The Evil Dead
Dir. Sam Raimi (1981)
A group of college kids take a vacation to a cabin in the woods and find the Book of the Dead. They read from it, which is never a good idea.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It would be easy to mistake The Evil Dead for a horror comedy because the just-as-popular Evil Dead 2 is, essentially, a horror comedy remake of the original, and Army of Darkness is straight farcical horror hilarity. I remember my marked confusion as I finished The Evil Dead and threw on the sequel. I straight up felt like I was watching the wrong movie, or that I had stumbled across a weird fan film that used some deleted scenes. The Evil Dead, however, is most decidedly not a comedy. In fact, it’s downright terrifying, with stomach churning gore, horrifying demon effects, and a fucking tree rape scene. Sure, it plays around a little with laughs like most horror movies do, but this is simply used to lull you into a false sense of security before it rips your security blanket right from underneath you. This is the first “cabin in the woods” movie upon which all others draw inspiration.
The film starts off looking more like a well-produced student film than a Hollywood movie, but there are shades of know-how lying underneath the rubble. Bruce Campbell is clearly a star almost from the beginning, though he develops throughout the film’s runtime into a God’s-honest leading man. The group of college kids stumble upon the Sumerian remains harvested by an archaeologist within the cabin’s cellar, replete with ceremonial knife and a book bound with human skin. Also in the basement is a tape that tells the kids exactly how to use the book exactly what is going to happen before they fast foward to a section of the tape that starts chanting in Latin. This is generally when you want to turn the tape off, in my limited experience. After the chanting, the dead come to life and begin tormenting the new owners of the Book of the Dead.
Tammy Faye Baker is way more attractive than I remember
Maybe it’s the low budget production value that helps make The Evil Dead so scary. It’s not often that a B-movie takes itself so seriously, as usually these types of film have terrible writing, terrible acting, and a half-baked plot that never reaches fulfillment. Maybe its just the fact that Sam Raimi with no budget is still Sam Raimi. The iconic scenes of the evil presence flying through the woods was accomplished by Raimi and Campbell holding a 2x4 mounted camera and sprinting through the woods, while the blood was a combination of corn starch and creamer. Raimi managed to take his limited budget farther than almost any filmmaker could have, creating a truly memorable film with effects better than a movie with ten times the money. The Evil Dead is a hugely successful film that made the careers of both Raimi and Campbell and continues to garner fans from around the globe. It’s produced three films, a television series, an upcoming video game, and a television series, all of which have been enormous hits. That’s more than most successful franchises can say.
Hail to the new king, same as the old king
The creepy-ass demon voices are incredibly unnerving, perhaps more than any in cinematic history. In fact, the use of sound in general is ghastly, with the booming of the clock and the clanging of the porch swing throwing the watcher’s senses into disarray. The demon screaming “you love her!” as one of the characters chops apart his possessed girlfriend is startlingly disturbing. The demons mock the people who are still alive in a way that is jarring to say the least. The effects delivered by using the white contacts was particularly effective, and the jerky movements of those possessed is chilling and macabre. The constant assault by the demons leaves you believing that there is no way to stop them, and that they are going to get you eventually, no matter what you do. The camera angles used filming Ash in the film’s brutal and bloody finale are astoundingly effective in making the viewer feel as discombobulated as the character is. Raimi cuts against horror tropes so often ineffectively used; there isn’t always someone standing behind the curtain, the demon peering through the cellar isn’t always going to burst free at any moment (until they do), and sometimes the sound you hear outside isn’t worse than what’s standing right behind you. In the end, The Evil Dead is exactly what it’s supposed to be: a disturbingly gory masterpiece that hits way above its weight class.
Who this movie is for: Every horror fan, Possession movie fans, Rare book collectors
Bottom line: Sam Raimi is one of the best horror directors of all time, Bruce Campbell is a horror icon, and The Evil Dead is more than worth a watch. It’s a classic, and a genuinely creepy movie.