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Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987)

Less a sequel than a remake/parody of the original (where the humor was at first the unintentional result of Raimi etc.'s on-set learning curve), Campbell's Ash is once again stuck in a cabin with the Deadites (though they wouldn't be called that for another film) and soon joined by a troop of young friends who don't know whether to trust him any more than they'd trust the ghouls.

This is where what's thought of as Raimi, Campbell and the Evil Dead's franchise's "signature" styles all came into their own. It's a funhouse ride of innovative gore and funny/scary slapstick, anchored by the comically unwitting charisma of Ash - the "hero" who looks like an Old Hollywood stud, quips like an 80's brawler and (poorly) schemes like Moe Howard. This was the one that told Hollywood that Sam Raimi was no fluke - he was the real deal, and they had to start paying attention.

Darkman (1990)

When he couldn't secure the rights to make The Shadow in the post-Batman pulp hero boom (it would ultimately become an underrated Alec Baldwin vehicle), Raimi invented a superhero of his own, one that owes as much to the Universal Monsters as it does comics and detective yarns.

Liam Neeson (speaking of unpredictable careers) has the title role as a plastic surgeon who takes revenge on the mobsters who turned him into a hideously burned, bandage-faced freak using experimental face-mimicking masks and accident-triggered superhuman endurance. A decent success in its day (it's easily the best of the Bat-bandwagon), it led to two direct-to-HBO sequels with Arnold The Mummy Vosloo in the title role.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Originally titled Medieval Dead, the second sequel picks up where Dead By Dawn left off. Ash, now sporting a stump-mounted chainsaw in place of his demon-infected right hand, has been zapped back in time to battle The Deadites in medieval Europe.

A box office flop in theaters but a massive cult hit on video, this is probably where a lot of Evil Dead's younger fans first encountered the series (though most won't cop to that). It's often called the lesser sequel compared to Dawn, mostly because it largely abandons shock-horror for fantasy action by the end, but it's still a blast to watch today (on top of being one of the most quotable action films ever), and an obvious first spark for the mega-popular Hercules and Xena TV series Raimi and friends would produce in the 90's. A fourth installment has been teased for years, and is apparently once again on Raimi and Campbell's mind.

The Quick & The Dead (1995)

This was meant to be Raimi's big foray into the Hollywood mainstream, with a big-time cast (then-popular Sharon Stone, legendary Gene Hackman, rising stars Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio), a setting in the briefly resurgent Old West genre and a killer premise: Mortal Kombat (or Kickboxer, or Street Fighter, or Master of The Flying Guillotine - you get the idea) but for quickdraw gunfighting. The plot centers around a motley crew of colorful gunslingers converge at a pistol dueling competition, each with their own motives and backstories to work out amid the organized carnage.

It's probably still Raimi's most stylistically overloaded film, but also his least engaging. It has a parade of stylish compositions, cool shots, iconic poses and slick one-liners, but lacks even Darkman's veneer of earnest sincerity. Either way it made little box office impact, signaling the early downswing of Stone's time as an A-list star.

The box office and critical "meh" that greeted Quick & The Dead is reputed to have led Raimi to some artistic soul-searching, segueing into a surprisingly mega-successful secondary career as a television producer while actively seeking out film projects outside of his familiar style-heavy genre fare. The results would bring him critical praise and fresh opportunities - ultimately leading to a fanboy-flick dream gig that would change the course of his career and the Hollywood blockbuster scene forever. And next week, we'll cover how it all went down.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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