Good news, horror fans – all five of the Evil Dead movies are now available to watch on Max (the artist formerly known as HBO Max). Well, saying they're for horror fans is doing the series a disservice really, because it sweeps through comedy and fantasy adventure before returning to straighter horror for its reboot.
The first three movies were directed by the great Sam Raimi, after which the two reboot movies bring on fresh directors, giving the five movies a huge amount of range considering they all center on the premise of a cursed book bringing people back from the dead, who then terrorise a small group in an isolated location.
So, is this a series where you should just start at the start and work through? Not really! At least, not in my opinion – obviously it's a perfectly good way to go about things, but I don't think it should be the default way.
I just watched these movies in the run up to Evil Dead Rise's release in 2023, so if you're new to the skin-covered book of Evil Dead, here's what I'd recommend. And don't forget we picked out more of the best new horror movies for June 2023!
[via Bloody Disgusting]
Start with Evil Dead II
There's a great quote from a Bill Paxton interview about how he got into Evil Dead II: "Jim Cameron was the one who turned me on to Sam Raimi. I got a call one day—I've told this story, but it's a good one—a real typical Jim Cameron conversation. 'Hey, Bill, have you seen Evil Dead 2 yet?' 'No, what's Evil Dead 2?' 'I'll pick you up in 15 minutes.' Click. We drove out to East L.A., to some 99-cent house, five o'clock in the afternoon. We sit down and he goes, 'Watch this.' And at the end, he goes, 'This guy's a hell of a filmmaker. It's not every day that you see a movie that starts a new genre: the horror cartoon.'"
So why do I think you should start with Evil Dead II? Because it was so innovative, it made James Cameron go nuts. What stronger recommendation can you offer?
I'm gonna try to offer more anyway. So, one of the great things about Evil Dead II is that it actually starts with a tweaked recreation of what happened in the original film – it has its own prologue, basically, so skipping the first one is no problem narratively. The first movie is fairly straight horror, and it absolutely gets nasty and grisly. The tone of the second movie is very different to the first one: it's as much slapstick comedy as it is horror, so it gets to set its own tone by telling the story of the first movie with a revisionist eye.
And then it's just an exercise in a ridiculous movie trying to top itself. Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, has lost his sweetheart to these zombies early on while staying at a remote cabin and listening to a recording of some dark incantations, and that's not all he'll lose – his sanity, parts of his body, his shirt… but not his determination.
Evil Dead II contains some of the most incredible practical effects of all time, and is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny because of how much fun it has beating Ash up, rather than because of witty lines – though it has some incredible visual gags too. There's no movie in the world quite like this one – and it's also incredibly influential. You'll realise how many movies have cribbed from it when you see it.
Then go for Army of Darkness
Effectively serving as Evil Dead III, Army of Darkness is a direct sequel to Evil Dead II, and is the perfect follow-up, as director Sam Raimi subtly steers away from making an homage to classic physical comedians, and makes something that's more of a tribute to Ray Harryhausen classic adventure movies, but with the same mischievous gremlin energy of the previous movie.
Here, Ash finds himself in the distant past, heralded as the savior who can defeat the dark forces coming from the same cursed book he battled in the second movie. The army of skeletons in the climax is one of the most fun creations of any movie, ever – they're cunning idiots who occasionally literally fall apart, and the movie is packed with funny concepts on how it can use them for jokes, action scenes or suspense.
Now maybe the original Evil Dead
The thing about the original The Evil Dead is that, while some people still rate it as a horror classic, I think its low budget and inexperience from the filmmakers mean it's better viewed as an incredibly impressive practice run. It has some great scenes, no question, and launches into some truly alarming horror images at moments – there's one near the end that kind of blows you away because it's such a big step up in effects work.
But it's quite a grimy little movie too – instead of the gleefully nightmarish images of the sequel, it's more straightfacedly violating to its characters, though the strange taunting of its villains that defines most of the series starts here.
I think it's a good movie, but it could easily put people off the fun that's to come, which is why I'd say it's maybe worth coming back to fill the gap here.
Then whatever you prefer from Evil Dead (2013) or Evil Dead Rise
So, Evil Dead (2013) really leans into the spirit of the first movie, but cranks everything up even further. More cabin-based demonic action; more realistic gore, and more of it; more punishing situations; more sensory overload. It is not a fun and silly watch, but for bloody horror fans, it's well-made and builds to a serious chainsaw-happy peak.
Evil Dead Rise got generally positive reviews upon its release this year, and moves the action to one floor of a near-derelict high-rise instead of a cabin in the woods. After (yes) some demonic incantations bring back evil possessing spirits, the floor is cut off from the rest of the building. I liked the premise, and I think the actors do an amazing job in this movie, but I found it disappointing – it wasn't scary enough or weird enough for me. And while it once again builds to a crescendo that's a fireworks show of gore, it's one that's kind of oddly passive, in a way I don't want to spoil.
However, I'm overall in the minority there, and I think moving the action to somewhere else fits the spirit of Raimi's movies better, taking the premise and finding new spins for it.
Don't forget we have guides to more of the best Max movies and best Max shows if you want further viewing recommendations, though very few of those will have a protagonist who's taunted to near-madness by his own animated severed hand.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.