The Evil Dead (1981) dir. Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell
Guest review by Pasukaru
The story is legend: a group of college buddies raise money from local dentists, get a camera and some pot, find an abandoned cabin in the woods, and go on to make one of the most influential and revered independent films of all time. Hail to “The Evil Dead”.
Plot: College friends go for a holiday in an isolated cabin where, through a cursed book aptly named ‘The Book of the Dead’, they let loose vengeful demonic spirits that possess the students one by one until Ash, our hero, must battle the evil forces solo to the gory end lest they “swallow his soul”.
Beginning in the fall of 1979, filmmaker Sam Raimi (now known for his mega successful Spiderman franchise) and his actor-friend Bruce Campbell set off to make a feature length version of their short film “Within the Woods” (worth a look to see how the concept evolved, if you can find it). After screening at Cannes, it found a distributor. The VHS era had begun, and this is where “The Evil Dead” would gain its reputation as a college dorm favorite and cult film phenomenon. The Ash character has since become one of horrordom’s most beloved and quotable heroes. Either given 85 thousand or 200 million dollars, Mr. Raimi sure knows how to put on a show. Call it shlock if you will, but this is shlock done the right way.
Unleashing a relentless audio-visual blast of invention, creativity, and shocks, Sam Raimi (then barely 21) has strung together a tour-de-force on a shoestring budget through the sheer vigor of his unfettered imagination. Sam and co. use bold lighting and dynamic camera stunts, having used improvised gear such a plank of wood in place of a Steadicam. When these boys needed to get something done, they did whatever it took. That’s inspiring. Endlessly mimicked thereafter (how many cabin-in-the-woods horror movies have you seen?), “The Evil Dead” sets an example for what you can accomplish when your love for the medium and craft bursts out like a first orgasm; it is a pure, exhilarating, unapologetic, and life-altering experience we want to revisit again and again. Despite what the big kids at the coffee shop might tell you, this is what they should be showing in film schools.
A tad risqué for its time, the movie showcases a woman being raped by a tree (?), which was the reason it was banned in many countries. The sequence is more surreal than pure horror, but at the same time joyfully naughty. This is where “The Evil Dead” is endearing and misunderstood: horror and comedy are two sides of the same coin. Scream or laugh as you may, the film veers so far off into the surreal that anything can happen, really. The mix of humor and gore blend for some unexpected yet unsettling results, and this is where it rests its laurels. Logic has no place here, and that rebellious spirit endears it to audiences worldwide. I had the opportunity to see a screening of “The Evil Dead” in Tokyo to a packed theatre, some twenty-five years after its creation, and it had the audience enthralled (and I’m sure, like me, they had all seen it many times before).
The film spawned two sequels; “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”, being the best of the three, is funnier, gorier, and more polished (they did have 10 times the budget). Some call it a remake, but the tone and story are different enough so that it set itself apart. Nonetheless, “The Evil Dead” is where it all started. If you love movies and appreciate the love of making them, then I suggest you watch it… again, before the remake. Check it out.