ReWind Vol 6: The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness
Ok, firstly this piece is long overdue. I was hoping to have had it done a few weeks ago for Halloween… whoops, sorry Mase 😉
This ReWind covers two direct film adaptations: The Evil Dead (4 issue run) by Dark Horse Comics & Army of Darkness (3 issue run) by Dark Horse Comics/Dynamite Entertainment. I own the trades of each so am going off my copies of these. I was originally thinking of doing this in two sections, one for each book but they both go together so well that I decided to just look at them at the same time.
So The Evil Dead adaptation was released through Dark Horse in 2008 and the Army of Darkness adaptation was originally released through Dark Horse in ’93 but was re-released as a trade by Dynamite in 2006.
A super quick rundown of The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness plot: The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness follows the woeful life of Ashley J. Williams and his friends who go to a cabin in the woods for a get-away only to find themselves turning into the evil undead known as Deadites. Ash, after gorily fighting his way through this evil, lopping off his own hand and putting a chainsaw on the stump, is then transported through time to medieval England only to fight the forces of darkness again, this time en masse. See, very simple.
The Evil Dead comic is written by Mark Verheiden (from the screenplay by Sam Raimi) and illustrated by John Bolton. For Army of Darkness John Bolton did double duty and both wrote and illustrated the work (taken from the original screenplay by Ivan and Sam Raimi). This is not the first time in ReWind I have covered Verheiden or Bolton’s work (see ReWind Aliens – Dark Horse) and I hope it won’t be the last either as their work is consistently fascinating.
“The films were comics on the big screen; gaudy, cheesy, and over the top, so it seems like a natural move to convert them from the celluloid and put them onto glossy 6.63″ x 10.24″ paper.”
But why am I covering Evil Dead though?
Well, for a certain cohort, The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness holds significant place in our hearts. The Evil Dead series was always well ahead of its time, this is something that is clearly true looking at the success of the Ash vs Evil Dead show on Starz currently. The first Evil Dead film came out in 1981 to little fanfare but gained a strong underground following over the proceeding years resulting in two sequels, video games, comics, and the aforementioned Starz television series. The films (three in total) came from the producing friendship of Sam Raimi (writer director), Rob Tapert (producer), and Bruce Campbell (actor). But Evil Dead wasn’t always perceived as a success, Bruce Campbell (who played Ash), after the original trilogy of films (which dissapointed in the Box Office) slashed his way through Hollywood b-blocks on television in shows like Brisco County Jnr while Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert were doing some of the most interesting work of their careers too from Hercules and Xena to the grossly underrated American Gothic. Raimi went on to make the first Spiderman trilogy and the rather fantastic ‘coen-esque’ A Simple Plan among other films while Tapert has produced consistently a host of interesting genre TV shows and films.
But regardless for many fans, whatever these three men did, it was always about The Evil Dead and its legacy cast a long shadow.
So here’s the thing, the Evil Dead films are pulpy and fun. The first was a straight horror but the second film mixed in comedy slapstick and the third added adventure fantasy to the mix. The films were comics on the big screen; gaudy, cheesy, and over the top, so it seems like a natural move to convert them from the celluloid and put them onto glossy 6.63″ x 10.24″ paper.
Can we get to the comics already? Sure, but with these comics it really helps to have at least some background on the films and the filmmakers. So consider the above your primer.
The comics (ahhh back on track) follow the films almost beat for beat with a few, but memorable, deviations. They are clearly honest and loyal interpretations of the films but they manage to go a little step further beyond this to become closer to a re-imagining.
Off the bat the films always had a playful tone and the comics match this quite well. The more slapstick and comedic elements, calling on Stooges and Buster Keaton gags, teamed with Joseph DeLuca’s phenomenal (and underrated) scores might be lacking somewhat here but both Bolton and Verheiden line up moments of fun with the use of gratuitous violence, buckets of blood, and the contortions painted on our protagonist Ash face.
The tone in the comics overall is more serious that the films however, the horror aspects are more front and center. I might suggest this is the case due to the ability, in comics, to create exactly whatever one wants with no budgetary or practical restraints. Here is where the separation between the films and the comics seems most stark: The films’ charms often lay in the ‘can do attitude’ and slap-it-together approach to indie filmmaking that Raimi and company utilised. The filmmakers often turned their limitations into assets in the best way that indie filmmakers can. Sometimes you had rather ridiculous monsters or one lone smoke machine in a forest with overhead lighting and this created shooting restrictions that in turn helped create a certain type of atmosphere. But financial or practical restrictions don’t exist in the comic imagination, the world is Bolton’s canvas and his phenomenal art is free to go where it pleases undeterred. His stalking Deadites in The Evil Dead are as horrific as one can imagine, the Harpy and skeletons in Army of Darkness are gloriously ridiculous, the locations as creepy as possible, and the covers… I mean Bolton always does good covers but take a look across the four The Evil Dead covers and the three Army of Darkness ones and tell me Bolton is not one of the best in the business!
