The Evil Dead At 40: Movies Retrospective

The Evil Dead, one of the first horror films I ever saw as a kid and one that left a lasting impression on me. Seeing as the original film turns 40-years-old this October (15th)… and October being Halloween, I thought I would do a fitting movie retrospective. Pre-warning, this is going to be a big one.

Within the Woods

WITHIN THE WOODS TITLE

So, not technically an official Evil Dead film but Within the Woods could be seen more as a prototype to The Evil Dead. Released in 1978, this was written and directed by Sam Raimi, produced by Robert Tapert and starred Bruce Campbell. A trio of friends that would go on to create the entire Evil Dead franchise.

Within the Woods is a short 30-minute movie that tells the story of four teenagers spending the weekend in a cabin in the woods. An unseen evil force begins to stalk the teens as they settle into the cabin. Bruce (that’s his character’s name) tells his girlfriend that they’re actually staying on an ancient Indian burial ground, but assures her that things will be fine as long as they don’t disrespect the dead. Bruce then goes for a little exploration and finds a dagger that once belonged to the Indians. He decides to take the dagger, so completely ignoring his own advice about not disrespecting the dead.

Unsurprisingly, Bruce is later found dead when the others begin to worry that he has not returned and go looking for him. Of course, he returns from the dead, only now possessed. While hiding out in the cabin, the now possessed Bruce begins to terrorise his friends. He has his hand cut off, his body dismembered and possessed Bruce is finally stopped… but there’s a twist ending to show that it’s not quite over yet.

WITHIN THE WOODS SCREEN 1

When you watch Within the Woods, you can really see the origins of what would become The Evil Dead. The staples are there and quite a few of the early ideas from this film eventually ended up finding their way into the later movies (demonic possession, ancient dagger, Bruce having his hand cut off, etc). You’ll also definitely spot Sam Raimi’s direction style, even this early on. Bruce is the bad guy here and the film features some very basic but effective effects work. You can find the film fairly easily online with a quick interwebs search. But be warned, it is of very low quality. I don’t mean in terms of acting, etc (though that is true) more that the film quality itself is very poor. Honestly, it is barely watchable but still worth a look at just to see the origins of The Evil Dead.

WITHIN THE WOODS SCREEN 2

Within the Woods was actually shown in the cinema too. It was screened alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a local theatre in Detroit, Michigan. Raimi persuaded the cinema owner to screen the film to show people what he could do and try to raise some funds to make a bigger and better film. It worked. The film created a small buzz locally and Raimi managed to raise some capital from local business owners to ‘remake’ Within the Woods with a lot of the same cast and crew. That ‘remake’ became The Evil Dead.

The Evil Dead

TRHE EVIL DEAD

I really don’t think that this film needs an introduction or any kind of a plot synopsis. The Evil Dead is one of the most (in)famous and important horror films ever made. I’m still going to do one though. Once more, the trio of Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell team up to (basically) remake their earlier film, Within the Woods.

University students Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), Ash’s sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), friend Scott (Hal Delrich/Richard DeManincor) and Scott’s girlfriend, Shelly (Sarah York/Theresa Tilly) all head to a very remote cabin in the woods for a bit of fun. In the cabin, a cellar door is discovered and in that cellar, Ash and Scott find an ancient dagger, a tape recorder and a book… the Necronomicon, AKA the Book of the Dead. The tape recorder is played and on it is an incantation that calls forth a demonic entity.

TRHE EVIL DEAD SCREEN 1

The entity begins to possess the youngsters one by one, except for Ash. Ash soon finds himself fighting for his life (and his sanity) as he has to kill his possessed friends to stay alive, doing anything he can to survive the night. Dawn comes and Ash is the only one of the five left alive. Relieved, he leaves the cabin beaten, bruised and tired but alive… for a while.

I really don’t think I can say anything about The Evil Dead that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over the last four decades. It’s a classic, one of the finest horror films made, not just of the late seventies (when this was actually made, not released until 1981) but ever. Even today, it still has an impact and a unique style to the filmmaking that has never been matched… not even by the sequels.

I was a young kid in the early eighties the first time I saw The Evil Dead. My dad used to have an old reel-to-reel film projector (before VHS became commonplace) and he’d hang a white bedsheet to the wall to watch films. What was amazing about seeing The Evil Dead back then was the fact that it was pretty much impossible to do so here in England. The film was massively controversial and even declared as being ‘obscene’ here in the UK, largely thanks to Mary Whitehouse (look her up) and the whole ‘video nasty’ movement (look it up). Anyway, if anyone was caught selling or renting The Evil Dead, they could be prosecuted. As explained by the BBFC themselves:

“Although the cinema version had been approved by the BBFC, there were concerns that the lack of an effective age rating system on video – and the easy availability of videos once they entered the home – would inevitably lead to underage viewing. The video version was therefore seized from a large number of shops around the UK and, in many cases, the shop owners simply pleaded guilty to supplying an obscene article rather than incur the added expenses of trying to defend the film.”

