As we draw nearer and nearer to Halloween, the imperative to dig into more and more of the horror classics becomes clearer and clearer.
A quick poll of one hundred horror geeks (like myself) as to their favorite titles would yield more than a few references to a little film from 1981 entitled The Evil Dead. If you haven’t seen The Evil Dead yet, perhaps it was something you were putting off until just the right occasion—but now it’s available on Instant Netflix, so you may remedy that problem. We’d like you to consider this week the perfect occasion to venture into the woods.
Who Made It: The Evil Dead was directed by Sam Raimi. Raimi’s innovation and creativity on The Evil Dead trilogy is really what put him on the map. He eventually wound up directing the recent Spider-Man trilogy, as well as the 2009 horror flick Drag Me To Hell. His next is OZ: The Great and Powerful, a big budget prequel to The Wizard of OZ.
Who’s In It: The Evil Dead stars Bruce Campbell, who, thanks to the popularity of the movie, has become a horror movie icon. His charming personality, put-upon heroics, and massive chin have become his calling cards. His undead-battling character Ash found himself in two more adventures before The Evil Dead trilogy was finished. Campbell went on to appear in everything from Maniac Cop to Escape from L.A. to Bubba Ho-Tep. He currently co-stars on the USA spy show Burn Notice.
What It’s About: Five college friends decide to spend their holiday in a secluded cabin they’ve rented in a Tennessee forest. While there, they discover a tape recorder in the basement left by the previous inhabitant along with a bizarre book filled with ancient spells. Foolishly, one of them reads from the book, awakening all manner of perturbed spirits from the surrounding woods. For the rest of the film, they are systematically attacked and possessed by these spirits until only poor dope Ash remains. Will he be able to fend off the advancing demons and survive until sunrise?
Why You Should Watch It: The Evil Dead is the quintessential “cabin in the woods” movie. It set the standard that has since been imitated countless times but never adequately duplicated; most recently by Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever. The characters are incredibly likable, especially Bruce Campbell as Ash, and having them secluded from any possible help is what makes the scares work so well. Granted, Sam Raimi didn’t event this particular trope—but he certainly perfected it.
There’s a great deal going on in this deceptively simple script. It’s partially a demonic possession film, partially a siege horror film, as one by one Ash’s friends fall to the curse and he must fight them off with next to no concept of how to do so.
The Evil Dead is a marvel of low-budget filmmaking. Sam Raimi had a laughable budget and a crew that was made up of nothing more than his college buddies. Many of the people on this crew had never before held any of the multiple job titles that were suddenly thrust upon them during the production of The Evil Dead. Despite his limitations—or, arguably, thanks to them—Raimi had to employ ingenious methods that ended up establishing the voice of the film and his style as a filmmaker. His homemade special effects are sensational, and what he was able to achieve with sound in the absence of the ability to be explicit is phenomenal. He didn’t have the money to show enormous monsters traipsing through the woods so Raimi used a series of quick, sweeping, tracking shots and various types of disembodied roars to complete the effect while still leaving much to the audience’s imagination.
More than anything The Evil Dead is one of the more consistently entertaining horror films ever made. There is no small amount of dark comedy utilized to temper the nightmarish plight of young Ash and the hideous transformations of the other doomed campers. Ash gets subjected to cartoon levels of abuse and responds in kind with exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. The way he reacts to supernatural stimulus is absurdly pragmatic, which gives us exactly the type of juxtaposition that allows for barrels of laughter. While it does venture to the legitimately creepy from time to time, you come to root and cheer for Ash the same way you would a superhero in a Marvel film. This may actually explain, at least in some small fashion, how Raimi ended up directing Spider-Man. He knows what it takes to make a fun movie, no matter the genre.