Collins’ Crypt: Did You Know There Are Eight EVIL DEAD Films?
The internet has made our lives simpler in many ways, and I honestly don't know how I'd function without it. But for certain Italian producers, the ease of obtaining information so quickly helped put a stop to one of their favorite pastimes: confusing the hell out of audiences by creating franchises out of unrelated movies. Without the internet, I might even still be in the dark as to why Troll 2 had no trolls, or why I had seen two movies called Demons 3 that were a) nothing alike and b) Demon free. It wouldn't be until the advent of online encyclopedias that I learned that Italian producers weren't beholden to America's "rules" about such things, retitling films however they saw fit and raking in extra money from the association with better known films. We don't really do that here; Deep Blue Sea may have had some sharks, but they couldn't just call it Jaws 5, because someone would certainly be sued*. However, this rule (or just common courtesy) doesn't exist over there, and thus the industry produced several "sequels" of no relation to their "originals", with overlaps like Demons 3 not uncommon.
But at least Demons was an Italian movie to begin with. Unfortunately, they did the same thing with American productions, using their translated titles as a launching point to tie in whatever vaguely similar (at best) movie they might have had in mind. And to the best of my limited knowledge, there is no case wackier than the La Casa series, which began with Sam Raimi's 1981 classic, better known as The Evil Dead. For whatever reason, Evil Dead's Italian title became La Casa (translation: "The House") instead of "Male Morto" (the actual translation), and in turn, 1987's Evil Dead 2 became La Casa 2. But Sam Raimi wasn't in any rush to make a true "La Casa 3" right away, Italian producers seized the opportunity to cash in anyway, keeping the name alive with at least five more installments, none of which were related in any meaningful way. There would be La Casa 3-7 before the next true sequel (Army of Darkness) was made, and rather than continue their ruse and go with the La Casa name (fitting, if you think about it - we never got "Evil Dead 3", either), they just translated it quite faithfully to L'armata delle tenebre.
(Japan wins best retitle for that particular film, going with Kyaputen sûpâmâkett, or "Captain Supermarket".)
The funny thing is that the first fake sequel is tonally more in line with the first Evil Dead than Raimi's actual trilogy closer, which largely eschewed anything remotely scary in favor of more comedy and adventure. La Casa 3, which is known as Ghosthouse in the US, has almost the same plot on paper - there's a recording that unleashes evil inside an isolated house, resulting in possessions and many gory deaths. Obviously no one would ever mistake it for a legitimate followup (the lack of Ashley J. Williams is a pretty big clue), but compared to most of these "sequels", it's as tight as a Saw entry. Like the first Evil Dead, there is some humor but scaring the audience is the main goal here, and the protagonists are a similar bunch of pals who find their fun weekend ruined by the supernatural. Whether there was any legitimate thought to this or if it was just a happy coincidence, I don't know. According to the IMDb, the producer who suggested the retitling, Achille Manzotti, wasn't even involved with this movie (more on him later), so this could have just as easily been more suited to be a Halloween sequel. There's no rhyme or reason for these things - in fact the house that they used was the same one from Fulci's House by the Cemetery, so they could have just as easily called it a sequel to that, but that movie being 7 years old and Evil Dead 2 being everyone's favorite new horror movie, you can see why they'd opt to go with the latter option.
La Casa 4 is better known as Witchery, and had some minor notoriety in the US due to the casting of Linda Blair (her first supernaturally driven horror movie in ages) and David Hasselhoff, then in his career prime. It's a fairly similar movie in the basic sense: a bunch of folks in one central spot getting offed due to the unleashing of an ancient evil, but the bigger locale certainly reduces how much it feels like an Evil Dead film. It's a big abandoned hotel near the ocean instead of an isolated house, for example, giving director Fabrizio Laurenti a location that's a bit unique for horror films (shockingly few set in such places, especially compared to "the old weird house on the outskirts of town"). And the witchcraft subplot adds some flavor (perhaps a bit too much - the devil rapes a woman, spoiling the otherwise fun time) and there are some truly cool setpieces, like when the supernatural force makes everyone invisible to the outside world, sending a would-be rescue helicopter away as it can't see them banging on the windows. It's fairly incoherent at times (Ghosthouse was pretty straightforward as far as these things go), but the setting and cast (including the lovely Catherine Hickland, also seen in Ghost Town) make up for it.