THE EVIL DEAD SCREEN 2

Basically, the film was never banned here in the UK (as many people claim), but it was made illegal to sell and rent the film for the home market. So how my dad got hold of a copy, I have no idea. I was once told that Sam Raimi himself ‘accidentally’ leaked the film when he was over here in the UK having to defend the film in court and that was how my dad got a copy. I don’t know how true that story is though.

Anyway, from the first time I saw The Evil Dead to now, I have always loved it. It’s my favourite in the franchise. I love its rawness, its roughness, its bleakness. As Raimi himself said of the film… everything dies in it, even the music during the end credits. There never was supposed to be any sequels, everybody died at the end. Still, a sequel did happen and a franchise was born.

Evil Dead II

EVIL DEAD II TITLE

Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell are back again for the sequel to a film that was never meant to have a sequel. Evil Dead II… or to give it its publicity title, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Released in 1987, this one picks up right from where the last film ended. Now, there has often been debate over this sequel actually being a remake, it’s not. The debate is due to the fact that some events of the first film were retconned for the recap of this one.

I don’t want to get into it all right now, as I have a lot to get through. But the basic story is that, when it came to making this sequel, Sam Raimi wanted to recap the first film as it was very underground and not a huge hit (at the time). However, due to how the first film was financed, with Raimi raising funds from local businesses from his Within the Woods film, multiple people owned the rights to The Evil Dead. Those people all wanted money (lots of it) from Raimi to use footage from the film he made. Anyway, the budget for Evil Dead II was tight and Raimi couldn’t afford to pay to use footage from his own film (that legally was owned by others), so he just reshot a recap instead.

EVIL DEAD II SCREEN 1

If you listen to the commentary for this film, it is even said that they originally reshot the recap with all of the original characters. However, that proved to be too long for a recap, so it was condensed down to just Ash and Linda in the cabin, a few details were changed to keep the recap flowing and what we got was the 7-odd minute opening of The Evil Dead II to serve as a recap of The Evil Dead. Long story short, Evil Dead II isn’t a remake. I mean, one of the taglines for the film is: ‘The Sequel To The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror’… SEQUEL. Plus, you can (and fans have) edit the two films together by simply removing the recap of Evil Dead II and it flows as one long film, which would not be possible if it was a remake would it? This whole sequel vs remake debate has been going on for decades and still, some people refuse to accept Evil Dead II as a sequel… cos they’re fucking stupid.

Anyway, back to the film. So Ash didn’t die at the end (as originally planned). Instead, he was possessed by the evil force that smacked him in his chin at the end of the last film. The daybreak saves him from the possession taking him over fully. Back in the cabin and Ash’s hand is bitten by the head of his possessed girlfriend, Linda. Ash’s hand goes bad… so he lops it off with a chainsaw. Elsewhere, Annie, the daughter of the owner of the cabin, professor Knowby, returns from an expedition to find missing pages from the Necronomicon. Annie is with Ed and the two of them met you local yokels, Jake and Bobby Joe, who lead them to the cabin.

There, they find Ash and think he killed the professor and his wife, so they lock him in the cellar. Of course, everything goes wrong, the evil starts possessing people again. Ash has his own literal demons to deal with in terms of his own half-possession/Evil Ash, while also trying to clear out the cabin of Deadities again. Annie reads out an incantation from the missing Necronomicon pages and Ash is sent back in time (and space) to medieval England, along with his car.

EVIL DEAD II SCREEN 2

This seems to really be the fan favourite of the franchise. I can see why too. The quality is far superior all round. The acting is better, Sam Raimi has definitely grown as a director, the effects work is amazing, the story has a lot more meat on the bones and more. It is arguably a ‘better’ film than the first… not an argument I agree with though. I love Evil Dead II but I also strongly feel that The Evil Dead was just a much more effective as a movie.

Evil Dead II is ‘tamer’ as a horror film. It uses a much more comedic slant, which for me, lessens the impact. I think that Evil Dead II is a perfect blending of the horror and comedy genres though and as I said, I do love the film too. I just love the first one much more.

Army of Darkness

ARMY OF DARKNESS TITLE

The holy trinity of Raimi, Tapert and Campbell returned to the world of the Deadites for the third (fourth, if you want to count Within The Woods) time. Released in 1992 and it continues with Ash being sent to medieval England. As with Evil Dead II, this one retcons the recap… yet no one calls this a remake do they?

