The Evil Dead is a 1981 horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, and Betsy Baker. If deals with five college friends who are in the woods for a weekend away. They run across a recording in their cabin that releases demons around their cabin. Since its release it has gained a cult following and many consider it an iconic horror film. It has spawned two sequels (Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) and was rebooted / remade in 2013 as Evil Dead.
Being such a big horror fan I hate to even say it, but until I watched it for this review I’d never seen The Evil Dead. (gasp) Not quite sure how it’d fallen through my horror movie cracks over the years but the entire series (until the remake earlier this year) had done just that.
SPOILER ALERT: Seeing as this movie is over 30 years old I don’t think I have to warn about spoilers but I will… If you’re concerned about knowing the plot of the flick stop reading.
The Evil Dead focuses on five college students: Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss); her brother Ash (Bruce Campbell); his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker); Scotty (Hal Delrich); and his girlfriend Shelly (Sarah York). For their spring break, they go into the woods camping at an isolated cabin. There, they find the Naturon Demonto – the Book of the Dead. In addition to finding the book itself, they find a tape recorder which has been left in the cabin. When they play this tape demons in the woods are inadvertently unleashed. Cheryl goes outside and is attacked by the demon and “raped” by the woods.
As tends to happen in horror movies, her friends don’t believe Cheryl when she recount her tale. Ash takes her into town to get help but the bridge connecting the cabin to apparently the rest of the world is out and they’re stuck. When they return to the cabin, Cheryl becomes possessed and proceeds to tell everyone that they’re all going to die. She then stabs Linda with a pencil (huh?) in the ankle which looks like it’d hurt like a son of a bitch. She’s then locked in the cellar by the group. Shelly is possessed and is taken out by Scott to chops her to bloody bits with an axe.
Linda (formerly stabbed in the foot) has now become possessed as well. Scott (who had left to “find another way out” of the woods) returns with the shit beaten out of him. Linda and Cheryl go into “I’m not possessed… please help me” mode and try to trick Ash into thinking they’re OK. Ultimately, Ash stabs Linda and tries to dismember her with a chainsaw. He can’t bring himself to do it, so he decides to bury her instead. After while, she rises from the dead and after a struggle Ash cuts her head off with a shovel.
Back in the cabin, Ash finds that Cheryl is no longer in the cellar. Now armed with a shotgun he finds her hiding outside and shoots her… but only wounds her. He heads to the cellar looking for more ammo. He begins to hear voices and blood begins to pour from the walls, lights, etc. Scotty returns, now possessed and attempts to kill Ash. As they fight, the Book falls into the fireplace and begins to burn which in turn causes the possessed to begin burning as well. Ash manages to fully throw the book into the fire and this causes the possessed folk to die in a blaze of claymation and gory glory. The film ends with Ash going outside and screaming as he finds out that the demon Ash heads outside, and screams upon discovering the demon has come out of the woods, through the house and right at him.
The only real standout here is Bruce Campbell as Ash. Everyone plays their characters really over the top and Campbell is leading the way in that category. This is cheesy 80’s horror at its finest and while it’s not the worst acting I’ve seen out of the genre it’s certainly not the best either. What I will say is the acting really doesn’t take away from the film in the slightest. It’s right on par for what I’d expect from such a film.
THE BUILD UP
I’ve been hearing about this flick for years. I’ve heard about Evil Dead II and Army Of Darkness. I’ve heard about how there were talks about Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash. I saw a bad ass trailer for Evil Dead when I saw Texas Chainsaw 3D and I was instantly hooked. I saw the reboot and was absolutely blown away. And then I saw this original. In a word… Meh.
It’s not that this is a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a pretty decent little horror flick with a story (friends trapped in an area with an unknown killer picking them off one at a time) that works very well. Hell, it’s a horror formula that works to this day. However when a film, whether it’s in the horror genre or not, has been built up so big, it’s bound to fall flat. That’s exactly what happened with me and Evil Dead. Had I seen it back in the 80’s I’d probably be right on the bandwagon of how this is an iconic picture. As it stands, I’m just not all that enthralled with it.
What I WILL say is that Sam Raimi did some amazing things here. The way he moves the camera and has the story paced is really an incredible thing. I’ve done some research and know that this was shot on an incredibly tight budget which makes what’s on the screen that much more impressive. And while I don’t think the character of Ash can hold a candle to the Freddy and Jason’s of the world (especially in this first film) Bruce Campbell is clearly the stand out and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that he’s gone on to an incredible horror career.
For some reason this one had eluded me for all of these years. I’d heard a ton about this little “cult classic” horror film called Evil Dead and its sequels. For me personally I think this was a cause of having heard way too much and having it built up in my head before seeing it. After hearing about a film for years it’s tough for it to live up to the hype. I can say that I’m thrilled to have finally seen it but I don’t know that I’ll ever revisit it. It has clearly influenced a slew of films that have come after it and from a pure blood and guts perspective it’s a very tight little film. Some of the special effect look really bad at this point, but that’s to be expected for a film that’s over 30 years old. It may sound sacrilegious to some, but if I had to recommend one I’d definitely suggest watching the reboot version from earlier this year as opposed to this original. That said, while I can’t say that I really love this one, if you’re a horror fan you simply need to see it as it’s one of those flicks that you need to have in your body of knowledge. The character of Ash is often brought up in discussions of best horror characters and while I don’t necessarily agree I’m happy that I can now partake in that discussion.
What do you think of The Evil Dead – Does it hold up over time?