Released 30 years ago today, Evil Dead II is still the funniest horror movie ever made, as well as one of the greatest horror sequels. Far more than the first Evil Dead movie, it launched the careers of director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, and it has influenced countless splat-stick films that matched gore an laughs in equal measure. Here are our favorites.
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s immensely enjoyable send-up of slasher movies borrows from a lot of horror that came before. But its setting—a classic scary movie “bad place” so iconic it’s enough to form the movie’s entire title—owes a debt to the first two Evil Dead movies, while its ability to be simultaneously scary, gross, and screamingly funny is a wink to Evil Dead II specifically. And while The Cabin in the Woods’ big reveal that the creatures menacing its college-kid protagonists are actually controlled by techs who have the cabin under surveillance is an idea unique to the film, the idea that malevolent ancient forces are one bungled sacrifice (or one irresponsibly uttered Book of the Dead incantation) away from wiping out all of humanity is not.
We might as well get this obvious but utterly beloved entry out of the way early. The saga of Ash Williams, the Deadites, the Necronomicon, and Ash’s beloved Delta 88 continued—this time with time travel!—in this 1992 sequel to Evil Dead II. Transporting Ash to the Middle Ages makes the film even more of a fish-out-of-water comedy, though it still has plenty of ghouls and gore to go with its fantasy elements. An Evil Dead 4 was often discussed over the years (with some insane ideas on the table, including sending Ash to the future), but the Evil Dead world eventually spawned a not-shitty remake of Raimi’s original film, as well as the gleefully blood-soaked Ash vs Evil Dead TV series instead.
Like Peter Jackson, Edgar Wright has made no secret of his admiration for Raimi and his Evil Dead cohort. In 2007, while making the rounds for Hot Fuzz, he told The Telegraph:
“Evil Dead 2 is the film that set me off on my career,” says Wright. “You could easily pick holes in the dialogue and the plotting, but it’s all about the director running riot with the form.
“The 45-minute midsection has just one character being tormented, and not only by the spirits in the story but by the director and the camera, too. It’s as if the camera is a character within the film – that’s what’s so imaginative about it. Most horror films are about people being picked off; Evil Dead 2 is about one actor being picked on.
“Orson Welles said a movie studio was the best train set a boy could have. In Evil Dead 2, Sam Raimi is like a kid smashing up his train set, making it go faster and faster until it crashes.”
Wright’s breakout feature, 2004's zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, has a lot of Evil Dead II’s insane spirit and exuberantly gushing blood, even if it has a whole lot more characters and locations. Adding an even deeper layer, the TV show Wright made with Shaun stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Spaced, was filled with pop culture references, including shout-outs to the Evil Dead films.
Obviously, director-screenwriter Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) and source-material author Joe Lansdale both had a huge hand in creating Bubba Ho-Tep, one of the greatest cult movies ever. But would Bubba Ho-Tep have been nearly as memorable without Bruce Campbell’s performance as an elderly Elvis Presley, living incognito all these years in a nursing home that suddenly finds itself beset by a soul-sucking mummy? The Evil Dead movies—especially Army of Darkness, which ends with Ash declaring “Hail to the King, baby”—really laid the groundwork for Campbell to just outright play Elvis in a movie one day. And Bubba Ho-Tep brilliantly took advantage not just of Campbell’s physical resemblance to the music legend, but his Ash-honed persona as someone who can keep his swagger while battling supernatural beasties.
Peter Jackson has often praised Evil Dead and Evil Dead II—movies made by a guy his age, with nothing to go on but raw talent and a 16mm camera—as being hugely motivating for his own film career. In an interview with Fangoria, Jackson explained:
Evil Dead was a movie that was memorable for me in the sense that beyond the qualities of the film itself, which is that it’s a quite entertaining, funny, enjoyable film, it just made me think, “God, I could do that,” because I was old enough. I had a 16mm camera when Evil Dead came out and Evil Dead II a few years later, and I was right on the cusp of wanting to make a 16mm film, and then here comes a horror movie that somebody else of a similar age as me made in 16mm. It really helped me get going on Bad Taste, which was my first film, and so it was one of those inspirational moments. The type of tone in Evil Dead II was a little bit more like what I enjoyed, which was this rollicking over-the-top splatter movie. That combination of tone is what influenced me as I was getting into my first features.
That ability to deftly mix humor and horror is something that’s very apparent in 1992's Dead Alive, and it’s something Jackson has carried over into his later films, too—even the Lord of the Rings series has a bit of that feel.
Because sometimes, there’s not an undead witch chained in the cellar of that isolated cabin you’ve declared party HQ for the weekend. Sometimes, there are frozen Nazi zombies buried deep within the Norwegian ski slopes just outside your door. In either case, you gotta do what you gotta do, with whatever’s on hand in the middle of nowhere, to try and survive. Note: no matter your foe, chainsaws always come in handy.
The unholy union of director Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox) and producer Joe D’Amato produced this “unofficial” 1988 sequel to Evil Dead II, which is sometimes called La Casa 3, after the Italian title for the Evil Dead series (with Lenzi credited with the dubious alias “Humphrey Humbert”). Ghosthouse is a rip-off patchwork of the highest order, though as you can see from the trailer, Evil Dead II isn’t one of the immediately obvious influences. However, there is a horrifying clown doll that should probably come with a trigger warning as well as some kind of creative-license fee to Poltergeist.
Years before Ash vs. Evil Dead took a look at what “El Jefe” had been doing with his life with since that journey to the Middle Ages, Bruce Campbell directed and starred in this meta-comedy that pokes fun at a similar subject. He plays an exaggerated version of himself who begrudgingly agrees to help a small town fight off a furious demon that’s appeared in their midst. The cast also includes Evil Dead series alums Ted Raimi, Ellen Sandweiss, and Dan Hicks. And if it’s not quite the cult classic that it aspires to be, My Name Is Bruce offers the best evidence to date that Campbell and Ash’s personalities are basically interchangeable.
A very funny twist on the genre, in which two good ol’ boys who just happen to enjoy being in the wilderness (in their very Evil Dead-ish dilapidated cabin) get mistaken for a pair of hillbilly maniacs by the college kids who’re camping nearby. There’s nothing supernatural in Tucker and Dale vs Evil, and it makes fun of movies like Wrong Turn more than anything else—but it’s so cleverly done, and there are enough similarities there, that it would make an excellent backwoods double-feature with Raimi’s classic.