Ash is captured by Lord (pre-King) Arthur’s men and taken to his castle. Ash is suspected of being one of Duke Henry’s men, of whom, Arthur is at war with. Poor Ash gets thrown into a death-pit and is attacked by a Deadite, which he kills. Now seen as a hero, Ash sees Duke Henry freed, while the attractive maiden, Sheila catches his eye. Arthur’s wise man tells our hero that the only way he can get back home to his own time is to obtain the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. After some very memorable one-liners, Ash sets out to retrieve the book.

There’s a haunted forest, a windmill, a broken mirror, Ash ‘grows’ an Evil Ash, kills and buries him. Soon, Ash finds the Necronomicon… well three of them actually. After some high jinx, Ash gets the right book… but flubs the magic words he was supposed to say that would allow him to remove the book safely. Hurrying back to the castle with his prize, unbeknownst that his shenanigans have unleashed the evil and raised the dead… including the evil version of himself. Back at the castle, Ash wants to get sent back to his own time ASAFP. Sheila gets abducted by a flying Deadite and Ash decides to stick around for a while to save Sheila and help Arthur and his men defeat the Deadite army. The Necronomicon is placed in a  secure tower… where professor Knowby will find it a great many years later and take it back to his cabin in the woods. Yes, it was Ash who helped get the book to Knowby that would then create all the shit that led to Ash being sent back in time.

ARMY OF DARKNESS SCREEN 1

Anyway, Ash gets help from Duke Henry and his men, as well as his old university books that were in the back of his car. Doing an A-Team, Ash kits out his car to make it a death-machine to help kick some Deadite bum-cheeks. Evil Ash and the newly Deaditie-ed Sheila attack the castle with an Army of Darkness. Of course Ash wins, saves Sheila and (depending on which cut you watch) gets sent back home.

Truth be told, I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this film. I’ll be the first in line to admit that it is pretty damn awesome… but it’s also so far removed from what I love that it never sits right with me. Much like Rocky IV, it’s great but pretty stupid. I’m honestly not a fan of Ash here, he’s a complete prick and just not the character I adore so much.

The horror elements are all but gone and replaced with full-on comedy, often very Three Stooges-like (Sam Raimi is a huge fan). Plus, I feel the studio interference really stopped Raimi from making the film he really wanted to make. Originally titled The Medieval Dead (a brilliant title) and supposed to be much more in line with the perfect blending of the horror and comedy genres that was Evil Dead II. The suits decided that they wanted to move away from the Evil Dead franchise (hence the name change) and make a film that would be more marketable, Evil Dead wasn’t even mentioned in the marketing for this film anywhere despite that fact this is a sequel. So the horror elements were dialled back on and the suits even told Raimi to change the original ending.

ARMY OF DARKNESS SCREEN 2

See, originally, Army of Darkness ended with Ash being sent to a post-apocalyptic future (possibly) overrun with Deadites. As I said, this is the original ending and the one you’ll find on the director’s cut, etc. However, the studio felt it is too downbeat and got Sam Raimi to change it to the more often seen S-Mart ending with Ash going back to his own time killing Deadites and getting the girl. For me, the S-Mart ending just didn’t work. But the original post-apocalyptic really opened the doors to great potential. Just imagine Ash Williams as a Mad Max type in a desolate world taking out Deadites in his souped-up Oldsmobile Delta 88.

As entertaining as Army of Darkness is, I just can’t help but feel more than a little disappointed with it. Of the trilogy, I’ll always favour watching the original over any of the others, it’s one of the most ‘perfect’ horror films ever made. Evil Dead II is (as I have said) the perfect blending of the horror and comedy genres. It’s a fantastic watch and one of the most fun films you could ever see. As for Army of Darkness, it is great… just not great enough.

Evil Dead

EVIL DEAD TITLE

I guess it had to happen eventually… the dreaded horror remake. While Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell were on board as producers, that was it. A whole host of new blood was brought in for the remake with Fede Álvarez taking the reigns as director and Evil Dead was released in 2013.

Plot-wise, this pretty much follows the original film. You’ve got five young adults meeting up at a cabin in the woods. An evil is released and one by one, they become possessed. One survivor, Mia, has to fight for her life. There’s really not much point in my dwelling on the plot as aside from some small changes, it is basically The Evil Dead.

I recall when I first heard tell of this remake. I’m not necessarily someone who gets upset over a beloved film being remade, but I really couldn’t muster any interest in seeing The Evil Dead updated for a modern audience. I didn’t so much go out of my way to avoid anything to do with the film, but more so that I just didn’t bother seeking it out. I didn’t watch the trailer and I didn’t read any articles covering the film. There was just no interest for me, even with Raimi, Tapert and Campbell as producers.

