With the release of Saber Interactive’s Evil Dead: The Game later this month, and the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in theatres, now seems like the perfect opportunity to write about a franchise very near and dear to my heart, Evil Dead. The Evil Dead franchise goes all the way back to 1981 and has had a close relationship with video games from the very beginning, So I thought I’d take the time to talk about the history of Evil Dead video games (with a little Loduca if you were looking for some evil ambience too.)
But first, it’s worth setting the stage. 1981’s The Evil Dead was the second film from now-prolific director Sam Raimi. The film was made on a minuscule budget, and most of that budget went to building the main setting, a cabin in the woods. In fact, this is the film that popularised the trope of the spooky cabin in the woods, complete with a scary basement (which was actually Raimi’s basement nowhere near the cabin itself) full of unsettling artefacts. In the movie, Ash Williams and his teenage friends accidentally summon, and then try to survive, a horrifying evil. In classic style, only Ash is left by the end, and he defeats the evil with only moments to spare. The original Evil Dead is an impressive feat, and contains so much charm, it’s really the beginnings of Raimi’s iconic directorial style. However, the franchise rose to new heights with Evil Dead 2, which acts as the baseline for every entry in the franchise after it, and is one of my favourite movies of all time.
In Evil Dead 2, the story has changed, consider this movie an alternate timeline to the first. Instead of coming to the cabin with a big group of friends, Ash comes with just his girlfriend for a cute getaway. This, predictably, doesn’t stay cute for long, and after the necronomicon is once again used to summon what we now know is a kanderian demon, Ash’s girlfriend quickly ends up dead. What follows is a descent into madness, and Raimi makes it as much fun as possible, with all the insane effects, directing and editing you can possibly put into a movie to really illustrate how much the demon is taunting Ash. The movie ends with Ash being teleported to the mediaeval times and hailed as the one to destroy the deadites (what they call those possessed by the demon).
From here, we go onto Army of Darkness, which once again rewrites the backstory of the movie (this becomes a staple of the franchise). Now, when Ash teleported to the middle ages, he is not hailed as a hero, but taken as a prisoner, he eventually convinces the people of this time that he could be the only one who can help them. He fashions himself a robot hand to replace his chainsaw hand (it’s a long story) and sets about destroying the necronomicon for good. The film ends with him taking a potion and returning to his own time, and that’s the end of the franchise…BUT NOT FOR LONG!! Well, if you don’t count 23 years as ‘not long’. After an attempted reboot of the franchise in 2013, which admittedly wasn’t bad, it was just a different take that no one wanted, the series was properly rebooted in 2015 with the series Ash Vs Evil Dead, where once again the backstory has been rewritten. This time, Ash did go with a group of friends, but once they all died the plot plays out closer to the events of Evil Dead 2, but without him travelling back in time, fully retconning Army of Darkness. In this Series; Ash and some new friends must travel the country to try and beat villains, demons and sometimes just regular people as the world falls apart.
And that just about covers it, we look to the future now, with the next entry in the series, Evil Dead Rise, which at one point was also called City of Evil Dead, coming later this year. Not much is known about Evil Dead Rise, what we do know is that it will not star Ash Williams, it will not be directed by Sam Raimi, and it will have the writers from Ash vs Evil Dead. The plot outline is listed as such; ‘A twisted tale of two estranged sisters whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.’
But this is all a lot of film talk, I hear you cry, where are the games! Never fear, because if I take it way back to the release of The Evil Dead in 1981, it wasn’t long to wait to experience the horror yourself…
The Evil Dead (1984) for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum
I’ll say it now, this is probably the least playable game for modern audiences. That is no surprise though, as the C64 and ZX are from the generation of games where games were more just a crazy experiment more than anything else. Released three years after the original movie and three years before Evil Dead 2, The Evil Dead by Palace Software was the very first licensed evil dead game. It was developed by Michael Fox and came on a stylish blood-red cassette that you would have to load into a datasette player, how times have changed.
Unsurprisingly, the visuals in this game are now considered archaic, but a lot of the sprites for enemies and items have their charms. This title does a surprisingly good job of getting the feel of the film across. In the game, you play as Ash, who has to battle the evil force in the woods by collecting pages (slender style), by completing the book of the dead before being swallowed by the evil you can win! You can also collect weapons including shovels, shotguns and axes.