1990's La Casa 5, aka Beyond Darkness, returns the setting to a house (a house used in Fulci's The Beyond, in fact - as well as fellow unrelated "sequel" Zombie 5) but goes even further away from Evil Dead-style mayhem in favor of a plot about a family moving into a new home, making it something more like Amityville or Poltergeist. The latter almost had to be on writer/director Claudio Fragasso's mind, in fact, as the little girl's name is Carol (and the mom's name is Ann, for good measure) and the plot involves one of the children being "taken" by the presence that has been haunting them. This subplot ultimately devolves into some Exorcist-style shenanigans, with two priests saying a variation on "the power of Christ compels you" some several dozen times during the film's endless climax. Then there's another subplot about a lady who murdered some children, and the usual haunted house stuff (a haunted radio provides one highlight), a third priest with his own agendas... it's the most incoherent of the three, that's for sure.
Interestingly, the son of the family unit is played by Michael Stephenson, who also appeared in Fragasso's Troll 2 (and went on to make Best Worst Movie, the great documentary about that film's enduring legacy) and thus is the unofficial mascot of unrelated, incoherent "sequels". He gets to spend a chunk of the movie possessed and with some injury makeup on his face (peeled skin and such), but the highlight has to be at the very end, when (spoiler) everything appears to be OK and he is sleeping in the car as the family drives away from their haunted property. The camera zooms in on his face, and even a baby would know what happens next: his eyes open and we realize he's still possessed. But then - surprise! His eyes stay closed as we freeze frame, and then credits roll over footage of the house burning. Finally, after the credits are done, Stephenson finally opens his now-scary eyes. Post-credits tags are common nowadays, but this was a pretty rare example for the era - I love that they make you wait for the most obvious thing ever. The film was actually produced by Achille Manzotti, the man credited with creating this extended series of films - he's probably best known to US audiences as the producer of Two Evil Eyes, the Romero/Argento teamup film from the same year. Best as I can tell, this was his lone credit on a La Casa film - I love that it was all his idea and even he didn't bother having much to do with it.
Hilariously, the "series" went even further into confusion, retitling House II: The Second Story into La Casa 6, despite the fact that it came out in 1987, same year as Evil Dead 2. For even more fun, the film The Horror Show - a not-great "executed killer comes back from the dead for revenge" movie not unlike Shocker - was inexplicably titled House III for Australia and several European countries - so in Italy, it became La Casa 7. As for the original House, the Italians screwed up and gave it a sort of Giallo-y title: Chi è sepolto in quella casa?, or "Who is Buried in That House?", so I guess they had no choice but to give its actual sequels some other moniker.
It seems the series stopped after that; I looked around for a bit and could not find any evidence of a La Casa 8, but by that point I think audiences were starting to get a little more hip to these switcheroos. The decline of the Italian film industry around that time probably played a factor as well, and within a few years the internet took off and such crazy retitling more or less went away. I mean, you still have the gonzo translations (somehow the Russian translation for Die Hard is "A Hard Nut To Crack"), and Japan continues with its gibberish options (the Fast & Furious movies are known as Wild Speed; the sixth entry is called Wild Speed: Euro Mission), but I rarely see anything marketed as a sequel to something it isn't even remotely related to. I don't know what that will mean if someone ever actually makes official sequels to Troll or Demons, but at least for the foreseeable future, Italian horror fans won't get conned into thinking that there are more Evil Dead films than Paranormal Activities.
Curious - anyone out there get duped, either with one of the titles above or one from another made-up franchise? Troll 2 doesn't count; if you actually liked Troll 1 you deserve whatever bullshit you got ("Troll 3", aka Contamination .7 and about a half dozen other titles, is a delight, though). These are hardly the only examples, and I'd love to hear from some actual folks from Italy who lived through this silly trend - were you excited to watch a new Evil Dead movie only to get Ghosthouse? Or was there some know-it-all pal (or was it you?) explaining the behind the scenes shenanigans?
*The DTV market is a different story. Lionsgate is quite fond of buying unrelated independent films and changing the title - there are three unrelated Dark Harvest films, for example.