Then, one rainy April evening in 2013, the girlfriend said she wanted to go and watch a film. There really wasn’t much that took my fancy and of the slim pickings on offer, Evil Dead was the only thing that I was possibly even very slightly interested in seeing…so we did. Anyway, I came out of the cinema with a huge smile on my face. I mean, it was no The Evil Dead but Evil Dead was still pretty damn great. It was raw, bloody and (mostly) practical effects-driven. It wasn’t a good horror film for a remake, it was just a good horror film in its own right.

EVIL DEAD TITLE SCREEN 1

There were a lot of rumours of a sequel and even the idea of connecting the Ash and Mia universes. Thankfully that never happened as it was a shit idea and Evil Dead is (as of writing) a standalone film…as it should be. Truth be told, aside from seeing the film back in 2013, I’ve never re-watched it, until doing this retrospective. I still think it holds up well too. My heart will always be with the original, but this is a fine take on the classic and well worth watching. A film that mixes the old with the new, pays respects to its roots and creates a pretty effective horror film.


That was pretty much it for the Evil Dead franchise, though the evil did possess into other forms of media. I’ve already taken a look at the video games. But there was a series of comics that were quite popular too. Perhaps the most ‘interesting’ thing to spawn from The Evil Dead was the musical… oh yeah, there was a musical.

Evil Dead

EVIL DEAD MUSICAL TITLE

Originally performed in 2003 in Toronto, Ontario. Given full approval by both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead (musical) was a huge success and has often been compared to The Rocky Horror Show. Which is wonderfully fitting seeing as that small film that started the franchise, Within the Woods, was shown with screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The plot of the stage show is an amalgamation of all three films, but mostly taking place during the events of the first two films. After its initial run, Evil Dead became an off-Broadway production in 2006. Over the years, it has seen many different versions played all over the world. One of the most notable was the ‘ultimate 4D experience’ version that introduced the ‘splatter zone’. Here, audience members were put in direct line of fire of the blood and gore of the performance.

EVIL DEAD MUSICAL SCREEN 1

During the final performance of the shows run in Pensacola, Florida, the leading ladies from the original film (Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker and Theresa Tilly) all appeared in cameo roles. Bruce Campbell has seen the show and loved it and even done a Q&A session after one show. The musical has really evolved over the years too. From a very low-budget and small production, to a much more lavish and grandiose stage show. Even more so… it’s still going today too with performances up to January 2022 (covid permitting). If it makes it to 2023 (and I hope it does), it’ll be running for two decades. That’s pretty damn impressive.

Now, I’ve never seen the show live myself, I’d love to. But I have seen recordings of it, you can find various ones pretty easily on the interwebs and honestly, it’s stupidly good fun. There’s also an interesting documentary looking at how the whole thing came about right here. Evil Dead as a musical shouldn’t work… but it really does in all honesty. It is campy, funny, bloody and really well performed.

Ash vs Evil Dead

ASH VS EVIL DEAD

For many years, there were rumours of a sequel film in the franchise for Ash Williams to return, even before the 2013 remake. An Army of Darkness 2 was eventually confirmed to be happening back in 2013 (by Bruce Campbell) after the success of the remake. But the film never saw the light of day. Instead, it evolved into Ash vs Evil Dead, a TV show that works as a direct sequel to the original films. With Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell back as producers. Raimi even writing and directing the first episode too.

While the rights for Army of Darkness were (still are) tied up in all sorts of red tape, nothing from that film could be used directly, even though this show clearly takes place (many years) after the S-Mart ending of the film. Still, the rights for the first two films were much easier to clear, so there are more direct references and even footage from those films used in Ash vs Evil Dead. Running for three seasons from 2015 to 2018 with ten episodes per season. There was a lot more here than the proposed Army of Darkness 2 film that was never made. As there is so much to cover, I’m not going to go through every episode, but the basic plot has the evil return (due to Ash being an idiot… again) and Ash teaming up with some younger and new blood to save the day… again.

ASH VS EVIL DEAD SCREEN 1

While I did start watching Ash vs Evil Dead, I never made it through the entire show. There are several reasons why. First, as I said when talking about Army of Darkness, it’s my least favourite of the films. As this is a continuation of that style and premise, it just didn’t work for me. I like my Evil Dead to be raw. That’s why I adore the first film and most probably why I enjoyed the remake far more than I thought I would. Ash vs Evil Dead lacks what I love about the franchise. Second, there are just too many writers and directors. I know TV shows often use multiple writers and directors, but some of the better TV shows stick with a much smaller team. Often great TV shows stick with one or a very small team of writers and directors. With Ash vs Evil Dead every episode is a different writer and director from the last and there’s very little consistency. The first episode is great, co-written by Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan, directed by Sam Raimi too… then it all just goes off the boil after that and the show feels very uneven.

