At San Diego Comic Con 2014, director Sam Raimi referenced the possibility of an Evil Dead TV series. In November of the same year, Starz officially announced the series as Ash Vs Evil Dead. With the series set to premiere this week, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the original film trilogy, and the course of events that would eventually lead towards the development of the Starz series we are getting this Halloween.
The history of the Evil Dead franchise
The Evil Dead
In the late 1970s, childhood friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, along with new friend Rob Tapert made a short horror film called Within the Woods. The purpose of the short was to secure investors for a full length feature film. Using Within the Woods as a proof of concept, Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert secured the funds (some from family, and some by begging) to make their feature film debut, The Evil Dead. Helping with the production and post-production, were future filmmakers Josh Becker (Running Time) and Joel Coen (of the filmmaking duo, The Coen Brothers, Directors of Fargo, and The Big Lebowski). The film screened at Cannes in 1982 (outside of competition), where Stephen King became the first high profile fan of the movie. King’s support of the film was largely responsible for New Line Cinema acquiring distribution rights.
Evil Dead II
There is a common misconception that Evil Dead II was a comedic remake of the original The Evil Dead. In actuality, Raimi and crew were unable to secure the rights to their own original film when making its sequel. As such, they swapped recapping with re-imagining for the events of the first movie through the first half hour of the second. The moment in which the evil presence lifts Ash off of the ground and carries him through the forest lines up with the final scene of the original film. Evil Dead II was both filmed and released in 1987. The film is often credited as the most important movie in the horror comedy genre.
Army Of Darkness
Sam Raimi’s original idea for Evil Dead II was to throw his protagonist Ash into the medieval era. A smaller budget than they had hoped for demanded less lofty production goals. Evil Dead II ended with Ash in medieval times, but it wasn’t until Army of Darkness that Raimi was able to fully explore this turn. With backing from Universal, Army of Darkness reached many times more viewers than the previous 2 films, and helped to make The Evil Dead trilogy a cult phenomenon. Originally, Army of Darkness ended with Ash failing in his attempt to return home, ending up, instead, in the post apocalyptic future. The ending was changed, however, to the more popular S-Mart battle, which is, presumably, where Ash Vs Evil Dead picks up. Unfortunately, Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert once again struggled with obtaining the rights to their own films. This time, the crew were able to secure the rights to The Evil Dead, and Evil Dead II, but not Army of Darkness. We will have to wait and see how the lack of Army of Darkness to the TV show’s “official” canon affects the plot of the series.
The history of Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell on TV
Sam and Rob
Though Ash Vs Evil Dead being made as a TV series might seem in line with current trends of movie makers moving towards TV, Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell were actually quite ahead of their time with the move to TV. Working with Universal, Raimi and Tapert produced several made for TV movie adaptations of Hercules, which was eventually turned into the syndicated hit series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Hercules lead to several spin-offs, most notably, Xena: Warrior Princess. Rob Tapert even married Xena star Lucy Lawless. In 1995, with Hercules showing Raimi and Tapert the potential of TV, the duo produced 2 unfortunately short lived series. A Batman-esque super-hero series called M.A.N.T.I.S. and a Twin Peaks-esque supernatural thriller called American Gothic. Neither series lasted, so Raimi and Tapert focused more on their syndication efforts. The 2 produced other syndicated TV shows, including Jack of All Trades, and most recently, Legend of the Seeker. Towards the end of Seeker, Raimi and Tapert worked with Starz to create Spartacus. Starz is, of course, the home of Ash Vs Evil Dead.
Bruce Campbell appeared in various TV shows as well, starring in Raimi and Tapert’s Jack of All Trades, alongside appearances in both Hercules and Xena. Bruce also had a starring role in Carlton Cuse’s (LOST, The Strain) The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, and a regular role on USA’s spy series Burn Notice. In addition to Ash Vs Evil Dead, Bruce is currently playing Ronald Reagan in season 2 of Fargo.
