Evil Dead Rise’s promise of demonic carnage in an apartment building and a very Deadite’d Alyssa Sutherland sent a jolt of recognition swept through a particular subset of horror fans. For five movies, one TV show, multiple video games and comics, and 42 years Sam Raimi’s iconic franchise has reigned as the king of cursed cabin bloodbaths. Yet more than the franchise’s multimedia reach, that legacy shines brighter via the series’ DNA coursing through the genre.
From a Brazilian tome of the dead, to Indonesian black-magic fiends, and myriad indie directors making their own over-the-top demonic sieges, Raimi’s flavor of gags and guts have been filtered through the prism of creatives across the decades and the globe, honoring The Evil Dead with their own loving (and often gore-gushing) twists, tweaks, nods, and homages to his classics.
Before delving into the influence of the Evil Dead movies on horror, it’s important to look back. Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov’s 1967 Soviet folk tale Viy might be seen as a fitting predecessor to Evil Dead, but it’s a bigger deal than that. The direction, creature designs, and dark supernatural whimsy come across as a Rosetta Stone for Raimi, Tim Burton, Hausu’s Nobuhiko Obayashi, and entire strands of Italian and Japanese horror. The misfortune of foolish seminary student Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov) leads the man to endure three nights of vigil and prayer for a village merchant’s deceased daughter… who also happened to be a vengeful witch seeking to drive him insane. Each night erupts into a onslaught of dizzying camerawork and gleeful torment within claustrophobic chapel confines; the escalation from flying coffin to stunning array of hellish beasts — realized through camera tricks, costumes, and stop-motion — is a display of filmic kineticism and imagination whose impact still shines.
A decade later, Shun’ya Itô’s Curse of the Dog God (1977) similarly evokes the Deadites that would torment Bruce Campbell and company only a few years later. Ito’s best known for his Meiko Kaji-led exploitation series Female Prisoner Scorpion, and Curse marries those films’ painterly imagery with merciless folk horror. Much of the film is a sprawling convoluted saga of wrathful spirits, accursed fates, dog maulings, at least one flying canine head, exorcism rituals, dark village secrets, uranium mining, and even a roving biker gang for good measure, but the final act is when any Evil Dead fan might start to get a dash of deja vu.
Tormented protagonist Ryuichi (Shin’ya Ohwada) finds himself battling his dead wife (possessing her sister Mako) in a bloody, effects-laden, grueling brawl of a climax. Her red-eyed form straddles the ghost women of Yotsuya Kaidan or modern J-horror with the kind of acrobatically aggressive axe-wielding and distorted cackling that would plague the victims of the Evil Dead; a few moments become so delirious that Ohwada’s struggle and expressions even recalls Campbell’s similar over-the-top performance during his fight against the undead.
Considering he would serve as executive producer on John Woo’s Hard Target, and described the famous Hong Kong director as action’s Hitchcock equivalent, one can’t help but wonder if Hong Kong’s horror output left its mark on Raimi while assembling The Evil Dead’s slapstick spooks. No film invites such parallels more than Sammo Hung’s 1980 horror comedy Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Hung’s exacting, inventive, and blistering direction helped revolutionize the Hong Kong film industry alongside contemporaries like Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-ping, with Spooky Kind in particular leaving its mark on the era’s horror comedies. Beyond kickstarting the jiangshi (aka hopping vampire) subgenre, Sammo’s madcap gag-a-minute set-pieces (creepy demon hands reaching through mirrors? Check) and the physicality of the ghoul/ghost/sorcerer-tormented lead role foreshadow the unbounded Looney Tunes energy Bruce Campbell would bring to Ash. Years before Ash warred with his possessed hand in Evil Dead II, Sammo’s “Bold Cheung” would do the same, simultaneously battling his own limb and guards in a body-flinging restaurant brawl.
The cackling undead
Next to Bruce Campbell and his boomstick, it’s the naughty gnarly Deadites that truly separate your everyday splatter flick from the Evil Dead-inspired splatter flick. The maniacal next step from Linda Blair cursing and contorting in bed, Raimi’s brand of demons imbue their sinister torment with a playfully vulgar personality (if you count gruesome self-mutilation and eviscerating attacks as “playful”). It’s the same kind of effusive personality that elevated Amelia Kinkade to cult icon with her unforgettable portrayal of Night of the Demons’ Angela, a Deadite in all but name. Kevin Tenney’s 1988 house horror comedy transformed Angela from outcast to jagged-toothed mistress of the damned. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s follow-up would embrace Evil Dead II’s liberating goofiness to take Angela’s second night of terror to the realm of warrior nuns and lopped-head basketball.
