I’ve never seen The Evil Dead. There, that’s my dirty, shameful secret. It’s just one of those movies that I never got to see until now.
Back in the day, I was dating this guy. We decided to rent a movie so we went to my local Blockbuster. He highly recommended 1981’s The Evil Dead but we couldn’t find it at the video store. I honestly don’t remember if someone had just rented it or if Blockbuster didn’t carry it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the latter, they were always a bit puritanical about what they would carry. They did have Army of Darkness, though, and that’s how I ended up seeing Army of Darkness before I saw The Evil Dead. If I remember that visit correctly, I also saw the amazing slashers American Gothic and April Fool’s Day. But that’s a story for another day…
The Evil Dead is the first entry in the trilogy written and directed by Sam Raimi. I consider the story of its making to be pretty legendary. Raimi wrote the movie and after generating about $400,000, spent about a year and a half shooting the movie with Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Richard DeManicor, and Theresa Tilly, in the backwoods of Tennessee. Since then, the movie has generated about $29,000,000 in revenue as of 2006, two sequels, multiple comic books, and several video games. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are currently working on a remake with, *gulp,* Diablo Cody. This movie is popular, is what I’m trying to say. Beloved, even. So what dark forces did the filmmakers harness to make the movie so successful? I like to think it’s demons.
The movie follows five college students; Ash (Bruce Campbell), Ash’s sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scotty (Richard DeManicor), Scotty’s girlfriend Shelly (Theresa Tilly), and Ash’s girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker.) They’re on spring break and decided to go to the most isolated cabin they can find. Ok, the cheapest cabin they can find.
Look at that road. When does it stop being a road and start being a hiking trail? Say “hi” to the women from The Descent if you see them.
Things are unsettled from the beginning. They’re almost run off the road by a truck when something takes the steering wheel from Scotty. Cheryl is sketching after they arrive and something takes over her hand and she draws a creepy old book. They all brush it off and Ash and Scotty go to explore the cellar of the cabin.
They discover a reel-to-reel recorder and a creepy old book, the “Naturan Demonta,” the Sumerian Book of the Dead.
They play the tape recorder and discover that the cabin was previously rented to an archaeologist who was translating the book. He accidentally summoned demons and the demons came for him and his wife. The only cure is dismembering the victim.
From there, the demons succeed in isolating each student and then possessing them. Cheryl is the first to go and I think that her sequence was the creepiest and most memorable. She’s lured into the woods by a voice and is then tied up by the trees themselves. They then actually rape Cheryl.
Sam Raimi has actually expressed regrets about the rape scene. I understand his point that if you offend people to a certain point then they won’t bother watching what you make. Still, I think the rape fits what happens in the film. And don’t bother reading the comments, it will make you want to pour bleach in your eyes.
The movie eventually becomes about Ash. It’s clear that Ash is the only one who’s going to survive the night. Ash is left with the task of killing his friends, his little sister, and the girlfriend that he clearly loves very much.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Ash goes back in the cellar to get more shells for his shotgun. A record player turns itself on and starts playing creepy music while blood starts dripping from just about everywhere.
What I found the most interesting was the disparity between Ash in The Evil Dead and Ash in Army of Darkness. This is before Ash gets the chainsaw hand (Spoiler alert–Ash gets a chainsaw for a hand) and before he becomes a smartass line delivery mechanism. I really like him better when he’s just an average guy in extraordinary circumstances. Admittedly, a big part of the appeal for me is that I think that Bruce Campbell is precious and never gets enough credit. But yeah, it’s interesting seeing how Ash becomes ASH. I clearly need to see The Evil Dead II.
I really enjoyed this movie. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep after watching it but, as is so often the case, I slept like a baby. It was definitely scary, even after thirty years. I’m not entirely cringing at the idea of a remake only, ONLY, because the stop-motion decaying sequences looked a little dated. What saved them was the fact that they were colored so luridly, it gave the scenes a sense of unreality, like what was happening couldn’t possibly be happening. I swear to god, Diablo Cody, if there is so much as one “What the blog?” in this remake or any of your overwrought teenage dialogue, I will continue spreading the rumor that Family Guy started, that you’re an overpriced call-girl who got lucky once.
Ahem…What I value the most about this movie is how the filmmakers made the movie so scary with such a small budget. I think the most important part was the use of point-of-view shots. A lot of scenes were shot from the P.O.V. of the demons and it makes the viewer feel like they’re under attack. It’s neat that they lifted that conceit from the popular slasher movies of the time and used it on a zombie/possession movie.
They also used a lot of mist, so the viewer sees about as much as the characters would see. My own problem was the music. It was mostly spare and suited the action well, but sometimes it had a cat walking on an organ effect. It was definitely best when it was just a bit of strings and piano.
But really, this movie is amazing. It feels so transgressive when you watch it. I think that part of that is the incredibly realistic blood and guts. The other part is that every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph. So, for me, this will now always be the best “take your camera in the woods and make a movie” movie. That is how it’s done, The Blair Witch Project. Now I just really have to see The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness without the censored U.S.ian ending.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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