ASH VS EVIL DEAD SCREEN 2

Third, I really don’t like Ash as a character from Army of Darkness. Yeah, I know as an Evil Dead fan that saying you don’t like Ash is sacrilege, but I really don’t like him. Loved the character in the first film, very much enjoyed him in Evil Dead II. But in Army of Darkness, he’s just a prick and that ‘prickness’ is massively overdone here. I get that he’s supposed to be an outdated dinosaur in the show, but I still don’t like it and putting up with him for thirty episodes of a TV show was just too much for me.

Now, that is not to say I hate the show because I don’t. I just feel it was a little too much. Evil Dead is not a long and complicated plot, you really don’t need three seasons of ten episodes each to tell the story and in all honesty, I just got bored. Admittedly, the show has some great moments including going back to the cabin from the first film and meeting Ash’s dad. The show is crammed full of references and in-jokes that I did get a kick out of. But still, this was just too much to swallow. Ironically, I probably would’ve much preferred the Army of Darkness 2 film that the show derived from more than the TV show the film became, especially if Sam Raimi had been in full writing and directing control.

Ash vs Evil Dead is a perfectly fine show. I know that Army of Darkness fans love it but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. While I didn’t watch every episode to make it through to the finale, I did watch the final episode. It’s an ending that borrows quite heavily from the original ending to Army of Darkness and that just pissed me off even more because that’s the film I want to see. I want to see Ash being all Mad Max in a post-apocalyptic future, killing Deadites in his modified Delta 88. Twice this franchise has teased me and not followed through… twice!

ASH VS EVIL DEAD SCREEN 3

And well, that was it for Evil Dead as a franchise. Bruce Campbell announced he was retiring the Ash Williams character. Ash vs Evil Dead was cancelled, so I never did get to see the post-apocalyptic Deadite film I’ve always wanted. Of course, true evil can never end and there was the announcement of Evil Dead: The Game with Campbell back as Ash..the character he said he’s not going to play again. But there was more…

Evil Dead Rise

EVIL DEAD RISE TITLE

Sorry, no trailer for this one as it has not yet been released (as of writing). But yeah, there’s another film is coming next year. Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell are back as producers once more and Campbell has said that he is not in the film, so no Ash Williams then. Details on Evil Dead Rise are very hard to find right now. Is it a film that takes place in the Ash Williams universe, a follow up to the 2013 remake or an all-new restart to the franchise? I did find a brief synopsis for the film:

“In Evil Dead Rise, a road-weary Beth pays an overdue visit to her older sister Ellie, who is raising three kids on her own in a cramped L.A apartment. The sisters’ reunion is cut short by the discovery of a mysterious book deep in the bowels of Ellie’s building, giving rise to flesh-possessing demons, and thrusting Beth into a primal battle for survival as she is faced with the most nightmarish version of motherhood imaginable.”

For starters, that’s a very different setting from the previous films in the franchise. An apartment in Los Angeles is a far cry from a remote cabin in the woods. This is a huge change that could either really work or fall flat on its face. The isolation of the original films is what made them worth watching and added a layer of desperation to the characters. If they are now in downtown LA… just get the police involved. Also, while Sam Raimi is producing, he’s not writing or directing. Lee Cronin is taking over both writing and directing duties. Cronin wrote and directed the 2019 film, The Hole in the Ground. I’ve not seen it (yet) so I have no idea of his style. Still, with such a drastic change of setting and a new writer/director at the helm, just how Evil Dead is this new film going to be?

Lee Cronin has been sharing a few details on the film over on his Twitter. I think principal photography on the film is done. Cronin did share this Tweet:
https://twitter.com/curleecronin/status/1424524511416930304

So if it was only ‘3 weeks to go’ in August when that was posted… it’s got to be finished now in October. I’m actually going to stay open-minded about this one. I originally didn’t think I was going to enjoy the 2013 remake, but I did. So yeah, I’m pretty optimistic for Evil Dead Rise. I’m interested to see how this fits in with all that has come before it, or even if it does fit in anywhere at all. If this film is going to tie in with the original trilogy and TV show, or the remake, or even be its own separate universe. Evil Dead Rise is a film that has definitely piqued my interest as a fan of the franchise and I’m looking forward to what Lee Cronin has in store for us. Now I’m off to check out his debut film, The Hole in the Ground, to get a feel for what kind of writer and director he is.

This is the second of my The Evil Dead At 40 article celebrations to mark four decades of one of my favourite horror films. I have one more coming up at the end of the month for Halloween.

The Evil Dead At 40: Games Retrospective

In June of this year, I did a rather large Raiders at 40 celebration, as Raiders of the Lost Ark turned 40-years-old. It was a fun and lengthy write-up where I covered a great many Raiders and Indiana Jones topics. Well, another one of my favourite films turns 40 this year, it was originally released in October too (the 15th, if you wanted to know). ‘Tis the Halloween season and all, so why not celebrate four decades of Ashley ‘Ash’ Joanna Williams and his numerous Deaditie troubles with a multi-article The Evil Dead celebration for my annual Halloween special? Kicking things off right, I take a look at every The Evil Dead video game over the years.