Growing fandom, mainstream success, and a remake
Evil Dead’s growing cult following
I, like many other Evil Dead fans, first got into the franchise through Army of Darkness. Back then, it was rare to find fans of the movies that I didn’t introduce to it myself. Over the years I have seen it slowly grow in cultural significance. Perhaps this is due to the rise in popularity of the horror genre in the last 10 years. Perhaps it is the slow but consistent word of mouth spread. Perhaps it all comes down to the expansion of niche fandom as a whole through the internet. In all likelihood, it is all of those things, and more. What I can say for sure is that my fandom of the series began with the last film of a trilogy, and in the time I have been a fan, I have seen a very noticeable increase in awareness of the franchise’s existence. Another possible reason for the increased fandom, is the wider acknowledgement of those involved in the franchise. Burn Notice drastically increased mainstream awareness of Bruce Campbell, for example. And then there is Spider-Man.
Spiderman, and mainstream success
When it was announced that Sam Raimi would be directing Spider-Man, I was actively running a Sam Raimi fanpage on Tripod. After the announcement, my interest in running the site quickly fell off. There was little of significance that I could do to draw attention to the Director anymore. His name had already entered the cultural zeitgeist. While Spider-Man 3 (the last of Raimi’s contributions to the series) is often criticized, and while the excitement over the upcoming MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) connected Spider-Man movie is outpacing the love held for what Raimi did in the first 2 Spider-Man movies, there is no denying the impact that Spider-man had on comic book movies as a whole. Before Raimi’s Spider-Man, every superhero needed a black leather or spandex costume that barely represented the original look of the character. All of the writing had to be serious, and often bleak, with very little room for humor. Raimi’s Spider-Man really laid the groundwork for what Marvel would later do with Iron Man and their interconnected MCU. Spider-Man brought a lot of fun back to comic book adaptations, and as a result, Raimi’s name grew exponentially among more mainstream audiences, audiences that went on to discover more of Raimi’s previous works. Raimi had Spider-Man, Tapert was running a TV empire, and Campbell was drawing eyeballs on Burn Notice. Meanwhile, Bruce Campbell was also, and quickly, becoming a convention god alongside creative heroes like Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and GRR Martin (Game of Thrones). Those plucky horror filmmakers who had to beg Dentists for small investments were now Hollywood players.
The Evil Dead remake, and the Starz series
The question that had to get on Campbell’s nerves whenever meeting fans was surely “When do we get Evil Dead 4?” When addressing the issue you could feel Campbell’s frustration in his responses. The basic gist was that there wasn’t much he or Raimi could do, the franchise was niche, and there wasn’t much interest from the Hollywood money machines in continuing it. As a means of getting attention back on the franchise, Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell began publicly talking about a possible remake. Initially fans groaned in anxiety and apprehension, “another horror remake?” they questioned. Campbell was quick to alleviate these concerns by confirming that he, Tapert, and Raimi were deeply involved in the process, protecting the baby they birthed. When the remake came out, in 2013, it was received with mostly positive attention from fans. The film also grossed close to $100 Million at the box office internationally, making it more successful than the original 3 movies put together. The plan worked. At 2014’s San Diego Comic Con, Bruce Campbell announced that a TV series continuation, which would eventually becomes Ash Vs Evil Dead, was in development. Now, there is even talk of the possibility that the universes of the original series and the remake could cross. Whether a cross-over happens or not, we are getting a 300 minute (that’s 5 hours, spread out over 10 episodes) Evil Dead 4, beginning this Halloween on Starz.
The resurrection of old franchises on TV has been common place for a long time. Traditionally, this has taken the form of remakes. Recently, however, the trend seems to be that of direct continuations. Arrested Development came to Netflix with a new season in 2013, 7 years after its cancellation on Fox. Twin Peaks will be returning in 2016, 25 years after its conclusion, and The X Files is returning in 2016 as well. Starz’ Ash Vs Evil Dead is, in that case, a part of something bigger in the industry as a whole. Ash Vs Evil Dead premieres this Saturday, Halloween, at 9pm PT/ET (8 Central) on Starz.
Are you as excited for the Evil Dead TV series as we are? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of Ash Vs Evil Dead, and all of your favorite shows.