Emmanuel Kervyn’s French-Belgian Troma terror Rabid Grannies (1988) and Charles Philip Moore’s Demon Wind (1990) both similarly indulge in taunting possessed villainy. While Wind’s terrors hew close to Raimi’s ghouls, Kervyn’s film freshened up the demon template by turning a birthday dinner party into an absurd feast from hell hosted by its geriatric flesheaters. Chomping off heads, toying with these food, and lashing out with insults galore, actors Danielle Daven and Anne-Marie Fox wholly commit to their Satanic romp in a film that combines the bloody chaos of Evil Dead and Demons with the satisfaction of a greedy family’s comeuppance.
Indie director Eric Stanze’s 1994 campground horror Savage Harvest might be the most unique refresh of the Evil Dead aesthetic. Another shot-on-video passion project in the spirit of Raimi’s original, Stanze traps a group of friends within the bounds of a Cherokee curse and then indulges in an hour of blood, guts, and surprisingly fleshed-out lore. While his demons are familiar in their mocking devouring terror, they’re also each uniquely designed around a different animal spirit: spider, boar, etc.; a sorta-Deadite with a scorpion stinger tongue dripping venom perfectly embodies the influence and inspirational passion that shot through the indie horror scene in the wake of The Evil Dead.
Gonzo gore galore
From stop-motion body melts and wall geysers of blood and other fluids to its 2×4-mounted camera transforming into a prowling presence, Raimi’s delirious style across the Evil Dead films pushed the limits of viscera-splashed mayhem. The genre’s haunted halls and lurking evil entered the 1980s with an infusion of adrenaline and cartoon impossibility, and the waves of horror-tinged wackiness have rarely slowed since. It’s hard to imagine a film as spectacularly relentlessly madcap as Peter Jackson’s Braindead coming to screens before The Evil Dead’s dismembered bodies and Evil Dead II’s bleeding gushing walls kicked open that cinematic door.
In terms of bodily-fluid-splattered monstrosities unleashed upon everyday survivors, Lamberto Bava’s 1985 Demons and its 1986 sequel Demons 2 are hard to beat. Helmed by the son of horror legend Mario Bava, Lamberto’s horror films eschew Evil Dead’s mania for surreal survive-the-night terror befitting the familiar nightmare logic of Italian horror. In these films, it isn’t some unearthed book that unleashed evil upon a movie screening audience or the sequel’s high rise occupants. Embracing an experience-first logic-second atmosphere, the duology’s occult chaos is incited by a cursed mask prop from an eerily prophetic film-within-a-film, then by a meta incursion of a demon escaping through a television screen that’s airing Demons 1’s apocalypse. Baring gargantuan drooling fangs and talons, Demons’ hordes of diabolical throat-rippers regularly make Raimi’s tormentors seem cuddly by comparison, especially once you’ve seen one birth itself out of a corpse or dig its claws knuckle-deep into eye sockets. Demons 2 packs a high-rise with monstrous goo-slobbering hordes, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni (of Argento’s Opera and Mother of Tears fame) snarling into the camera, and loads of dog, kid, and impish baby demons oozing acidic blood amid their skyscraper rampage.
Even when a movie set-up is just riffing on Evil Dead’s cabin in the woods, the gore is never far behind. Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow (2009) trades American backwoods for Norwegian mountains and the Necronomicon in the basement for cursed treasure, but once the jackbooted Nazi zombies arise, his campers get grievously wounded and torn apart all the same. A locked-&-loaded montage homaging Ash’s Evil Dead II gearing up for battle completes the love letter to Raimi’s bloodbath, at least until, in true Evil Dead spirit, Wirkola amplifies his sequel Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead into an utterly ludicrous splatter comedy (an uncooperative undead arm included!)
Arguably, one of the surprising successors to Evil Dead’s distinct stylization had its fanged debut direct-to-video. From Dusk Till Dawn 2; Texas Blood Money (1999) was directed by Raimi’s longtime friend and Evil Dead II screenwriter Scott Spiegel, and along with a Bruce Campbell cameo, the heist-meets-vampires flick is awash in the kind of whooshing camerawork and creative shots that defined the aforementioned series. Bull-chasing-rodeo-clown POV? Inside-a-bloodsucker’s-mouth POV? Wild pans and whips as vampire bats massacre a SWAT team? All that and so much more, as Spiegel goes as buckwild with his camera as Raimi did before him.
Cabins, curses, and chainsaws
Watching the facets of Evil Dead weave through horror is fascinating, yet watching other countries craft their own Evil Deads is its own pleasure. A remote [cabin/house/ruin ] where a group of [friends/travelers/family] unleash cursed evil and must survive in gore-splattered fashion: It’s just a winning formula that works wonderfully as a stage to flex practical effects and claustrophobic carnage.