The one drawback that often happens when picking up comics with great covers is that the interior doesn’t quite match them. Well here, in both volumes this is not an issue. Gorgeous from front to back.
Bolton’s art is extraordinary. It is really is. He uses a kind of collage approach in both volumes, comprised of pieces of film frames then painted over with adjusted faces. Its beautiful. This is more stark in The Evil Dead but one can still pick up frames from the films in Army of Darkness; faces taken from here and there, combined and rendered against moody, misty, airbrushing.
“…financial or practical restrictions don’t exist in the comic imagination, the world is Bolton’s canvas and his phenomenal art is free to go where it pleases undeterred.”
The playfulness of the plots remain and the screen-grab repaints of Bruce Campbell really do project us into the performances and helps us link the films and comics together. We always can tell that this is Ash (Campbell) and this really helps when adapting work from another visual medium. The art is superb, as I have already gushed, and Bolton is clearly at the top of his game across both volumes; lush contrasting colours, detailed, layered one pagers and inventive and fun panel progression. It is clear that he is passionate about the content here and that only adds to the enjoyment of reading it.
For those familiar with the films they will notice that while Campbell’s likeness is present throughout, the rest of the cast of The Evil Dead however are replaced. This does pull me out a little as I know Ash’s friends Scotty and Sheryl don’t look like this in the films so perhaps this is the biggest issue I have. Army of Darkness however doesn’t suffer from this at all with the paint work showing a much heavier hand so the likenesses are there but their photo-realistic faces never totally clear. There is a nice haze to the medieval dead volume that gives it an almost 50’s epic feel that is absolutely appropriate to the content.
Looking at this art style I can only hope we get more adaptations, not just of existing films but also of screenplays from other writers that never made it to filming. Someone get Mike Richardson (Dark Horse publisher/producer), John Bolton and Vincent Ward together please, we need that Alien3 alternate version stat!
Verheiden in his writing for The Evil Dead sticks closely to the film’s script but does deviate for brevity and also to merge scenes together in a way that seems perfectly natural. The best part of the writing, at least for me who is so familiar with the source material, was the addition of some backstory for our characters. There is backstory at the beginning yes, as the teenagers pile in the car and head out bright eyed and full of potential, but this I could take or leave to be honest. The really interesting work exists as jump cuts to happier times right in the middle of some rather horrible times. The juxtaposition of horror and beauty was fantastic. This. Worked. Great. It’s amazing that with some clever writing, adding polish here and there, and making use of the comic medium, Verheiden squeezes some new blood out of the now 30-odd year old, low budget, indie horror that has already bled a great deal already! This just gives the work some surprising swings and a touching moment here and there for our, otherwise, Deadite cannon fodder.
In the second volume, Army of Darkness, the original film script is used presenting the alternate ending and expanded versions of scenes not seen in the films. One example of this is the excellently presented ‘Ash vs She-Bitch’ battle set in an outside ruin where the fight gets a rather epic rendition with large columns crashing down amid the tussle. This same battle occurred in the film but had to be moved to a small interior set to avoid rising costs. It’s little moments like this that make the comics worthwhile, they become extensions of the bigger works and have a reason to exist on their own. Comics like these really give their stories room to breathe and also an ability for a property to pivot somewhat and try something different.
“It’s amazing that with some clever writing, adding polish here and there, and making use of the comic medium, Verheiden squeezes some new blood out of the now 30-odd year old, low budget, indie horror that has already bled a great deal already!”
Ok, what makes The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness films so great to me? It’s the attempt to mix things that don’t usually mesh. It’s an honest attempt to entertain others but also to entertain the people making the work itself, and it tells. This ethos seems to have been kept by Verheiden and Bolton, these guys clearly love the source material and enjoy bringing it to life once more, back from the (un)dead.
I heartily recommend both volumes, not just as fun, smart, comics, but also as an example of how adaptations can be done well giving us something worthwhile and adding to the exiting works.
Look, these trades are a nightmare to track down now physically but you can get a hold of them digitally from Dark Horse or Comixolgy and you can also probably find the single issues around quite easily either online or by flicking through the singles archive at your local comic store too.
These books are a great mix of horror and adventure. From creepy basements to castle sieges, from books of the dead to boomsticks they really do encompass much more than just modern pulp.
So, do you like gory, silly, horror stories? If you are not one that enjoys old monster movies, blood, and bad puns then maybe sit these titles out. For the rest of us, should we be asking ourselves why we like this stuff? Maybe it’s just because we admire the gusto of the filmmakers, maybe we enjoy the absurdity slashed out in each scene, or may it’s just that misery loves company, in fact that’s what Campbell told me when I asked him! So look, lets not get into the how or why, just enjoy films and comics that you find entertaining, I do humbly recommend these volumes, in a word I find them:
Happy (belated) Halloween.
I did mention I’m a big Evil Dead fan eh?