the woods you’re almost expecting some sort of grotesque horror to assail you. You most certainly know better than to go down into any fruit cellars or other subterranean rooms in the house, right? Evil Dead took a concept so universally scary and gave us a reason to be terrified about what was waiting in the dank, cold darkness of the basement. From Cheryl and Mia banging wildly at the door taunting the pain and horror being inflicted upon our heroes to Henrietta wanting to know “who’s in my fruit cellar” before monkey morphing into some giraffe necked horror. Even recently, in the basement of Ash’s hardware store, a literal portal to help has spat out Cronenberg-esque nightmares. If the Evil Dead has taught us nothing else, stay out of the cellar!
6) Sing Your Guts Up
I was skeptical about Evil Dead: The Musical. Who wasn’t? But the musical horror-comedy that originated in Canada in 2003 has become one of the most enjoyable plays you’ll find on or off Broadway. Deriving humor from the campiness and tropes created by the iconic horror series, the musical pokes fun at the franchise’s foibles while offering up wicked anthems and gallons of stage blood and other fluids that leave the audience walking out of any production looking like they’ve just ridden a slip’n’slide through a slaughterhouse. If you haven’t had the opportunity to catch this live show, you need to check out your local community theater to see if/when they’re bringing it to your town.
5) Fan Service from the Start
From posters hanging up in the cellar of The Hills Have Eyes to Freddy’s glove and even the classic words “Klaatu verata nicto” there has always been an appreciation for the past. The name Necronomicon calls up images of the mysterious tome of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos while Army of Darkness itself has some ideas about Arthurian legend and high fantasy. The Evil Dead has not only payed homage to horror legends but has, in itself, become legend appearing in films like Jason Goes to Hell with the book of the dead lying on a shelf in the Voorhees homestead. There are dozens of nods to horror and exploitation cinema as well as other film and literature references throughout the last 37 years. My personal favorite is when Ash traps his severed, possessed hand in a garbage can he then weights down with a stack of books. At the top of that stack: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
4) Groovy Girls
The women of the Evil Dead have been anything but typical. The original trio of Linda, Shelly, and Cheryl weren’t your typical scream queens. They may have fallen faster (and harder) to the evil possessing them but that didn’t stop them from being terrifying, nearly unstoppable killing machines. Annie Knowby opened the rift with a knife in her back while Sheila did her best to fight the evil and, after becoming its bride, tried to skewer her one time lover like an olive in a martini. Meanwhile, Ash vs Evil Dead has continued this tradition of strong female characters with Kelly Maxwell, Ruby, Brandy Barr/Williams, and Detective Fisher just to name a few. These are women who keep showing audiences again and again that fighting like a girl means kicking ass and taking names.
3) Evil Ashes
Evil Ash in Evil Dead 2 was a sudden, albeit it expected twist. Evil Ash appearing as a conjoined twin and then a decomposed doppelganger in Army of Darkness was the ultimate comedic foil and nemesis for our hero. No matter how many times we see it, from the tiny Ashes to the Ash clones in the television series, it’s a phenomenal metaphor for the fact that our hero will always be his own worst enemy. In his personal life, he’s a walking human disaster. As “the chosen one” he’s not exactly the messiah mankind had been hoping for. No matter how many times evil tries to pervert our already perverted protagonist, he stands his ground and saves the day every time.
2) So Much Blood!
Gallons of it. How many gallons? I don’t know. But every single body eviscerated from 1981 until 2018 has produced literally five times the amount of blood that the human body should be able to hold. The best example of this is the blood geyser erupting from the pit in Army of Darkness. Regardless of the size of the person, it seems that a Deadite can literally pulp a human body and explode it in a five minute long shower of liquid gore on command and, honestly, I don’t know a single fan of the franchise who isn’t thrilled by that.
1) Chainsaws. So Many Chainsaws.
Okay, one chainsaw, but it’s the hardest working chainsaw in Hollywood. The minute Ash slides his stump arm into that hastily Jerry rigged chainsaw the entire genre was turned on its side. Suddenly we had a good guy who was not only forced to resort to barbaric measures to stop a monster, but he had to physically modify his body to do it. It’s cheesy as hell but so cool at the same time that we can’t help but love the chainsaw arm!
I could write a book about the Evil Dead and my love for this series. I mean, it’s one of those things that has literally affected so many lives in so many ways and opened up worlds of possibility for genre filmmakers and fans. This Sunday Ash Williams will kill his last Deadite so join us -JOIN US- as we celebrate the end of an era and the close of another chapter in the Book of the Dead.
Dan Lee is a film critic, editorialist, independent author, and horror culture correspondent from Tennessee. You can also follow him on social media @dotdblog