From today's perspective, it's odd to remember that, for a long time, The Evil Dead existed only as a trilogy, a cult trilogy at that, one whose audience was once deemed to be so microscopically niche that the marketing for Army of Darkness was based on the belief of Universal Studios that it even wasn't worth acknowledging its connection to the previous two films. For many years it was generally accepted by fans that after 1992, we had seen our last Deadite and that we'd have to be satisfy our Evil Dead itch going forward by dutifully buying each new Special Edition of each film in the trilogy on every new home video format. Sure, there was always the hope that Ash would return in an Evil Dead 4 but it seemed more far likely that AoD marked the end of the road for all things Evil Dead, save perhaps in comics and games.
But proving that nothing Evil ever dies, there was the Fede Alvarez big screen reboot in 2013, shepherded into existence by producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell, a movie that revived the hardcore spirit of the original in grand, gory fashion, followed by three seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead on Starz from 2015 to 2018 that gave us more Ash than the movies could have ever given us and here we are in 2023 with yet more big screen ED action with Evil Dead Rise. What was once three films with a devoted cult following is now a still-thriving franchise. Not just still thriving but arguably, pound for pound, the finest modern horror franchise. We'll see that be put to the test if they start to pump out movies with more frequency but for now, you've got five movies and three seasons of a TV show without a single miss in the bunch. Whether you put Evil Dead Rise towards the top or the bottom of your ED rankings, it still kicks ass because they all kick ass.
Arriving in theaters on the heels of the not bad but kind of ho-hum possession yarn The Pope's Exorcist, Evil Dead Rise is a masterclass in showing 'em how it's done. Director Lee Cronin picks up the gauntlet from Fede Alvarez and confidently puts his own bloody stamp on the ED franchise. As a horror fan who remembers the battles genre filmmakers fought throughout the '80s with the MPAA and how neutered much of the splatter output of the '80s was, it will never not seem crazy to me how much bloodshed a R rating can get away with now. For whatever reason, the MPAA long ago straight up stopped giving a shit about graphic violence and horror fans are reaping the benefits. I know some horror fans find gore to be a bore and, hey, that's fair but these recent ED films aren't made for that crowd.
At this point, Evil Dead is a series comprised of five movies that form two trilogies. The first trilogy consists of the 1983 original, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. There the emphasis is on Ash and his adventures against the Deadites. The other trilogy is the original, the 2013 ED and now Evil Dead Rise and in that trilogy the star of the show is the Necronomicon itself. That evil tome is the linking device across those films and if you just watch those three, it's about people encountering that book and unleashing hell upon themselves and everyone in the immediate perimeter.
In retrospect, the original has only become perceived as campy because of the turn towards comedy in Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness but that was not how The Evil Dead was seen in '83. Back then, it was serious hardcore horror, devoid of laughs (but not devoid of fun!) and I love that the two recent films have reclaimed that OG ED vibe. I love Ash and I love the splatstick humor of Evil Dead 2 and AoD (and the TV series) but I also love that Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell have been able to make Evil Dead a viable ongoing franchise without Ash while still being completely true to the "dead by dawn" spirit of the original. If we keep getting more movies like this where the Necronomicon wrecks havoc in different locations (and perhaps even different times!), I'm all for it.
Most point to the change in location from a cabin in the woods to a apartment building in LA as being the big shake up in Evil Dead Rise but while that is notable, I think the bigger change is in having a family in peril. Sure, we've seen adult siblings pitted against each other, caught up in the throes of demonic possession but this stuff hits very differently when you see a mother and her three young children going through it. It's emotionally grueling and disturbing in a way that no previous Evil Dead movie has been.