For all its flaws, it is a surprisingly solid title for the era, and it may be the only title on this list that is currently considered freeware. You can pick up this game right now at c64.com, assuming you have an emulator on hand.
Between this game and the next, a huge amount of time passed. In fact, the time between the original The Evil Dead game, and the next one, was almost double the time between Army of Darkness and Ash vs Evil Dead, which puts it into perspective a bit more.
Evil Dead: Hail to the King (2000) for PlayStation, Dreamcast, and PC
A personal favourite of mine, I even have a physical copy of this game for the PlayStation, Evil Dead: Hail to the King is, predictably, a pretty standard survival horror game. However, this feels closer to the likes of Alone in the Dark rather than the more refined and polished Resident Evil and Silent Hill 2. This isn’t exactly great, because both of those games came out multiple years before this did. However, I am and always will be a massive sucker for not only Evil Dead 2 (from which this takes majority inspiration) but also PS1 style graphics, the low-poly models with that strange warping the system did, and PS1 style survival horror, which I could not be more happy is making a comeback in the indie space now.
Evil Dead: Hail to the King features pre-rendered backgrounds, making it easier to tell what locations from the movies you’re in, weapons include the shovel, chainsaw (for which you need fuel) and the shotgun, Ash’s faithful boomstick (for which you need ammo). Enemies include Deadites, skeletons, staples of the franchise, but new inclusions are possessed ‘Hellbillies’ and Wolverine scouts. Outside of the classic survival horror appeal, which admittedly is not for everyone, I would recommend this game for the crazy story.
Eight years after the events of Army of Darkness. After regaining his job at S-Mart and beginning a new relationship with fellow employee Jenny, Ashley “Ash” Williams begins suffering from recurring nightmares about the Necronomicon and the Deadites, which haunt him for years. Wanting to help him, Jenny decides to take Ash back to Professor Knowby’s old cabin to help him face his demons. However, shortly after arriving, Ash’s possessed severed hand appears and plays Knowby’s old cassette containing the Necronomicon’s incantation once again. Despite Ash’s attempts to stop it, the evil once again awakens in the woods, smashing through the window and kidnapping Jenny. When Ash goes to grab an axe above the mirror, his evil twin, Bad Ash exits the mirror and knocks him unconscious. After awakening, Ash quickly goes out to the workshed and reassembles his chainsaw-hand before going out to stop the Necronomicon and save Jenny. After reading some of Professor Knowby’s notes, Ash learns of a priest named Father Allard, whom Knowby was working with to decipher the Necronomicon and send the evil back to where it came. (spoilers from here on) Upon consulting Father Allard at his church, Ash departs to gather the five missing pages from the Necronomicon and the Kandarian Dagger, the latter of which he obtains from a possessed Annie Knowby in the cabin’s fruit cellar. After the two come across a possessed Jenny, Father Allard uses the pages and the dagger to create a portal and exorcise the demons from Jenny’s body. However, Allard then reveals himself to be Bad Ash in disguise, who promptly kidnaps Jenny and jumps into the portal with Ash in hot pursuit, the two arriving in an Arabian village in the 9th century. Ash finally catches up with Bad Ash, who intends to let Jenny be consumed by the Dark Ones and cross over into this world while Bad Ash will kill Ash and use him as a ‘calling card’. The two fight, with Bad Ash transforming into a giant scorpion-like deadite. Nonetheless, Ash still defeats him and manages to use the pages of the Necronomicon to pull Bad Ash into the portal. With Jenny now free from possession, Ash uses another of the spells to open a portal and send them back home. Upon arriving, Ash and Jenny discover to their horror that they’ve arrived in a version of Dearborn, Michigan that is ruled by the Dark Ones. Seeing several various necronomicon books in a shop window, Ash screams as the game ends.
It’s wild and wacky, and I’m a big fan, but there’s a lot I can easily overlook. I admit this isn’t the strongest title, even for the time. At least 1984s The Evil Dead was good considering when it was released and the systems it was on. Evil Dead: Hail to the King consistently got 5/10 from every major reviewer of the time, which metacritic ranks as ‘generally unfavourable’. AllGame said that the Dreamcast version’s graphics were “stagnant, still, lifeless” and that it needed “better control, better combat, a better look and feel.” Greg Orlando of Next Generation said of the same console version, “With apologies to Carl Sandburg, this game belongs to the Dead, to the Dead and to the Wilderness” which, if you ask me, is frankly a chilling sentence to write in a video game review.
