The Evil Dead

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.

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About scarina

I like scary movies a little too much. I thought I'd share my obsession with you.
This entry was posted in 1980's, possession, supernatural, zombies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Evil Dead

  1. Amiee says:

    I haven’t seen this either. It’s funny that I had heard so much about it but your description is not what was in my head. I keep picturing that VHS cover with the skull with real eyes that seem to follow you every where you go, but maybe that’s the cover of evil dead 2? I’m so confused now I’m blathering.

    • scarina says:

      The Evil Dead II is the one with the creepy skull face cover. My searches for The Evil Dead VHS cover seem tof eature Ash with an ax or Linda rising from the grave. Either way, you should watch this.

  2. Crypticpsych says:

    One thing I just need to get out right away: The Evil Dead “remake” is not so much written by Diablo Cody as being…polished…by her. The director and writer is a guy named Fede Alvarez who basically got the job by making a good short film. That being said, the Diablo Cody thing is literally the only thing about the remake that terrifies me because, supposedly, it’s the good kind of remake where they aren’t trying to tell the same exact story….but if she’s punching up teen dialogue then we are all possibly in deeeep deeep trouble.

    To be honest, while I knew the book wasn’t the “Necronomicon”, even I didn’t know that was the exact name of the particular version of the Book of the Dead, so good on you for that!

    I agree with you regarding the “tree rape”. Yes, it’s extreme, but it isn’t TOO extreme. It makes a weird kind of sense in the story. And the whole reading internet comments thing is something I’ve learned to almost never do as they seem to bring out the most idiotic and hateful people around the interwebs (he said while typing an internet comment…lol).

    Here’s the thing about Evil Dead II: It’s sort of a sequel, and, famously, sort of a remake. Roughly the first third-to-half of the movie is a sort-of alternate telling of the story of the first movie only with fewer characters. It’s also an intentional horror-comedy while Evil Dead is a genuinely scary movie…that also is a little bit of an unintentional horror-comedy (for example, the goofy giantic moon and the “count how many times Ash gets the ever-loving hell beaten out of him” game). And the other thing is that it’s a transitional movie in terms of character development…Ash starts as a character similar to the one in the original then, as the events in the movie unfold and new characters are introduced, he sort of changes into what he’d perfect in Army of Darkness (Evil Dead: the Musical is a blend of Evil Dead 1 and 2….so they make fun of this by having the actor playing Ash change his performance entirely in the more Evil Dead II-centric second act).

    As for Army of Darkness, I’m one of those people who prefers the US ending because it’s just so hilariously cheesy and goofy. I can still appreciate the original, more downbeat ending though…I picked up an out-of-print set that has both cuts of the movie off eBay one day.

    In conclusion, Sam Raimi is a genius and I’m glad you enjoyed The Evil Dead. Can you tell I’m a bit of an Evil Dead movie afficionado (have never had the right system for the video games or the money for the comics)? :-D

    • scarina says:

      How does she keep getting work? Or, I guess more importantly, why do people like her output? Everything she writes sounds so unnatural, no one in the history of ever has spoken the way her dialogue sounds.
      Heh, I remember the professor mentioning it on his recording. Also, don’t be too impressed. I tend to work with the movie’s Wikipedia page open so I can double check names and spelling, dates, and production company info. “Naturan Demonta” was in the entry.
      Ok, I’m glad I’m not just a freak. The arguments in the comments were just depressing, they were all “Sam Raimi RAWKS therefore tree rape.”
      Interesting, I definitely have to check that out now.
      I enjoyed the ending I saw but now I’m definitely curious about the alternate. Plus, I just hate how things like that are recut for the U.S. It’s so patronizing. Plus, Raimi et al. consider the London ending canon.
      Meh, I liked the movies but I wish he’d stop doing big budget stuff like Spider-Man. Hee, just a little. I just discovered that Fist Full of Boomstick is for PS2, I may have to get that.

      • Crypticpsych says:

        I should clarify: Sam Raimi is a genius…when he does horror movies. I can tolerate and like his big-budget stuff, but it just doesn’t feel “right” for him on some level.

      • scarina says:

        I’ve never really seen a comic-book movie, except for Watchmen, which I consider to be very different from the rest of the genre. I’m just really, really tired of them. I’m a comic fan who’s too nerdy to even like superhero comics and I think the comic movies are just lazy. It’s like people think they’re already storyboarded so you just need the effects and don’t have to worry about the acting or plot.

  3. Fear Street says:

    Gahhhhhhhh I hate Diablo Cody with the fiery passion of a thousand summer suns.

  4. Crypticpsych says:

    I’ve grown tired of new superhero movies now too…I only make an effort to see them in theaters if they’re a series I already like or if they’re huge (I saw The Avengers last week…it’s entertaining enough, but I think it’s hugely overrated). Really, the only time I’m almost certain to buy a ticket for a big-name superhero anymore is Batman because of the darkness of it. Otherwise, I might see them (like I like the Iron Man ones because of Robert Downey, Jr), but it’s not like I have a real deep love for them. Batman’s really the only “superhero” I’ll read comics for too, though not the monthlies, the longer stories that they collect in trade paperbacks and sell as “graphic novels”.

    Mostly though, like you, i’ll notice them, but I don’t really care. I do like “different” ones though. For instance, I love Watchmen more and more everytime I watch it and love the graphic novel. Similarly, though they’re each flawed in their own way, I like Super, Kick-Ass, and Hancock (each non-stereotypical in some small…or in the case of Super, rather large…way).

    • Crypticpsych says:

      (well, that and I can’t forget the first superhero from New Jersey, The Toxic Avenger :D)

    • scarina says:

      There just aren’t really any superheroes that appeal to me. I love Buffy, Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlement (NOT the movie) and that’s about it. I don’t think they’ll make movies out of the series that I’ve been following lately, Sandman, DMZ, and Preacher.

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