The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981)

Before you read any further, I’d like you to go to this link and read up on the trivia for Evil Dead like I did…namely just how cheap and shitty the shoot and the production was.  My personal favorites are how the zombie guts were made out of creamed corn dyed green and how those Point of View shots of the demons gliding across the ground were nothing more than a camera, mounted to a 2×4, being carried by a running Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the movie’s director and the fucking lead actor 😆 .  On the most basic of surface levels, “The Evil Dead” is an awful-looking, cheap horror movie where your basic moronic horror movie kids get stranded, stupidly mess with ominous stuff (here the Book of the Dead and a recorded translation), even more stupidly try to leave the cabin and literally getting raped by the forest, have all the women turn into ravenous demons, and let the blood ‘n guts fly from there.  You couldn’t have demons and blood more fake-looking, but I think you need to know all about all the little foibles of the production and how it was just as cheap behind the scenes as it looks on-screen to gain a certain appreciation for “The Evil Dead.”  It adds a certain charm to it all, because knowing how cheap it was and all the extra physical lengths that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and the very limited cast and crew went to that you know no director with any kind of budget would go, you just know without any kind of doubt that this little horror movie was an absolute labor of love for all those involved.  You just get the feeling that it was an absolute blast to make, despite all the punishment that those poor actors go through, that you almost have to forgive that production value.  And in fact, it’s that production value that makes it such a fun movie to watch, that you can’t help but laugh at, be completely grossed out by, and yes, impossible as it may seem, let your heart race a little at what turns out to be quite the effective piece of horror filmmaking 🙂 .

Despite all the eye-rollingly great blood ‘n guts, I was particularly impressed, especially early on, how Sam Raimi was able to establish mood and actually use suspense at its best before the splatter-fest comes along.  One thing that I thought worked was the use of repetitive sounds, and the startling interruption of those already disturbing sounds…the repetitive banging of a swinging bench against the wall of the old cabin, suddenly stopping when the kids come to the door..the wind howling, the unseen demons pushing trees to the ground, that hideous childish laugh of Ash’s possessed girlfriend as she just sits cross-legged while Ash tends to Scott.  Even without sound, Raimi establishes mood, like that nifty point of view shot of the possessed girl locked in the cellar or the men’s first trip down into that ominous cellar.  We’ve seen establishing scenes like this in so many horror movies afterwards, but what can I say?  It works.  It’s drawn out long enough to establish suspense, which really works because you couldn’t possibly associate something like this with all that gruesome goodness that comes later.  Even the editing together of different scenes like the attacking trees vs. goings-on in the cabin (by Joel Coen of all people 😯 ) works.  I thought it was all a really nice combination of classic suspense and all-out campy gore that’s fun all the way around.

And what more can you say about Bruce Campbell?  The poor man is absolutely put through the ringer as the hero of “The Evil Dead,” literally getting fake blood poured on him by the bucket-full, getting tossed and thrown around like a ragdoll, and being that guy who has to decide whether to hack up his possessed girlfriend with a chainsaw.  It’s an absolutely thankless role, but also one that couldn’t be more memorable, and one that’d easily cement his legacy as a cult icon.  And suddenly, the most thankless role imaginable becomes the role of a lifetime.  Today you or I would think of him as that guy who makes those cameos in the Spider-Man movies or that guy who played Elvis battling the mummy with Ossie Davis (Bubba Ho-Tep…funny movie 🙂 ).  But it’s right here in “Evil Dead” and its even more cult-legendary sequels where Bruce Campbell cements his legacy, and really, wouldn’t you rather have a legacy as a legendary cult icon who gets covered with demon guts than be some marginal major movie actor?  Success as an entertainer and an entertainment vehicle comes in many shapes and sizes, and just look at “Evil Dead” and its star and you’ll know that.  Here’s a movie that’s genuinely suspenseful in that charming cliched kind of way, and also gruesome, sometime thoroughly unwatchable, and very, very funny in ways both intentional and (maybe) unintentional.  Not too bad a haul for the price of just a few thousand dollars 😀 .


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