To make up for the previous DECADES without a new video game entry in the series, we would only have to wait a couple of years to see another Evil Dead game.
Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick (2003) for PlayStation 2 and Xbox
The next console generation up, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick came out. Taking combat cues from the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3, this game was chock-full of interesting tidbits. Bruce Campbell, as always, voices Ash, but the cast for this game goes all out, including prolific voices such as Debi Mae West, Rob Paulsen and Tom Kenny.
This game is maybe one of the stronger titles to play now, but boy is it kinda dull. It’s a lot of simple puzzles set in arenas where you fight enemies with what amounts to a pretty small moveset. It’s good enough at first but eventually becomes so repetitive that it’s hard to stay invested in the story.
Speaking of story, this isn’t quite as crazy as Hail to the King, but it’s still pretty wild. Basically, an author has translated the entire Necronomicon and released it as a book, what could go wrong? Anyway, after the Kandarian demon is inevitably unleashed, Ash is the only one who can stop it! As a minor spoiler, the ending of this game captures some of the crazy charm of Evil Dead 2, teleporting himself back to feudal japan, grabbing a katana and speaking perfect Japanese before the game ends.
Fistful of Boomstick got only-just higher review scores than Hail to the King, averaging about a 6/10 across the board. Chris Carle of IGN gave the game a mixed review, calling its gameplay “fun, if a little repetitive”, and noting that its twenty-dollar retail value is a suitable maximum price. Although conversely; Adam Dodd of Bloody Disgusting wrote that the game was “actually pretty enjoyable” and that it was an improvement on its predecessor, Evil Dead: Hail to the King.
That very same year we got a minor entry on the list to accompany this game;
Evil Dead Pinball (2003) for mobile
It’s easy to forget, in our current landscape, that this is what mobile games used to look like. Now, mobile games often rival full console releases, but back in 2003, this 400px by 600px screen where you’d play virtual pinball was all we had.
There really isn’t much to say about Evil Dead pinball, it was developed by THQ, and the Russian-based company Cybiko Wireless for mobile phones. It was the first game based on the Evil Dead franchise made exclusively for mobile devices, and the second officially licensed video game to be based solely on the first Evil Dead film. It was released to coincide with Fistful of Boomstick, even though it largely is completely unrelated.
The turnaround for the next title was just as quick as last time. Only two years later we got the next entry in Evil Dead video game history.
Evil Dead: Regeneration (2005) for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC
You’d think, at this point, that this game being unconnected to the previous titles in the franchise wouldn’t be a big surprise, but considering this released only two years after the previous title and it released on the same systems, many likely mistook this for a sequel. It is not a sequel, in fact it takes place in a timeline where Army of Darkness never even took place to begin with. This game depicts what would have happened if ash never got sent back in time at the end of Evil Dead II.
Once again, like with Fistful of Boomstick, I really have to commend the creativity of the setup. Ash Williams is locked away in an asylum for the criminally insane after the events of the first two movies. Convinced the world thinks he is crazy, the truth is much more nefarious. His doctor, Dr. Reinhard, somehow in possession of Professor Raymond Knowby’s diary and the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, plans on using the books to bring about his ascension to power. In the process he releases an army of Deadites on the unsuspecting world and it is Ash’s job to stop the doctor and put the Deadites back where they belong. Of course, this involves Ash going through some crazy locations and meeting wacky characters while taking on swathes of deadites the whole time.
The gameplay was a much stronger take on the hack-and-slash that the previous title had attempted, as well as the videogame standard of some conveniently placed puzzles. There are different weapons you can find throughout the game to help you, more than in previous titles, and early in the game Ash receives a first for the series; a sidekick. Sam is an undead creature that can help ash in a variety of ways, most of which result in Sam’s violent death. The player can kick Sam into openings to open doors or onto enemies to pop their heads off, and the player can control Sam to get through small openings. This is one of two major changes to the game’s formula. This is the first game to swing all the way into action and remove the survival horror roots set about in Hail to the King, and this is expressed most strongly in the fact that the player receives unlimited ammunition for firearms and unlimited chainsaw fuel. An ultimate move is also added in ‘rage mode’, when a rage meter is filled Ash can enter rage mode and this provides a variety of buffs that can help out in a sticky situation.
