Ah, THE EVIL DEAD. Released the same year as my birth, 1981, good company to share a birthday with. THE EVIL DEAD is in one word: Awesome. On a very meager budget Sam Raimi was able to make the Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror (which is part of the whole title of the film, THE EVIL DEAD: THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE IN GRUELING TERROR. Truth be told, whether it’s HORROR or TERROR, I’ve heard it both ways, but it reads TERROR on the back of the blu-ray, so I’m sticking to that), and what an experience it is. It has everything a horror-hound would want and more! Blood, demons, possessions, dismemberment, more blood, stabbing, shooting, undead hands coming up from the grave, even more blood, time-lapse gore, scary incantations, the supernatural, and did I mention blood? If you haven’t seen THE EVIL DEAD yet, and you’re a fan of horror movies, this one is going to blow your mind.
THE EVIL DEAD is the first in a series of three films (as well as a few video games, and soon a STARZ original series), and out of the three, it’s the most horrific. I don’t say that in the sense that it’s scarier than EVIL DEAD II and ARMY OF DARKNESS (but, coincidentally, it is), I’m saying it’s the one that feels like a straight, above-board, horror film. There’s a certain progression to this series. THE EVIL DEAD is a horror film with a splash or two of humor, EVIL DEAD II is a well-balanced mixture of humor and horror, and THE ARMY OF DARKNESS is pretty much a Three Stooges routine with a splash or two of horror. We’ll be talking EVIL DEAD II soon, and we already talked THE ARMY OF DARKNESS, so let’s focus on THE EVIL DEAD.
Five friends (Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, his friend Scott, and Scott’s girlfriend Shelly) are going to a secluded cabin for, what I’m assuming is the weekend, as the film doesn’t say how long they’re staying. Things are just fine and dandy until they uncover a cellar below the cabin, and more importantly, The Book of The Dead and companion reel-to-reel audio tape. Eventually, out of sheer curiosity, they play the tape, which explains the Book’s purpose. Then the voice on the audio tape is so kind as to read out loud the pronunciations for the resurrection passage that brings the Evil Dead alive in the forest.
The only one with a problem with this (at first) is Cheryl. She’s a bit…sensitive to these matters. Then she gets gratuitously raped by some trees (all I’m saying about it, you wanna know more, watch the movie), the bridge they crossed to get to the cabin has been destroyed, and now we have set the stage for the madness to come.
Cheryl is first to go, being possessed by a demon and filling in the rest of the gang on how one by one they are going to be killed and taken over by the evil, their souls becoming forfeit. And, one by one, this prophecy becomes true until the last twenty or so minutes where only Ash remains against the evil dead.
That pretty much sums up the story of THE EVIL DEAD, between the lines is a lot of death and destruction, all gleefully shown to us from the mind of Sam Raimi, writer and director of THE EVIL DEAD. Raimi does the job to perfection, improvising camera rigs, coming up with the craziest shots (mostly in the last 12 minutes) that serve to leave you as disoriented as Ash in those same moments. After watching THE EVIL DEAD it’s tough to think of what can’t Sam Raimi accomplish (besides a satisfying ending to his SPIDER-MAN trilogy)? A lot of the groundwork laid here in THE EVIL DEAD would be revisited and expanded upon in the sequel, EVIL DEAD II.
Funny story that I think I’ve already touched on. Growing up, there was a multi-plex in the city’s mall, right across from it was Suncoast, which sold movies. Often I would go to a movie in the mall, and if I was early, I would go into Suncoast to waste time. I always checked the horror section first for films I hadn’t seen that looked interesting. Well, one day I found EVIL DEAD II, it was the VHS that had the skull (that doesn’t show up in EVIL DEAD II at all) looking directly at you. Between the skull and the blood font that the title was written in, I purchased the film. It’s important to note that I had never seen THE EVIL DEAD, or ARMY OF DARKNESS at that time, all I know is that they had the sequel, but the original film was nowhere in the store (because it had yet to have a wide re-release on VHS in the coming months). I went home and watched it immediately and loved it! The horror, the humor, the visual FX, it was perfect. At that time I wanted to see the original (and for a little while, I had no idea there was a third one), but couldn’t find it anywhere. Fast forward several months and several viewings of EVIL DEAD II, a friend and I were in a small-ish video rental store that had a CULT CLASSICS section. It was there, in that relatively small cabinet of films like ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, I stumbled across a copy of THE EVIL DEAD. We rented it immediately and went to my friend’s house to watch it. Believe it or not, I was a little disappointed by the end of the film.
Which now that I look back on it, makes sense. THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD II, while being back-to-back films in a franchise, were almost totally different from each other. The story is similar, but the style each is shot in is most certainly miles apart. Like I’ve already said, THE EVIL DEAD is more horror, and EVIL DEAD II is a mix of horror and humor. It isn’t so much that I liked one style over the other, they’re still equal, but I was so used to the style of EVIL DEAD II by that time that it was hard to watch something so stylistically different without being taken aback a bit,
Similarly to the way I grew to appreciate DAY OF THE DEAD, I grew to appreciate THE EVIL DEAD, as I aged, I accumulated more knowledge about horror, and filmmaking in general, so for quite some time, every time I watched THE EVIL DEAD I noticed something new. Some shot, or make-up FX that I hadn’t really thought about previously. So THE EVIL DEAD, for me, will stand the test of time, and even though we had a rocky start, it has become my favorite film of the series, it just took time to get used to the different styles.
Next I’ll be reviewing the remake/sequel/reboot, followed by EVIL DEAD II. So wait to read those reviews, and then gather your friends, turn out the lights, and enjoy the complete story of THE EVIL DEAD series of films.