It is based on the short film Within The Woods, which served as a 'prototype' that allowed Raimi to secure $90,000 to produce the film. The film was a hardship for the cast and crew, being filmed at an actual cabin in Morristown, Tennessee, secluded from the nearby town. Despite the hardships, the film was released to positive reviews, including a rave review from Stephen King, calling it "the most ferociously original horror film of the year", allowing it to secure an international distributor, the then-unknown New Line Cinema. The film currently holds a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered to be one of the largest cult films.
The Evil Dead focuses on five Michigan State University students: Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda, accompanied by Ash's sister Cheryl, their friend Scotty and his girlfriend Shelly, who venture into the Tennessee hills to vacation in an isolated cabin for their spring break. They soon run into trouble, first narrowly avoiding another motorist, then having a sudden scare as the bridge near the cabin begins to collapse as they cross. That night, while Cheryl is making a drawing of a clock, her hand becomes violently possessed by a mysterious entity, causing her to draw a picture that looks like a deformed, evil face. She fails to mention the incident to the others, dismissing it as her imagination.
When the trapdoor to the cellar mysteriously flies open during dinner, Ash and Scotty go down to investigate and find the Naturon Demonto, a Sumerian version of the Book of the Dead, along with a tape recording of incantations, which, when played, unleashes evil demons and spirits. The group is unaware of this, but Cheryl becomes hysterical when a tree crashes through the window, and retires to her room.
Later, hearing voices, she goes outside to investigate. Alone and far from the safety of the cabin, she is attacked and raped by demonically possessed trees, but manages to escape. The others do not believe her story, but Ash agrees to drive her to town where she can find a place to stay for the night. However, they find that the only bridge connecting the cabin to the rest of the world has been destroyed.
Back at the cabin, while the girls play cards, Cheryl becomes demonically possessed, telling them that the demons will kill them. She then stabs Linda in the ankle with a pencil, and Scotty locks her into the cellar. Shelly is the next to become possessed; she attacks Scotty, who eventually dismembers her with an axe. They bury her, and Scotty, emotionally shaken by her death, leaves to find an alternate trail through the woods.
Checking on Linda, Ash discovers that she, too, has become possessed, although she makes no attempt to attack him. Scotty returns, suffering from grave injuries caused by the possessed trees. Before losing consciousness, he tells Ash that an alternate trail does exist. Linda and Cheryl unsuccessfully attempt to deceive Ash into believing they are no longer possessed, only to attack him again. He locks Linda outside the cabin and tends to Scotty's injuries, but she sneaks in through the back-door and attacks Ash with a ceremonial dagger, which he uses to impale her.
Taking her body to the woodshed, Ash tries to force himself to dismember her with a chainsaw, but finds himself unable to do it and buries her instead. She rises from the grave and attacks him, forcing him to decapitate her with a shovel.
Returning to the cabin, Ash finds that Cheryl has escaped from the cellar. Arming himself with a shotgun, he finds her hiding outside and shoots her in the shoulder. He then descends into the cellar to search for more shotgun shells after barricading the doors. While there, he hears voices and sees blood seeping from numerous crevices and openings in the walls.
A demoniacally possessed Scotty tries to kill Ash as Cheryl breaks through the door. During their fight, Ash sees that the Book of the Dead has fallen near the fireplace and is starting to burn, as are Cheryl and Scotty. As Cheryl raises a fireplace poker to impale him, Ash snatches the book and throws it into the fire. With the book burnt, Cheryl and Scotty fall apart and die as the sun rises. As Ash heads outside, an unseen evil speeds through the forest, breaks through the doors of the cabin and descends upon him. He turns around and screams in terror before the film cuts to the end credits.
Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert had collaborated on several short films in college, which were mainly comedies. However, the shooting of a suspense scene in one film, It's Murder!, got Raimi interested in shooting a feature-lengthed to secure a budget of $350,000, and with the cast and crew - found via a local ad, as well as being made up of family and friends of Campbell and Tapert - headed for a wilderness cabin in the end under different "stage names" during the shoot, since they were members of the Screen Actors Guild and wanted to avoid being penalized for participating in a non-union production. They are credited in the credits as "Hal Delrich" for Richard and "Sarah York" for Theresa. According to Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, Richard acquired his stage name by combining his short name with his roommates' names, Hal & Del.
Because of its graphic violence, the original version of the movie was banned in several countries, including Finland, Germany, Iceland and Ireland. The "tree rape" scene in the movie was also described by some as being misogynistic. A heavily edited version was made legally available in 1992. In 2001 an uncut German DVD version was released, but the Berlin-Tiergarten Court ordered seizure of the DVD in April 2002 (Case Number 351 Gs 1749/02). In Finland, The Evil Dead was later released uncut on DVD by Future Film, and rated K-18. The uncut version was rated FSK 16 in Germany in early 2017.
In 2003 Evil Dead (musical) began development. It adapted the characters and plots of the Evil Dead trilogy to a stage version while adding original music and songs.
In 2013, the Evil Dead remake was released. This movie featured a new set of characters and actors, but stayed close to the original story.