Sam Raimi first introduced us to the Necronomicon and the Deadites with The Evil Dead back in 1981. Starring pop culture icon Bruce Campbell at the ripe age of 23, the story about five friends being confronted with an ancient evil eventually rose to become a cult classic and is beloved by horror fans everywhere. The film features impressive practical effects for an independent film and it has a rather scary premise when you sit down and think about it. I mean, a story that includes being raped by trees if you try to leave the woods is very unsettling. While we see Ash rise to the role of the lone survivor and hero, he isn't really the Ash that we recognize and love today. In this adaptation, he is a rather sensitive young man struggling to save his friends and destroy the evil that has manifested itself into his sister.
Raimi and Campbell reunited for a sequel in 1987, but Evil Dead II isn't really a sequel when you think about it. I always considered it to be a more updated version of the original story as it included more gore, more evil, a lot more humor, and a more in depth plot that actually explained the origins of the Necronomicon. It also established Ash as more of an independent character and turned him into the underground pop culture favorite that he is today. With this adaptation, we see him as a chainsaw wielding, shotgun toting, smart mouthed man who just wanted to take his girlfriend for a quiet weekend. When he's confronted with a problem, he steps up and faces it like the man he is.
So with these differences it begs the question, which is better? Well, we can begin looking at comparisons of specific scenes that are repeated in each film. As I said, these two are more alike than different at the core but there are differences that branch out and give everyone something to like. It's just a matter of which one you enjoy more.
How about that Linda?
In each film, Ash goes away to the cabin with his girlfriend Linda. In the 1981 version, Ash goes on a couple's retreat with Linda, his friends Scott and Shelly, and his sister Cheryl. In 1987, Ash and Linda ventured to the cabin alone for a romantic getaway.
Linda's demise has been fairly consistent within both films as she is possessed by the evil and subsequently beheaded by Ash. It's pretty safe to say that the latter version of Linda is a bit more taunting to Ash than the original, but they are both menacing in their own ways. Either way you look at it, it's no fun to have to decapitate your devilish girlfriend.
Winner: Evil Dead II
Who's in the fruit cellar?
Another consistency in both films is the main ringleader of the Deadites being trapped in the cellar. Whether buried down there or being locked in, the fruit cellar is a consistent location in both films that symbolizes where the most danger is, especially when you don't know what to expect.
In 1981, Cheryl is locked in the cellar by the group after becoming possessed. 1987 threw in a bigger twist and had the Deadite leader, Henrietta, locked in the cellar. The difference between the two situations are mainly the characters. With Cheryl being the original leader, it connected with Ash's personally because she was his sister. With Henrietta being the second leader, it introduced supporting characters, Annie and Ed, as Henrietta was Annie's mother and wife of the owner of the cabin.
Winner: The Evil Dead
Is there a way to banish the evil?
Yes and no. Both films suggest that banishing the evil lies purely with the Necronomicon, but they each had their own opinions on how exactly to use it. The Evil Dead is more simple because all Ash had to do was throw the book into the fireplace. After destroying the book, the possessed begin to decompose and the evil seems to retreat. At least that's what we thought.
Evil Dead II took a more complicated route as it introduced more medieval history and insisted that the only way to banish the evil was to recite passages from the book and send it back to the realm from which it came. In other words, setting the Necronomicon on fire wasn't enough this time around.
This is funny, but should we be laughing?
The humor is pretty much all in Evil Dead II. The '81 original had its share of humor, like most horror films do, but it wasn't overly campy and funny on purpose. With the second adaptation, Sam Raimi amped up the humor and passed it off as Ash being taunted and simply going crazy while being trapped in the cabin alone. Evil Dead II, along with the sequel Army of Darkness, make it apparent that Raimi likes to have fun and is a fan of simple slapstick humor. The surprising thing is that it really compliments the films.
Along with Bruce Campbell's comedic abilities, the way Evil Dead II morphed Ash's character from being a sensitive young man to a smart-ass, sarcastic tough guy was a big transition to make and in order to make it smoothly he had to have a sense of humor about himself. If you're looking for a more lighthearted Evil Dead film to watch, I would go with the sequel.
Winner: Evil Dead II
Wait, Ash didn't always have a chainsaw hand?
The simple answer is no.
The chainsaw as we recognize it today is another thing first introduced with Evil Dead II. In the original, Ash finds the chainsaw in the cabin when he feels he needs to decapitate Linda but he never attaches the hardware to his body. In the latter, Ash takes it one step farther and attaches the chainsaw to his arm after having sawed off his possessed hand earlier.
Winner: Evil Dead II
At the end of the day, which Evil Dead film comes out on top is a personal preference. I tend to have more fun watching Evil Dead II, but from a classic horror standpoint I lean more towards The Evil Dead. They both have the same overall feel, mostly the same setting, and the same overall concept. It's just the small details and execution. It's also worth noting that although they're both great, Evil Dead II comes out on top in terms of pop culture seeing as that version of Ash is what most people recognize. Chainsaw hands are definitely more awesome than a plain, nice college guy.