There’s a lot of competition among the best horror movies for the title of the one true, superior franchise. We’d suggest some sort of mass brawl to decide the winner, but there’d be so much blood that it’d make that scene in The Shining look like the result of a paper cut. It might just turn the stomach of even the most devoted gorehound.
In fact, the answer to the question is rather simple, no bloodshed required. If any horror franchise can stake a claim to being the best, it’s the Evil Dead movies. And the reason is clear: they’ve never put a foot wrong.
The debate surrounding the ‘best horror franchise’ tends to orbit around the best slasher movies of all time, and it’s true that they can hold a claim to the title. But every major slasher franchise has at least one obvious bum note.
Elm Street has Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare – spoiler: it wasn’t final. Friday the 13th has Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday – spoiler: it wasn’t final either. Halloween has The Revenge of Michael Myers. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has pretty much all of them except the original.
Even the widely beloved Scream movies have Scream 3, though I personally think Scream 2 is more disappointing. But that’s a different op-ed for another day. The point is that there are bum notes amid the high points.
History is littered with the carcasses of horror franchises that only have one or two legitimately great instalments, and several outright stinkers in their midst. Alien, Saw, Paranormal Activity, Final Destination, The Purge, Child’s Play; there are dozens of them.
Evil Dead, though, has shown remarkable consistency over the course of more than 40 years, from the low-budget Sam Raimi movie in 1981 through to the Evil Dead Rise release date this week. Our own Jessica Cullen certainly had plenty of nice things to say in her Evil Dead Rise review.
Each of the Evil Dead movies brings its own sense of grindhouse joy. The first movie is a feat of sheer invention and packs genuine scares, while its sequel decided to remake its predecessor as one of the best comedy movies of the ‘80s. Bruce Campbell is as good at being hilarious as he is at being terrified, delivering rubber-faced comedy intensity like Jim Carrey, just with a chainsaw and a face covered in arterial splatter. That’d be a very different remake of The Mask.
Then, Evil Dead II was followed up by the completely buck-wild Army of Darkness. It’s a sci-fi movie as well as a horror, and is definitely up there with the best time travel movies in which a bloke has a chainsaw for an arm. Admittedly, that’s a short list, but the point stands.
After that came a gap of two decades before Fede Álvarez took up Raimi’s mantle for a new spin on the franchise without Bruce Campbell as the charismatic leading man. The new cast took on the Deadites with aplomb and, amid a deep-red downpour of blood rain, assured the continued success of the franchise.
By all accounts, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise manages just as well, with the help of cinema’s most questionable use of a cheese grater. You might never want to make an omelette again.
None of the five movies has anything below a 63% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes – and even the TV series spin-off Ash vs Evil Dead has a 99% approval rating on the site – which is a far cry from the inconsistency of some of the other horror icons. For context, Friday the 13th Part 3 has just a 7% score. Not a lot of love for the debut of Jason’s famous hockey mask, or that unintentionally hilarious 3D yo-yo bit.
The success of Evil Dead is likely a result of its malleability. Like Bruce Campbell’s elastic face, the franchise can reform and reshape into whatever it needs to be – zombie movie, slapstick comedy, time travel, addiction allegory, gory stunt show.
The world of the Necronomicon and the beasts it can summon is so versatile that 40 years and innumerable parodies have done nothing to lessen its appeal. It’s easy to imagine Evil Dead movies arriving for another four decades or more, and we’d never get bored of the carnage.
It’s also worth noting that Evil Dead has never been overexposed. There were six years between The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, during which time there were four Friday the 13ths, three Elm Streets, and two Halloweens.
There were another five years before Army of Darkness, then 21 years until the remake, and a decade between that movie and Evil Dead Rise – albeit a gap plugged by the TV series. Every generation gets to have a brush with the Deadites, and those fallow periods leave it feeling fresh each time.
The restraint has been laudable, but we’ll see what happens if Evil Dead Rise translates its critical success to box office dollars. At the moment, this franchise feels like a consistency unicorn – albeit one with a stabby, crimson-drenched horn – and it would be a shame to make it feel less special. For now, though, it might just be the best horror franchise out there. All hail the Deadites!
We’ve got you covered on all of the new movies coming in the horror world, including the Insidious 5 release date, The Meg 2 release date, and the Saw 10 release date.
Or check out the best movies in the history of cinema’s dark side, including the best ghost movies, the best vampire movies, and the best zombie movies ever made.