The Evil Dead franchise has a…dynamic history, to say the least. What started out as a supernatural horror film developed into a horror comedy with a cult following. Where Evil Dead (1981) toes the line between camp and comedy, the following installments embraced the chaos full throttle. That’s where we get the bits Evil Dead is seemingly most known for: the chainsaw, Ash’s manic laughter, a hand with a mind of its own and, of course, “Groovy.”
At least, that was the trajectory of the first few installments. The two latest films in the franchise have cut back on the absurdity and put the focus back on horror. Evil Dead (2013) and Evil Dead Rise (2023) take two different approaches to rebooting the franchise—and fans already have a clear favorite.
Evil Dead (2013) uses what we’ll call “the top-down method.” It takes all those memorable bits from the early films and repackages them with new characters. It’s almost like someone watched the first movies, wrote down everything they could remember, and used that as the building blocks for the new film. It’s not exactly the same movie as the original—Ash and his friends were out for a fun weekend in the woods, while Mia’s in the middle of a drug intervention—but it’s nearly a beat-for-beat retelling.
That’s not necessarily bad; it wouldn’t be Evil Dead if there wasn’t a chainsaw. Unfortunately, it’s not good either…especially when it means I have to watch the disgusting tree thing again when we really could have just cut that part this time around, don’t you think? (No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?) While it’s a solid horror movie, there’s a lukewarm feeling about it amongst most franchise fans.
Evil Dead Rise takes a different approach. The opening sequence is familiar—shaky cam through the forest, cabin in the woods, gruesome bloodshed—then cuts to a completely different story. The bulk of the story unfolds in a rundown apartment building in the middle of the city, following a mother and her three children. When Mom gets possessed by a demon, the kids turn to their wayward aunt for protection.
For a requel, the movie is surprisingly light on references to the original. There are no cameos, no repeated kills, no overly obvious parallels. Evil Dead Rise simply has the Necronomicon, the Deadites, and a chainsaw—the essentials; it’s a “bottom-up method.” It sets to build a new story off the same foundation, rather than find a new way to tell the same story. It’s fresh; it’s organic; it’s harder to predict. You’ll have to evaluate each new scare and kill on your own instead of saying, “Well, Ash cutting off his hand was better than Natalie cutting off her hand.”
But, like Evil Dead (2013), Evil Dead Rise is light on comedy. Most of the funny bits are in the trailer, so if you’re expecting some levity, you’ll want to buckle in. This is easily the darkest film in the series. It uses its modern makeup and visual effects to develop the horror of the original into something even bigger, badder, and…well, more evil. Think Evil Dead meets The Exorcist—and I don’t say that lightly.
I went to a sold out showing of Evil Dead Rise, and when the credits rolled, the theater was completely silent. It was a few seconds before anyone in the audience even moved because we were all just processing. So buckle in, because Evil Dead Rise isn’t just a scary movie. It’s real horror done right.