Evil Dead: A Case Study in Adapting a Franchise in Every Conceivable Way
Did you ever want to see a musical version of the Evil Dead? Because you totally can.
In this delightful late-stage capitalist utopia in which we live, the entertainment industry never fails to squeeze every last possible dime out of any creative endeavor. You can take this as a disheartening prioritization of commerce over art — it is, to be fair — or you can look at the bright side: When something you like becomes popular, you're going to get more of it. A lot more of it. So. Much. More. In every imaginable form, and some you can’t imagine until you see them.
Take Evil Dead.
A much-beloved cult classic, Evil Dead is the very definition of “moderate success.” The original film earned just over $2.5 million at the box office, on an admittedly tiny budget. That kicked off two sequels, both of which did well enough, but neither of which were exactly blockbusters. The remake/reboot did a little better, but still not a blockbuster. Yet despite that, our Evil Dead cup runneth over. Let us count the ways, shall we?
Sequels, spinoffs, remakes and reboots
Sequels, and eventually remakes and reboots, are the first layer of the entertainment industry’s franchise machine. Even the dumbest Hollywood power broker can see the appeal: “Oh, you liked the thing? Well, here’s more of almost the exact same thing you liked.” In the 25 years since its release, Evil Dead has inspired not just two sequels and a remake, but also several efforts to get another movie off the ground.
Sometimes movies beget TV shows, like Evil Dead begot Ash vs. Evil Dead. It’s a solid show and a reasonable followup to the films — and a pretty obvious next step in this golden age of television I keep hearing we’re having.
Games are big business these days — almost as big as Hollywood. (Bigger, if you listen exclusively to people who work in the gaming industry and who select their numbers very, very carefully so as to create and maintain that illusion.) No surprise, then, that there have been six Evil Dead video games over the decades, from a little-remembered Commodore 64 game to a number of little-loved PlayStation- to Xbox-era games, right up to a pair of mobile games that, well, you probably never heard of even if you’re a die-hard fan. Games should be a fertile medium for building out a great franchise, but they usually aren’t, for many of the same reasons that video-game movies suck so hard, only in reverse.
Video games aren’t the only, uh, game in town. There are also tabletop games, ranging from cheap reskinning of classic games like Monopoly — all the boring gameplay of regular Monopoly, but you can totally play as R2D2 instead of the dog! — to custom-designed games crafted for the IP. As far as I know, no one has made Evil Dead Monopoly or Clue (it was Deadites, in the cabin, with the Necronomicon), but a tabletop role-playing game and card game both exist, based on Army of Darkness.
What would a great geek franchise be without some comic books? Nothing. Or at least, something without a comic-book version. Anyway, comic books are relatively cheap and easy to produce and market, at least compared to video games or TV shows, so it’s not a surprise — or shouldn’t be — that Ash and his Deadite nemeses have made it into a bunch of comics, from imprints like Dark Horse, Dynamite and Space Goat Productions. It’s not just Deadites, either; the comics have Ash facing off against everything from Herbert West (of Re-Animator fame) to Dracula himself, showing that, if nothing else, comics are a good place for the story to get really fucking weird.
The cash-in novelization was once a required item on the franchise checklist, but it's fallen out of favor. The Evil Dead series seems to have escaped the novelization fate, too, which is quite a shame, if only for the fact that it would be great to hear local novelization historian Jon Olsen read it for his amazing Audiobooks for the Damned series.
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Little kids like to play with toys. Big kids like to collect them and store them, in mint condition, on shelves in their basements. So of course there are Evil Dead toys. From cutesy Funko Pop figures to horrifically detailed renditions of the monsters of the series, there are plenty of Evil Dead toys. Enough, in fact, that horror site Dread Central did a roundup of the top ten Evil Dead toys a while back.
The ultimate catch-all category, and the least essential. Need some Evil Dead shot glasses? You’re in luck — that’s a thing. Maybe some Evil Dead posters for your dorm-room wall? Of course that’s a thing! Evil Dead foam chainsaw? Why wouldn’t that exist? Throw in the usual suspects like baseball caps, T-shirts and prayer candles (yes, really), and rest assured you can announce your love of Evil Dead to the world in almost infinite ways. (Note: Some of this stuff may not exactly be licensed...)
For the lucky few franchises that milk their cult status for all it’s worth, there’s a final, almost mythical goal: the stage adaptation. If you’re really lucky, it will even be a musical. And Evil Dead: The Musical, is absolutely a real thing, and you can absolutely go see it this weekend. Don't forget to wear your Evil Dead T-shirt and bring in your comics to read during intermission.
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