A quick thanks in advance to all the YouTuber’s footage I link to, just give the game titles a click.

The Evil Dead

EVIL DEAD C64 TITLE

The very first The Evil Dead game was based on the first film, which was released way back in 1984. Developed and published by British studio, Palace Software and released on 8-bit microcomputers the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro. The game pretty much follows the plot of the film. You play as Ash in the famed cabin and your friends have been possessed by the demons. Being the last alive, Ash has to kill any Deadites that keep entering the cabin via the use of various weapons that randomly spawn. Find the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) and burn it in the fireplace to win.

What is interesting about the ZX Spectrum version is that it was never ‘officially’ released. If you have clicked the gameplay link up there ^^^, then that is clearly explained. The Evil Dead game was actually put on the b-side of the tape to another game called Cauldron. Supposedly, the Speccy version was an unfinished port of the C64 original when it was put on the Cauldron tape as a ‘free game’, as stated on the cover of Cauldron for the ZX Spectrum. Still, The Evil Dead could be seen as an early precursor to the survival-horror genre of games.

Another interesting titbit is that you don’t just go around killing off Deadites in the game, you have to keep closing the windows of the cabin to try and keep the Deadites out. They do eventually break their way in and you have to try to close them again. So, you are in an enclosed location, undead enemies keep spawning and breaking in through the windows and you have to board them back up while fighting off the undead. Does any of that sound familiar? Basically, this was Call of Duty: Zombies twenty-four years before Call of Duty: Zombies even existed.

EVIL DEAD C64 SCREEN

The Evil Dead was hardly a deep or very involving game, they just weren’t back then though. It was a game you put on for about an hour, had a few goes at getting a high score, then loaded up another game. At the time, it reviewed pretty well with a lot of publications comparing it to Atic Atac. Can’t say I ever understood why exactly, aside from the top-down view and the bare basic idea of killing enemies, they were nothing alike. Atic Atac was more adventure-RPG like, while The Evil Dead was more action/survival-horror (with a lack of any real horror). Anway, The Evil Dead was an okay game back then, horribly dated now, but still a decent romp back in 1984. Just a shame we would have to wait so damn long for the next game based on the films.

Evil Dead: Hail to the King

EVIL DEAD HAIL TO THE KING TITLE

Released just a short sixteen years after the first game, came the Evil Dead: Hail to the King in the space year of 2000, developed by Heavy Iron Studios and published by THQ. Storywise, this kind of works as a sequel to Army of Darkness (before the TV show existed that is) as it is set eight years after the events of that film. You play as Ash and he is in a relationship with a fellow S-Mart worker, Jenny. Ash suffers from nightmares over the events of the films and Jenny does the really stupid thing of suggesting that Ash needs to go to Professor Knowby’s cabin to (quite literally) face his demons. Of course, shit goes sideways fast and the famed tape is played, the evil is released (again), Jenny goes missing. After a quick stop off at the toolshed, Ash arms himself with his chainsaw hand and goes out to kick some Deadite bum-cheeks and tries to save Jenny.

Gameplay-wise, this can very easily be summed up as Resident Evil wearing a The Evil Dead hat. Fixed camera angles, stiff tank controls, tight inventory management, game saves by the use of limited ink ribbons (in this case, reel to reel tapes), etc. Copying Resident Evil is all well and good… if it was still 1996. Even by 2000, this game felt dated. Evil Dead: Hail to the King certainly did a great job of recapturing the mood of the films and even expanding on the lore. Obviously, a game set purely in the cabin would be dull, so there are quite a few locations to discover and everything does feel very The Evil Dead, without ever feeling out of place. Plus there’s a ton of references to the films to find too. Oh and there’s a button to press just to deliver an Ash one-liner.

EVIL DEAD HAIL TO THE KING SCREEN

It is hard to outright hate this game as a fan of The Evil Dead, but it’s also easy to spot its many clunky flaws as a game fan. This is a bare basic Resident Evil clone, of which there were endless clones of back then. Sadly, Evil Dead: Hail to the King never really did anything to stand out in the crowded market of Resident Evil clones. It being set in the same universe as The Evil Dead gave it a bit of an edge I guess, just not a sharp enough one. Overall, Evil Dead: Hail to the King was an okay game with some stubborn combat and controls. The biggest highlight of the game was the fact that Bruce Campbell voiced Ash, something he would do for (almost) every game in this retrospective from this point on.

