What Is the Best 'Evil Dead' Movie? – the Groovy Countdown
What is the Best Evil Dead Film?
Throughout the years, Sam Raimi has been criticized for delaying new installments of the Evil Dead saga. With such a rich universe, it looks like he could be delivering stuff more regularly. Within 37 years, he has only given us three movies, a sort of remake (not directed by him), and only until recently, a TV show. Considering the large fandom behind the adventures of Ash Williams, it hasn’t been that much.
But that is probably the reason why every entry, even with its flaws, have been embraced and valued with affection by the audience and the critics. When Raimi and Campbell decide to get something out, it’s because they really want to do it.
Here, we’ll dare to do what every fan of the saga has done at least once: create an evil dead movies list countdown.
No, we won’t include Ash Vs. Evil Dead in the ranking (although it would probably occupy the third place). Yes, the show offered us 15 hours of solid over-the-top entertainment, with wonderful practical effects, the spirit of Raimi-Campbell intact, new memorable characters and above all an aged, great Ash Williams. But the medium is just very different to compare it with the other four movies.
Also, if we include the TV Show, we should be consistent and also include the Evil Dead comics and video games. See our point? That’s why we’ll limit this to the question: "What is the best Evil Dead movie?".
So here it is! Our Evil Dead cinematic universe countdown.
4) Evil Dead (2013)
Being last in this short ranking should not be considered a failure at all.
The task assigned to Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez was practically doomed to failure. After more than 20 years, he had to replace Sam Raimi and deliver a new Evil Dead movie where Ash Williams was NOT going to appear.
There’s no way that sounded like it was going to be a hit.
The amazing thing about Evil Dead is that it ended up emerging as a movie with a great personality, shining with its own brightness. Alvarez brilliantly plays ambiguity and never makes it clear if this is a sequel or a remake, making it look like both, without irritating the fanbase. There are of course a lot of callbacks to the original trilogy, but in general, this has its own seal.
Fede Alvarez places the great Jane Levy as the central figure of this story, and the little actress does such an incredible job that by the end you cannot stop fantasizing about seeing her sharing focus with Bruce Campbell in the future.
Evil Dead is a solid horror movie with some serious gore. Its script also has a fantastic comment about self-destruction and drug abuse that makes it look more intelligent than one would think.
Unfortunately, that same dark borderline body horror tone shows that this move has a very different DNA from what we really know as Evil Dead. And that’s the main reason why this movie is placed last on this list.
Not Ash Williams nor Deadites muppets? That’s just a very difficult cookie to swallow.
3) Army Of Darkness (1992)
The third installment of the saga was also the most ambitious, by far. Practically since The Evil Dead premiered, Sam Raimi envisioned Ash fighting against deadites in the Middle Ages. After many failed attempts, the funding for it finally came (well, not exactly the huge amount Raimi was expecting) thanks to the success of Evil Dead II and Darkman, and Sam Raimi made sure to make the most of it.
Evil Dead 3 – Army Of Darkness delivers what it promises. This looks like a movie twice as expensive and has a third act full of explosions and swordfights between two very different armies. There are stop-motion skeletons, horrendous creatures, catapults and even flying harpies.
It also offers the most self-aware and cocky version of Ash Williams possible, evolving (or devolving, depending on where you look at it) the character to the place which we would end up later enjoying in Ash Vs. Evil Dead.
Perhaps the only problem of Army Of Darkness is that its same ambition ended up diluting a bit the magic that turned the first two films into absolute classics. Raimi opens the camera to show more the scope of its epic history and leaves behind the intimate and artisanal horror beauty.
Beyond the obvious budget expansion, Army Of Darkness didn’t really make the saga grow. Its humor is not as effective as in Evil Dead II and its practical effects didn’t break schemes like The Evil Dead. And considering that Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released the previous year, Army Of Darkness actually end up looking rather simple.
Army Of Darkness is undoubtedly a great conclusion to the trilogy. But as a stand-alone movie, it didn’t have anywhere near the impact of the first two.
2) The Evil Dead (1981)
The story behind The Evil Dead could make for another great movie in itself. This was made for a group of childhood friends led by Sam Raimi, who decided to make their first movie with all the possible shortcomings: A small crew, a minimum budget, and a generalized plain inexperience. The shooting was a hell in itself, in a wild, cold and hostile location that broke bones and drew a lot of blood.
But the creative power of Raimi and his childhood friends was so contagious that not only did they overcome all those obstacles with enviable creativity, but they also won over Stephen King as a fan and practically motivated the Coen Brothers to start their legendary careers as directors.
Oh and also, the result of all that was The Evil Dead.
The Evil Dead is the quintessential “cabin in the woods” movie, no matter how many films have been done before or since. The number of tropes imposed by this film is so numerous that even today its impact and legacy is recognized.
The Evil Dead is beloved for the way the visual effects were solved, in addition to that emblematic POV through the forest and the introduction to the world of the character of Ash.
It’s undoubtedly one of the best horror films of all time. And yet, The Evil Dead is not the best movie in the series.
What is the best Evil Dead Movie?
1) Evil Dead II (1987)
What else can be said about this absolute jewel of entertainment cinema?
Evil Dead II is simply the most unlikely classic ever filmed.
Conceived as a last resort when other projects didn’t come out and written almost as a passive-aggressive self-parody when they couldn’t get the funding they wanted for a medieval setting, Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel created something that on paper sounded like an insult to the The Evil Dead fan base. This was now a comedy. As if Spock suddenly turned into a clumsy playboy overnight or Darth Vader will begin to show an unexpected love for samba music.
But it wasn’t a failure. The drastic change of tone and the brazen boycott of continuity worked perfectly. Evil Dead II would end up becoming the real inventor of the splatstick genre.
Perhaps unknowingly, Sam Raimi was getting his real voice as a filmmaker. His heart-wrenching cynicism, exquisite humor and cartoonish way of solving situations ended up creating an absolute masterpiece.
Evil Dead 2 talks volumes about the overwhelming talent of Sam Raimi, but it also talks a lot about Bruce Campbell’s talent on perhaps the only thing he knows how to do with total mastery, which is to play Ash Williams.
If Raimi managed to create a quality gem, it was because for 80% of the time he had Campbell alone in front of the camera sweating his ass off. His over-the-top acting, his physical presence, his legendary slapstick and above all the overwhelming charisma of the character is the main reason why Evil Dead ended up being a thing.
Hands down, Raimi and Campbell are one of the reasons why that cliché of “there is magic on the set” exists.
I don't think that I'm in a minority here with the top pick compared to the Resident Evil ranking I did before. I hope you enjoyed our ranking of the Evil Dead movies.
© 2019 Sam Shepards