Few films have balanced childish gags, creepiness, and vomit-worthy gore like The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi’s 1981 directorial debut was a low-budget DIY effort, cobbled together with make-shift props and equipment, but the finished film changed horror forever.
That first movie is about five friends who accidentally summon evil spirits after reading from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, AKA The Book of the Dead. It was a slow-burning cult hit that turned Raimi’s childhood pal Bruce Campbell (as Ash Williams) into one of horror's most loved – and most quoted – characters.
Four decades later, The Evil Dead has evolved into a horror trilogy, a TV series, a remake, and a new film slated for 2023. It also stands as one of metal’s favourite horror film franchises to draw inspiration from. So, prepare to “Hail to the king” as we plunge chainsaw first into our definitive ranking of all four Evil Dead films and reveal which has taken the top spot.
4. Army of Darkness (1993)
Army of Darkness represents peak Evil Dead silliness. It takes place directly after the events of Evil Dead II, in which Ash is sucked through a vortex into Mediaeval times. The historical setting is bizarre, and the cartoonish tone obliterates the horror legacy of the original film.
Army of Darkness isn’t a gorefest, but it does have the most quotable script. We get zingers like “Hail to the king, baby” and “This is my boomstick”. Although Bruce Campbell’s physical comedy is side-splitting, it ultimately works against the film by turning Ash into a parody of himself. This is more fun than fearsome.
3. Evil Dead (2013)
Evil Dead doesn’t commit to being a remake or a ‘shriekquel’, but director Federico Álvarez sure as hell understood the brief. The film has a great story, brutal gore, and finds a new way to bring the franchise’s original shock factor to a modern audience.
Evil Dead rejects comic splatter gore in favour of gag-reflex-testing self-mutilation. The best examples include Mia (Jane Levy) splitting her tongue with a box cutter and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) cutting her own face off with shards of mirror. And the ending? A literal bloodbath.
Unfortunately, Evil Dead is a little too gritty and serious for an ‘Evil Dead’ film, despite heavy involvement from the ‘holy trinity’: Campbell, Raimi, and producer Robert Tapert.
2. The Evil Dead (1981)
The Evil Dead is an indie cinema triumph. Its low budget meant Raimi needed to fall back on visual storytelling, resulting in a wonderfully unique style — Dutch angles, low travelling shots achieved by strapping the camera to a plank of wood, and frantic Steadicam during the film’s climax.
The first movie gives us iconic moments like Linda’s giggling singsong taunts, the Deadite cackling under the trapdoor, and the controversial demonic tree assault scene. However, there’s one crucial thing The Evil Dead is missing. Just as Army of Darkness leans too far into the realms of the ridiculous, The Evil Dead plays it too straight. It’s also a little rough around the edges in places, especially compared to sequels with bigger budgets and a more experienced Raimi at the helm.
1.Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
If you want a film that represents what The Evil Dead franchise is all about, it’s gotta be number two. Raimi finds his sweet spot, confidently walking the line between the bloodiness of the first film and the ridiculousness of the third. In fact, the 2015 Ash Vs Evil Dead TV series is more closely aligned with the tone of this film than any other, marking it as the most representative of the entire film franchise.
Evil Dead 2 introduces us to Bruce Campbell’s incredible physical comedy skills for the first time, treating us to a scene in which Ash is being attacked by his own Deadite-infected hand. The comedy is undercut by serious bloodshed as Ash eventually stabs his evil hand and severs it with a chainsaw.
This film easily competes with its predecessor in terms of legendary scenes. Best bits include Ash being attacked by the corpse of his headless girlfriend, multiple geysers of blood shooting directly into people’s faces, and Ash replacing his amputated hand with a chainsaw. It even one-ups the evil tree spirit from the first film by giving it a face and having it attack Ash through the front door of the cabin.
Whichever way you cut it, Evil Dead will always be one of the most influential horror film franchises of all time. Not bad for a scrappy DIY horror, made 41 years ago by three guys from Michigan.