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick

EVIL DEAD FISTFULL OF BOOMSTICK

This one was developed by VIS Entertainment and published by THQ and released in 2003. Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick actually serves as a sequel to the previous Evil Dead: Hail to the King. Set three years after the events of the last game, Ash is getting drunk in a bar on the anniversary of the death of Jenny from the last game (she was hit by a bus apparently). The TV in the bar is playing an episode of Mysteries of the Occult, a TV show that focuses on… mysteries of the Occult. Anyway, the show is broadcast live and it plays the last known tape of Professor Knowby’s Necronomicon translation. If you have been keeping up with The Evil Dead lore, then you already know that is a very, very bad thing to do. So yeah, the evil spreads through the town, thanks to that broadcast and it is up to Ash to sort things out… again.

Unlike the previous game, which was pretty dated and restrictive, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is actually more open. It’s not full-on open-world stuff, but the areas in the game are partially explorable and not always on a linear path. In terms of the gameplay itself, it’s more like a 3D scrolling, hack ‘n slash game over a Resident Evil clone. There’s much more of an emphasis on action (and some light puzzle-solving), Ash is armed to the teeth with weapons to blow the Deadites away. There’s also a lot of interactions with the various residents and numerous characters through the game, they give Ash jobs to do that are added to your ‘to do list’.

EVIL DEAD FISTFULL OF BOOMSTICK SCREEN

While still a bit ropey and rough around the edges, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is a vast improvement over the previous game. There’s just so much more to do and the game feels much more open. It may be nothing more than just a 3D scrolling beat ’em up, but it’s a pretty decent one overall and a far better use of The Evil Dead IP.

Evil Dead: Regeneration

EVIL DEAD REGENERATION

Released in 2005 from developer Cranky Pants Games and published by THQ (again), Evil Dead: Regeneration sets up a whole new timeline. Though still taking place after the events of the first two films (Army of Darkness never happened here), it actually changes and retells the events of Evil Dead II to form an alternate story. Instead of Ash being sent to medieval England, he is put in an insane asylum for killing all of his friends at Professor Knowby’s cabin. Ash’s doctor, Dr Reinhard, has gotten hold of the Necronomicon and wants to use the book’s evil to ‘reshape the world’ (his words). So of course, Dr Reinhard reads from the book, unleashes the evil and it is up to Ash to clean things up… again… again.

As with the last game, this is a hack ‘n slash type of game with a few minor puzzles. Ash taking out Deadites with an arsenal of weapons. The game mechanics are simple and shallow, but really damn satisfying nonetheless. There is one gameplay mechanic that is both brilliant and brilliantly annoying, Sam. See, quite early on in the game, Ash meets Sam and Sam is a twisted experiment of Dr Reinhard. He’s an undead, half-human half-Deadite. Sam (voiced by Ted Raimi) is used to help Ash in his quest and can be abused and killed over and over again as he regenerates (title!).  It has been said that the Sam character is named after the director of the films, Sam Raimi, and the fact that you can kick, punish and kill him so much in the game is payback for all the times that Sam Raimi (lovingly) punished Bruce Campbell when making the films.

EVIL DEAD REGENERATION SCREEN

Overall, this is the best Evil Dead game made so far. It’s hardly high art and its mechanics are basic hack ‘n slash stuff. Yet, it is still really damn good fun to play. The interactions between Ash and Sam are genuinely funny, the locations in the game are varied and it all feels very Evil Dead. I think that most (if not all) Evil Dead and game fans would have this as their favourite Evil Dead game.

Army of Darkness: Defense

ARMY OF DARKNESS DEFENCE TITLE

There’s really not much to say about this one. It’s a very typical castle/tower defence game for mobile devices. You indirectly control Ash as he fights hordes of Deadties trying to steal the Necronomicon from the castle. You know the climactic final battle in Army of Darkness? This whole game is based on that scene. Use Ash and various troops to take on the relentless Deadites. Earn upgrades, power-up Ash and your troops upgrade the castle, take on more Deadites. Rinse and repeat for several hours.

ARMY OF DARKNESS DEFENCE SCREEN

This is not a very involving game, but to be honest, very few castle/tower defence games are. Still, for this sub-genre, Army of Darkness: Defense is perfectly fine. Unlike the previous games (with the exception of the 1984 game), Bruce Campbell doesn’t voice Ash directly in this game, but speech samples are ripped straight from the film instead. So technically, Bruce is still voicing Ash, I guess? As far as I am aware, this game is no longer available to download (licensing issues I believe)… or perhaps that should read that Army of Darkness: Defense is no longer available to ‘legally’ download…


And that is it for all of The Evil Dead games. For a franchise as loved as it is, the games side of things really let it down. It’s not that they’re bad, because they’re not. All of those games up there are certainly playable. But it is more a case of that there just haven’t been enough games based on the IP over the years. There’s a lot of scope there to explore too, what with portals, time travel and as Evil Dead: Regeneration proved, alternate timelines and stories to play around with. They could’ve made so many more games and had a lot of fun along the way. But that is the lot, a very basic survival horror game from 1984, a very average Resident Evil clone, a couple of hack ‘n slash titles and a castle/tower defence mobile title in forty years since the first film. That is a pretty weak lineup for such a much-loved franchise.