This is probably the highest rated Evil Dead console game of the 2000s, receiving around a 7/10 from most critics, and being granted an ‘average’ rating on Metacritic. Adam Dodd of Bloody Disgusting wrote that it is “probably the best full-scope console game out there in terms of mechanics” but criticised it for its “addition of an obnoxious sidekick and way too many tedious escort missions”.
This did mean that the streak of evil dead games in the early 2000s ended on a high, though, as after this game they decided to stop creating Evil Dead console games. This wasn’t the end though, and there were a few small, but notable entries on our list.
Notable Evil Dead events 2006-2010
Outside of the realm of Video Games the franchise lived on, kinda. In 2007 Dynamite Entertainment revived their run of the Evil Dead comic books, which fizzled out quickly, to be replaced in 2008 by Dark Horse, who revived their 90s Evil Dead comic run with a moderately successful series written by Mark Verheiden and once again illustrated by John Bolton.
Most interestingly in this time was in 2007, when the production team of George Reinblatt, Christopher Bond and Frank Cipolla created an Off Broadway show titled Evil Dead: The Musical, based on the film series. Its New York run was directed by Bond and Hinton Battle, who also choreographed the show. Ryan Ward played the part of Ash. Tying in with the midnight movie plot of a group of friends visiting a wooded cabin and unleashing untold evil, performances did not start until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It ran for about one month, and then once again later the same year in Toronto, before never being seen again.
We did see another set of games related to the series, although none of them were quite on the scale of the 2000-2005 series, this began in 2011 with;
Army of Darkness: Defense (2011) for iOS and Android
Ah, who doesn’t ‘love’ old timey iphone games, there’s a certain feel to games from that time when no one really knew what to do with mobile gaming after all the buttons were removed, but it was exciting seeing all the experimentation. Army of Darkness: Defense was a tower defense video game developed by Backflip Studios, it featured Bruce Campbell as the voice of character Ash Williams. According to Backflip, the game is no longer supported and has been removed from the App Store and Google Play beginning on May 5, 2018. The eternal problem with mobile gaming, that when something is gone, it’s gone forever. Oh how I wait for someone to give Paranormal Activity Sanctuary the respect and recognition it deserves.
Anyway, Players directly control the character by walking left to right, while a shotgun automatically shoots constantly if there are enemies in sight. Players also have two abilities available that you choose before each wave, with many options to choose from. Melee attacks happen automatically when there is an enemy in range. Players obtain gold by completing waves and gold will also drop from enemies that have been killed, but it must be obtained by walking over it, which can be risky to the player as it exposes themselves to damage. The game is over if players get killed or if the enemies reach the book of undead. Hey, at least it’s got more to it than Evil Dead pinball.
On Metacritic, the iOS version of the game had a score of 74 percent based on reviews from 16 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”. IGN gave it a 7.5 stating: “Army of Darkness Defense is fun enough that it doesn’t matter if you’re familiar with the films, but fans will get a little extra from it. The tongue-in-cheek tone of the films is in full effect, with lines cut straight from the film blaring about every five seconds.”
However, that very same year saw a second Evil Dead game, this time exclusive to iOS.
Evil Dead: The Game (2011) for iOS
Oh boy, how I do not miss the bobble-head artstyle of this era of mobile games. To be clear, this game (Evil Dead: The Game 2011) is not to be confused with the newly released title (Evil Dead: The Game 2022), which just happens to be releasing with the same title exactly 11 years later.
This title loosely follows the plot of the original 1981 film, and has you play as Ash in a twin-stick shooter fighting off the undead, as per usual. Over the course of 30 levels you have the options of using the Chainsaw, Boomstick and an axe to beat your foes and save your friends. Strangely, despite technically having less mechanical complexity, this is a more consistently engaging game to jump into than Army of Darkness: Defense.
Scott A. Johnson of Dread Central called this game “a fun little game, just twisted enough to keep a horror fan’s interest, and wonderful for fans of the Raimi films.”
Don’t worry, the franchise wasn’t combined to the throes of the mobile market for long, although there was one more game released for mobile that is worth mentioning.