Shinichi Fukazawa’s Bloody Muscle Body Builder In Hell so strongly encapsulates that maxim that the film is often alternatively subtitled “The Japanese Evil Dead”. While there’s a boomstick, a “groovy”, and actor/writer/director Shinichi Fukazawa strongly echoing Campbell’s buffoonish bravado, that alternative title does a disservice to this rollicking spookfest and its confident merits. Shot on video in 1995, edited in 2005 and finally released in 2009, the plot is simple: Fukazawa’s Naoto joins his ex-girlfriend Mika (Masaaki Kai) and a psychic to document spectral activity in a house once owned by Naoto’s father. One vengeful spirit and possession later, these few rooms become a cascade of stop-motion critters, dismembered limbs Voltron-ing together, and the film fully living up to the “Body Builder” part of the title. Who knew barbells could be such a versatile anti-demon weapon? At just 62 minutes long, Shinichi Fukazawa’s decade-in-the-making love letter to Evil Dead is all killer escalating micro-budget zaniness, no filler.
On the opposite end of the tonal spectrum, Sweden gave horror fans its own demon horror riff via Wither. Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund’s 2012 film actually beat the franchise it was inspired by in delivering a serious take of Raimi’s bloodbath, as Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead remake would the following year. Both share a predilection for gruesome injuries, grisly Deadite forms, and scary basements, but Wither intriguingly spins the Evil Dead-style cabin siege into folk-horror doom, as its victims are taken one-by-one by a gaze-possessing subterranean entity from Swedish folklore known as a Vittra. In familiar fashion, transformed friends are dispatched via impressive low-budget gore that leave crushed heads and impaled bodies littering the group’s remote cabin.
Existing somewhere in between those goofy and grisly approaches like Timo Tjahjanto’s May The Devil Take You films. The Indonesian director may be best known for his jaw-droppingly brutal action films, but back in 2013, he and The Raid helmer Gareth Evans collaborated on Safe Haven, a visceral death-cult segment for found footage anthology V/H/S/2. Evans would go on to make another cult-related feature, but all of Safe Haven’s insane gore and demonic bedlam found their way into Timo’s May The Devil Take You and the sequel May The Devil Take You Too. With Chelsea Islan’s Alfie as his Ash equivalent and a sins-of-the-father reasoning behind the terror befalling the family’s old villa, May The Devil Take You’s occult reckoning hits all the right notes: Laughing wall-crawling hard-to-kill possessed bleeding from every orifices, a basement hiding a terrible secret, a remote hell-house, isolated on a dark and stormy night. The head-popping voodoo and black magic priestess though, plus the sequel’s mystical powers, camera-tracked buzzsaw, and action-horror intensity? That’s all Timo.
Brazilian horror auteur Rodrigo Aragão has been similarly sculpting the essence of Evil Dead into his own unique tales of demons and splatter. Make room on the bookshelf next to the Necronomicon: Across three films so far, the interconnected mythos behind his “Lost Book of Cipriano” has fueled buckets of madcap and deranged occult splatter. Dark Sea’s story of a coastal hamlet, black magic gone wrong, and fish zombies escalates to such oozing bloodshed that comparisons to the viscera-smeared spectacle of Braindead and Álvarez’s Evil Dead are apt. 2018’s The Black Forest dropped the book into young naive hands to kick off a dark fantasy fable of black magic mishaps and Raimi-esque gags, but I would be hard-pressed to pick a fusion of Evil Dead legacy and fresh new vision than 2020’s Cemetery of Lost Souls. Aragão’s centuries-spanning Gothic grindhouse saga echoes Raimi’s gory fun as much as it does influences such as Amando de Ossorio’s The Blind Dead, Bava’s Demons, and the works of Clive Barker, tackling the evils of colonialism via Lost Book mythos, period splatter fun, and of course flesh-devouring demon priests. Long live the Deadites!
In recent interviews, Bruce Campbell has talked about the future of Evil Dead, that in the wake of Rise and the formation of a franchise bible, the series could travel to the past or the far future in the hands of the new filmmaking generation as long as there are ideas to explore. That statement seems just as applicable to the legacy of The Evil Dead; in the decades since Raimi’s indie film that could, its gonzo gore, frenetic direction, and simple stage for splattery craftsmanship has inspired memorable horror experiences around the world. And in the wake of films like last year’s Deadstream filtering demonic zaniness through a “screenlife” lens, it seems safe to say that as long as horror continues to evolve, that legacy will only thrive.
Where to watch these movies
Viy is available to watch on Shudder, AMC+, and Arrow, for free with ads on Tubi, or for digital rental or purchase on Google Play and Youtube.
Curse of the Dog God can be found on YouTube.
Encounters of the Spooky Kind is not currently available to watch digitally.
Night of the Demons is available to watch on Shudder.
Rabid Grannies is available to watch on Tubi.
Demon Wind is available to watch on Tubi.
Savage Harvest can be found on YouTube.
Braindead is available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon.
Dark Sea is available to stream on Prime Video, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon. The Black Forest is available to stream for free with ads on Tubi, Plex, and FreeVee, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon. The Cemetery of Lost Souls is available to stream for free with ads on Tubi, or for digital rental or purchase on Vudu.
The post There is a world of movies continuing Evil Dead’s splattery legacy appeared first on Polygon.