Okay, so there are a couple of quick games I need to mention before I end this one.

Poker Night 2

POKER NIGHJT 2

Released in 2014 from Telltale Games was Poker Night 2. This was a… wait for it… a poker game. You remember back when everyone and their mother’s were playing poker? Anyway, the game featured four characters from other franchises and one of those characters was Ash Williams.

Now, you couldn’t play as Ash (or any of the other characters), you just played poker against him. In Poker Night 2, Ash was in full-on Army of Darkness mode, cocky, arrogant and full of one-liners. For the first time in a game (excluding the 1984 one), Ash was not voiced by Bruce Campbell but by Danny Webber instead. This was actually a pretty decent poker game with quite a few unlockable extras.

Evil Dead: The Game

EVIL DEAD THE GAME

Then finally, there is this. As yet unreleased and now delayed twice. Evil Dead: The Game will be a multiplayer co-op and PvP game. The most recent delay is said to be because the developers want to include a single-player mode. Looking very much like a Friday the 13th: The Game, Dead by Daylight asymmetrical type of thing. Taking assets from the entire Evil Dead franchise from the first film through to the TV show (I don’t think the 2013 remake is included). 

It looks like you can play as either the good guys or the Kandarian demons. I’d expect some heavy team playing here with different characters having to use their strengths and weakness to take out the opposing team. I’ve actually had a review code request for Evil Dead: The Game since December 2020 when it was originally announced. Hopefully, I’ll get it and can do a review when the game is finally released early 2022… if it’s not delayed… again.

I have more The Evil Dead groovyness coming up all through October to celebrate, not just the awesome franchise, but Halloween too.

The Evil Dead

Its Halloween, so I’m going to turn the spotlight on one of my all time favourite horror films ever made…

poster

Little Bit of History: Written and directed by Sam Raimi. Produced by Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Robert Tapert. The Evil Dead was relased in 1981 but filmed over several years between 1977 and 1979.
The film is technically a remake of Sam Raimi’s own (any VERY low quality) Within The Woods which was a film Sam made to show to investors in order to help fund The Evil Dead. Originally titled; The Book Of The Dead, but re-titled to The Evil Dead as there wad concern people would think they would have to read during the film.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: A group of five friends go to a cabin in the woods to do what teenagers do, smoke weed and have sex. However they unleash an evil force by playing a recording that has been made by a professor who translated an ancient text. The evil, possesses the friends one by one turning them into demons (not zombies). Each one becomes possessed until only one remains and manages to survive and beat the evil…or do they?

Little Bit of Character: Bruce Campbell plays the unlikely hero, Ash with Betsy Baker playing his girlfriend Linda. Ellen Sandweiss plays Cheryl, Richard DeManincor (credited as Hal Delrich) was Ash’s best friend Scott with Theresa Tilly (as Sarah York) playing Shelly.

Little Bit of Influence: The Evil Dead started with very humble beginnings but had a strong cult following and went on to spawn its own franchise with two sequels, a string of games based on the film(s), comic books and even a live stage show musical. The film also went on to be remade (really well) in 2013. There is even a TV show called Ash Vs Evil Dead coming out in a few days. The Evil Dead has gone on to become a world (in)famous phenomenon, not too bad seeing as the film was made by a bunch of inexperienced teenagers only filming on the weekends when they could over the course of several years. Writer/director Sam Raimi became one of the biggest names working in Hollywood today.

Little Bit of Memories: I have vague memories of seeing this film on an old projector back in the early 80s and I’m from England where the film was banned outright for many years so where that copy of the film came from I have no idea. I rediscovered the film many years later in my late teens in the late 90s but it was heavily edited. It was not until the early 2000’s when a change in management at the BBFC saw many previously banned or heavily edited films finally relased fully uncut that I saw The Evil Dead as it was intended.

Little Bit of Watchability: This is one of my all time favourite films ever made. Its very low budget, cheesy, badly acted…but it is a film that clearly had a lot of heart and passion from the people involved in making it. Despite its low budget and lack of experienced cast and crew, the film is beautifully shot and really innovative for its time. I urge any and every horror fan to watch this even if only once, but please put aside the low quality script, acting, etc and just enjoy one of the most terrifying and gruesome horror films of the 70s/80s.

Demon

Cheryl:You will die! Like the others before you, one by one, we will take you.

There’s more Evil Dead to come with my look at the original Commodore 64 game as well as try to clear up the “is Evil Dead II a remake?” misconception…join us…

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