Evil Dead: Endless Nightmare (2016) for iOS and Android, Evil Dead: Virtual Nightmare (2018) for Oculus Go and Evil Dead: Extended Nightmare (1019) for Android
You know what, I’m not afraid to admit it, I liked this game back in the day. Developed by Boomdash Digital and released on October 20th, 2016 on iOS, The game is a first-person “Endless Runner” loosely based on the plot of the 2013 Evil Dead remake. It is strange that it’d release three years after that film, but I’m not here to judge releasing decisions. This original release of the game had Players control a nameless character (though the brief appearance of a blue shirt seen when wielding certain weapons imply it is either David Allen or Ash Williams) as they run through the woods collecting power-ups, weapons, and “Blood Drops”. Since there is no proper ending to the game, the primary objective is to get the longest distance possible without dying. Strangely, there are a whole load of references to the original series, especially in this 2016 version of the game. Here, Three weapons from the original Evil Dead trilogy appear; These include Ash’s modified chainsaw (based on its appearance in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness), a double-barreled shotgun, here named the Boomstick, and the Kandarian Dagger (based on it’s Evil Dead II version). Also notable is the A-Store, the logo of which is clearly based on the S-Mart logo seen in Army of Darkness.
Ah, the early days of VR, when mobile reigned king for anyone who couldn’t afford the oculus dev kit. The game here basically plays the same as the original 2016 release, with some minor changes being made. The Boomstick is now simply a shotgun, the Kandarian dagger is now just ‘demonic dagger’ and the A-Mart logo has been simplified. Was this done for more brand synergy, or was it a copyright thing? No one knows, and it’s probably because no one cares. This version of the game features more changes than this, though, including additional content, which includes more weapons, more bosses, more achievements and a high-score time system, and more environments for you to run through. At the time, it was exciting to see a big horror brand supporting emerging new tech like this, and many a night was spent playing this on my Oculus Go in 2018. However, my puny few hours in the game clearly wasn’t enough to justify the studio’s investment, because it wasn’t long before the game was released once again.
Ah, the grand old year of 2019, it feels like it just happened, yet at the same time so far away. This was a pretty simple affair, Extended Nightmare was just a plain re-port back to mobile of the VR version, including the improved visuals and extra content. I recall being disappointed with this at the time, expecting yet more content, which I now realise was much higher hopes than the studio had for this game.
And that was how it all ended, for the longest time The Evil Dead didn’t grace the realm of video games. But, the final console game was the strongest to date, though not amazing, and the mobile game was pretty solid, but it’s no ‘into the dead’.
Notable Inclusion in other games
It looked like the series was done with video games, at least original ones. There are a lot of games that make royalty-free references to the series, but there are also a decent number of official crossovers. A major one was as a non-playable character in Telltale games’ Poker Night 2, but the majority of appearances are thanks to the hugely successful Ash vs Evil Dead series that ran between 2015-2018. Official appearances for this TV show include the game Deploy and Destroy, a competitive multiplayer FPS available for iOS and Android, where you can play as Ash Williams, Kelly and Pablo, as well as a fully-voiced appearance as a DLC character in the asymmetrical horror title Dead by Daylight.
It looked like Evil Dead was done with video games, after a long run, perhaps it was all over…
Evil Dead: The Game (2022) for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Could it be?
Before mine very eyes!
A high quality console-released Evil Dead game releasing on basically everything, and it combines Left 4 Dead style combat with asymmetrical horror style player controlled monsters?
It’s like an Evil Dead fan’s dream come true! This game is so freshly released it’s still steaming, and you can pick it up from the spooky day of Friday the 13th onward! The game comes from Saber Interactive and published by Saber Interactive & Boss Team Games. The game features a levelling up system, as well as skill tree mechanics. It will also feature multiple maps, including the cabin in the woods from the Evil Dead film series, along with over 25 weapons, including Ash’s chainsaw and boomstick. At launch, the game features 4 playable survivor classes (Leaders, Warriors, Hunters and Supports), and 3 playable demons (the Warlord, the Puppeteer, and the Necromancer). We’re not sure if the game is set to receive additional content in future, but we’re so excited nonetheless.
Be sure to stick around on IGF for an upcoming review of this game in the next few weeks. If you can’t wait to see some more of the game, take a look at this gameplay preview featuring the man himself, Bruce Campbell: