Cult Movie Flashback: The Evil Dead (1981, Dir. Sam Raimi)


It was labeled the ultimate experience in grueling horror, or as horror writing godfather Stephen King put it, ‘The most ferociously original horror movie of the year’. It’s a film with over the top gore and plenty of scares, a real grungy punk rock feel, but with plentiful artistic flair. So, here are my thoughts on revisiting one of the best 80s cult horror films: The Evil Dead.

When the film was first released, I remember my dad letting me watch it. I was scared out of my mind for the following months. Some friends of mine say The Exorcist is the scariest film they have ever seen, but for me, it was always this little movie set in a cabin in the woods. I have fond memories of being at the video store, talking about the controversy of this movie. I also loved seeing the amazing punk rock artwork on the video sleeve by Graham Humphreys.

The Evil Dead is a fun movie; it doesn’t take its violence as seriously as the British Board of Film Classification took it, hence the video nasty scandal it caused in the UK. This resulted in the awful chopped version being released on video, which was all that was available until the uncut version was finally released in 2001.

The storyline of Evil Dead is a simple plot. Five kids go to a cabin in the woods, and one by one they become possessed, leading to all sorts of dismemberment and tomfoolery. However, just because a story is straight forward and could be written on the back of a beer mat doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating, especially in a master storyteller’s hands, like director Sam Raimi. The Evil Dead is a viewing experience, and not a film that is easily expressed in a synopsis on the back of a VHS box. I mean, take a Beatles song. Very simple in structure, but when put together by people well trained in their craft, we have a masterpiece. Copycat movies have tried and failed to mimic The Evil Dead in terms of gore, but all lacked any talent or imagination. Although Raimi shot The Evil Dead on a shoestring budget, he managed to do some amazing things with that budget. The film goes from hovering ghouls to camera movements that twist and turn 360 degrees added to the mood and mindset of the main character Ash, played by Bruce Campbell.

There are some genuinely scary moments, and some masterfully over-the-top violence, which borrows more from The Three Stooges than Apocalypse Now. However, there is a real terror to The Evil Dead. It’s filled with plenty of scares and frightening moments, with some lightly added comedic relief that merely adds to the adrenaline fuelled black rainbow ride.

Afterwards came sequels Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, and a host of books, video games, and even a musical. The sequels were better made and more polished, but they took the comedy to the foreground, turning every scene of carnage into a laugh riot, until the third film pushed the horror away even further replacing it with adventure and one liners.

As a result of his character Ash, Bruce Campbell became the iconic horror star he is today. Despite this, I found the sequels quite saddening. I never felt the menacing, skin-crawling terror that the first outing spurred in me. When it came out, everyone was sick of horror films. Nothing was happening in the horror genre to make people gasp, and suddenly this film appeared out of nowhere. The Evil Dead was a powerhouse of an indie move that lifted you up and shocked everyone who watched it, but still left you with a grin on your face.

Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead isn’t the strong hero character we know him as today, he’s a young scared cowardly Ash who I thought survived his demonic friends purely by luck. Yet he seems more human and easier to relate to than superhero he would become.

Over the years this film has had more re-releases than any other horror movie. Anchor Bay has given us a few versions; one with a cool Book of the Dead cover, and now we have Sony’s bizarre Blu-ray. The Blu-ray has digitally corrected the film’s matte moons, from which they have painstakingly taken out the blink, and you’ll miss Robert Tapert caught unawares as the car is crossing over the collapsing bridge. I do appreciate a film print, but I hate it when studios mess with what doesn’t need to be messed with. Aren’t the imperfections what define the movies?

Sam Raimi took horror to a whole new level with The Evil Dead. The fact that a director could go from this to the likes of Darkman, The Quick and the Dead and Spider-man just proves to us how talented he is. But he’s never forgotten his bloody roots, returning to the genre that made him with the fantastic Drag me to Hell (2009). With Halloween around the corner I implore anyone that hasn’t seen The Evil Dead to watch it and witness his passion and artistic brilliance for themselves.

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