Evil Dead and The Karate Kid: Two sides of the same coin?

Photo: Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1.. Courtesy Starz
Photo: Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1.. Courtesy Starz /

Evil Dead and Karate Kid, two radically different series, may have more in common than you think.

They say there’s nothing original in the entertainment industry anymore. You can point to virtually any idea and find its direct inspiration or doppelganger in another product. However, two properties that you may not expect to be alike in this way are the Evil Dead and The Karate Kid.

Now, when I say that, I’m not talking about their content. After all, one is about the last survivor of a cabin retreat taking up a chainsaw and vanquishing demons while the other revolves around a teen overcoming bullies by competing in karate tournaments.

I’m referring more to their trajectories. Where did the creators and producers take the series? Which formula or format did they use at which time?

When these characteristics are taken into consideration, the two properties start to look much more similar. Now, I pose the (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) question to you is, are these series really two sides of the same coin?

Witness the birth of evil…and car wax.

To understand my twisted mindset, you have to start at the beginning. First of all, both franchises have their roots on the big screen. More specifically, they each had a series of movies released throughout the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s.

On the horror side of things, you had The Evil Dead in 1981, Evil Dead II (sometimes known as Dead by Dawn) in 1987, and Army of Darkness in 1993. Bruce Campbell stars in all three films as demon-slaying goofball Ash Williams with Sam Raimi writing and directing.

On the martial arts end, you have The Karate Kid in 1984, The Karate Kid Part II in 1986, The Karate Kid Part III in 1989, and The Next Karate Kid in 1994. Although original lead Ralph Macchio, writer Robert Mark Kamen, and director John G. Avildsen only stuck around for the first three entries, Pat Morita starred in all four flicks as mentor Mr. Miyagi.

Despite their similar release window, these obviously aren’t an exact one-to-one match. That being said, the productions do overlap in some significant areas.

Both of these series are seen as quintessential properties of the ‘80s. While they aren’t as big as Back to the Future or Ghostbusters, they’re still filled with iconic moments and quotable lines which legions of viewers hold near and dear.

The old tale returns in a new form.

Fast forward several years, and these series are still racing within a few years of each other, albeit in a new form. Rather than continue the established story, both of them started fresh with a remake, each boasting a new cast and crew.

First up was 2010’s The Karate Kid, which starred Jaden Smith as the bullied outsider and Jackie Chan as his somber mentor. As you can probably tell, it had the same setup as the original with a few minor changes, such as shifting the setting to Hong Kong. Aside from that, it went back to the old familiar story that people fell in love with.

The same can largely be said for its peer series. Like the prior remake, 2013’s Evil Dead repeats the formula of the first film, portraying a group of kids in a woodland cabin gradually getting consumed by demons.

Jane Levy is probably the biggest name here, but her character is the first one possessed. In a bizarre twist, however, she is cured and winds up defeating the demons, emerging as the last survivor and new face of the franchise.

The consensus for both of these remakes was one of noncommittal praise. “Yeah, it’s okay,” fans said. “But it’s not the same.” Although the films were well done, which already put them above most other remakes, people felt that the characters weren’t as strong, distinctive, or iconic as the ones in the originals. The movies didn’t have as much charm or magic as a result.

The big battles move to the small screen.

The higher-ups apparently heard these criticisms. Jump forward another few years, and both properties were treated to a TV series in the half-hour format. More specifically, these are TV sequels that each ignore the remake and go back to the original continuity, focusing on older versions of the classic characters and supplementing them with younger characters.

This time, the horror franchise is first to the punch. Ash vs Evil Dead premiered on STARZ in 2015 to the rejoice of fans everywhere, running for three seasons until 2018. Campbell returns as Ash, who accidentally brings the demonic menace back to our world and must strap on the chainsaw to vanquish the evil once again.

This time around, though, he rolls with a crew consisting of Dana DeLorenzo as foul-mouthed Kelly, Ray Santiago as brujo-in-training Pablo, and eventually Arielle Carver-O’Neill as his unexpected daughter.

This multigenerational angle and rekindling of an old war both carry over into the Karate Kid continuation. Cobra Kai premiered on YouTube Red in 2018 to the surprise of fans everywhere. The second season released in 2019, and a third season is slated for 2021 on Netflix.

Like with Evil Dead, legacy actors return in the form of Macchio and William Zabka as his old rival. The show focuses on the latter’s opening of a new karate school, reigniting the feud seen in the films. This also leads to intense competition between the children and the disciples of each character.

As you can see, we have a fair few commonalities in how these franchises have progressed. Their release schedules and formats are so alike in the grand scheme of things that it’s somewhat uncanny.

All of this could be a coincidence, of course. I could be grasping at straws here. After all, certain details, like the number of films and the shift in streaming platforms, don’t match up. Plus, it goes without saying that The Evil Dead and The Karate Kid have a ton of differences in narrative and character.

That doesn’t even factor in Evil Dead Rise, a new film slated to come out in the coming years. As a result, any structural similarities these series have will be lessened even further.

Still, it’s fun to think about how two such radically distinct properties could have such common trajectories. Some conspiracy theorists might call it scary how they’ve grown and changed in a nearly identical fashion.

It’s as if some unseen spooky force was manipulating them, which suits the month of October. Yep, that’s my loose tie-in, and I’m sticking to it.

Next. Which of these movie monsters would reign supreme?. dark

Are you a fan of these franchises? Which one is more your speed? Where would you like to see them go?

The Evil Dead films are available at various retail stores and on streaming platforms, such as Shudder. You can stream Ash vs. Evil Dead on STARZ.

The Karate Kid movies are available at retail outlets. The first four are on SHOWTIME. The remake is on BET. You can stream Cobra Kai on Netflix.