The Evil Dead (1981)

Untitled-1The Evil Dead is nothing but a really good, fun, scary, and (now) funny adventure that is the product of a film geek who just wanted to make a decent horror flick. We all know Sam Raimi from his Spider Man franchise — that started off good, got great, and then fell into an abyss of crap — but a lot of people fail to remember that he was a young school dropout when he put together this messily creepy amateur masterpiece, which somehow manages to be good despite its dated effects and overtly cliched plot devices.

“What then”, you might ask, “makes this comical stab at the horror genre such a masterpiece?” Well there are a number of reasons. First up, it’s not a professional movie, and whatever budget the crew had went mainly to effects, prosthetics, and make up. Yet the faces of our possessed individuals can still strike fear, and their distorted voices are reminiscent of Pazuzu’s from The Exorcist. It’s also interesting to point out that their skin degenerates over time, which is a smart bit of detail. Mighty effective if you ask me.

Next, the cinematography. Raimi literally frees himself from stationary restrictions as his camera hovers just above the ground, gliding over mulch and bubbling bogs. He creates a visual world where his demonic spirits live in the woods, but seem to act as surveillance to the one lone cabin our heroes/victims are living in. Even within the cabin, Raimi’s camera moves with the freedom of a dove, over ceiling beams, over the head of Bruce Campbell, parallel to the floor for one particular mirror scene, quick zooms and unsightly low angles. There is so much freedom in the cinematography that for all the movie’s ugliness, it’s actually beautiful to look at.

Next, the soundscape. In my opinion, The Evil Dead wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t have its bizarre but superb sound (which can be said of any movie, but The Evil Dead more so because its sound almost becomes a character on its own). It is a perfect amalgamation of water drops, chains being dragged across a wooden floor, demonic laughter, continuous ominous howls, low groans, high pitched screams. It makes us believe the world of the movie before our vision lets us see it, and it’s so effective that shielding our eyes from the screen only amplifies the terror. Trust me, I tried.

And then there’s the one narrative element that subverts its genre. Where most–if not all–horror flicks of this type kill off its characters one by one till only its hero, or heroine, is left (think The Texas Chainsaw MassacreScreamNightmare On Elm StreetHalloween), The Evil Dead turns the tables by transforming its would-be victims into killers. No longer is it a one-on-one situation where the hero must fight and destroy the lone psycho, it is now a three-or-four-on-one scenario, and watching Campbell struggle to fight everyone off is a joyously gruesome splendour.

But not all is fine and dandy. The movie does suffer from incredibly poor acting, laughable special effects, and courses of action undertaken by our characters that just don’t make any sense whatsoever. The story follows a group of five college students (of course) who venture deep into the woods, to a remote cabin for a vacation (as you always do). Once they get there, strange things begin to happen, and after Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Scotty (Hal Delrich) discover an old tape player and book in the basement, they unleash the cabin’s surrounding demons, who possess our cast at regular intervals over the course of one night.

As the night begins, Cheryl (Ash’s sister, played by Ellen Sandweiss) hears mysterious sounds outside her bedroom window. She decides to investigate. Why oh why would you ever want to leave the sanctuary of your room (and peers) to check out the source of a strange noise emanating from a misty — and really eerie — forest? It’s something every single guy and girl loves to do in a horror movie, and what do they get for their effort? Well, Cheryl gets raped by the trees. Yes, you heard me. Raped… by… the… trees.

Of course, she stumbles back to the cabin, into the arms of her brother, who refuses to believe her story. Why wouldn’t he? After all, getting raped by horny foliage is a very common occurrence. As the night draws on, more forces stir up the house, until everyone is on edge and the possessing can begin.

From there, the movie goes into overdrive, and all I could do was sit back and let my senses run wild. It is for this enjoyable physical experience alone that I am willing to overlook all of The Evil Dead’s shortcomings, because I understand the difficulties of what Raimi tries to pull off. It’s quite an accomplishment when a horror movie — that has many of its horror elements ridiculed by poor execution — manages to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Best Moment | Cheryl sits, facing the window, after being tree-raped. Her friends are trying to guess cards behind her. Suddenly, she begins guessing each card correctly without even looking at them. She turns around to reveal her hideously disfigured face, followed by an interesting levitation.

Worst Moment | Oh, take your pick. The death of the demons? The horrible acting? The stupid actions?

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