ever-listening, the Evil Dead lie in wait for the one ancient incantation
that will give them license to possess the living. Watch in horror
as five vacationing college students unwittingly resurrect these slumbering
demons, and are forced into battle with the supernatural forces that occupy
the forests and dark bowels of man's domain.
"I know now that my wife has become host to a Candarian demon. I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the book is through the act of.... bodily dismemberment."
- Professor Raymond Knowby
The lack of originality in today’s horror cinema is frightening. Even the newest subgenre of horror, Eli Roth’s self-described “torture porn”, is running out of ideas at an alarming rate, coming to its logical conclusion with the failure of Hostel II
and the announcement of a fifth Saw
film. As trendy (albeit incredibly dry) as this new world of horror may seem, even it is rooted in such extreme Euro-schlock fests like 1986’s Lucker. Though this outlook looks bleak, every once in awhile, there comes a film that is so well-made, dripping with such creativity and unabated dementia, that it reminds us that horror is not dead; that as long as new generations of film makers truly apply themselves, there will always be new trends and ideas that quench humanity’s thirst for fright and macabre.
The epic slasher work that I am referring to is, of course, The Evil Dead
. As Stephen King labeled it, “The most ferociously original horror film of the year,” The Evil Dead
is just that: a simple run through of pure, bloody horror and carnage complimented by a unique premise and perfect directing. The story, which can be seen as a combination between Friday the 13th
and The Exorcist
, revolves around five college students looking to get away from it all in the backwoods of Tennessee. Once they arrive at their cabin and after assessing their surroundings (introducing the audience to several key locations that surround the cabin), they come across a strange book of illustrations and a tape recorder, which they play upstairs in a group. Little do they know, the recording on the tape features an incantation that awakens evil spirits resting in the woods. One by one, the spirits begin possessing the friends in a violent rout for vengeance against the living, and the remaining few fight to survive through the night.
Although the plot is a bit thin; the minimal character and story development would easily allow for the narrative to fall into a dreadfully simplistic, exploitative blood-bath standardized by Friday the 13th
; it’s how Raimi tells his story that keeps the film scary, original, and fresh. For instance, it’s one of (and perhaps only outside of Italian gialli) the few slasher films to put a heavy emphasis and cinematography and cinematographic tricks to toy with the audience. At one point late in the movie, there are a good seven minutes without any signs of demons, yet this time remains one of the most tense and menacing moments in the film. During this time, several camera methods; such as overhead pans, super-zoom close-ups, and awkward tracking maneuvers; exemplify the insanity of the situation, all the while keeping the audience in the dark of what’s to happen next. Each time the demons appear to attack, it’s just another trick by Raimi employed to further mount tension. Perhaps the best example of this is the now classic, low-angle tracking shots that move seamlessly over the terrain, giving the perspective of an unknown, malevolent force that wishes harm upon the main characters. Whenever these shots appear, it becomes a calling card for when the characters are in immediate danger, yet there are no fatalities shown from this perspective.
All of this isn’t to say that Raimi relies completely on ingenuity to pass his film as legitimate. Rather, the intensity of the content plays an equal, if not greater, part in accumulating fear. The horror starts late in the film; the first thirty minutes is dedicated to introducing the situation and developing the characters as typical, goofy college students. Once the horror begins, which is introduced by a brutal and equally horrifying rape by trees, the film switches gear from an awkward story of five friends in the woods to pure horror bloodbath. The blood flows freely and without mercy; no quarter is given, no sensibilities spared. The murderous nature of all involved; from the demons who pay no heed to sympathy or morality to the protagonists who eventually evolve into merciless, uncompromising defenders of their own lives; builds such a level of insanity that it becomes terrifying in its own right. Other twists involving character motivations and not knowing your enemy keeps the scenario ever-changing until our hero, Ash, is finally left alone to ward off certain death. By this point, the audience has been through so much with him that he is attached to as the lone ally in a sea of evil from which there appears no escape.
Perhaps this is the greatest quality of The Evil Dead
: it never tries to be anything more than a brutal gore show, yet it accomplishes so much. It launched Sam Raimi’s lucrative career as a director, Bruce Campbell as one of the most beloved actors by his fans, and a goofy trilogy dedicated to the Three Stooges
into the history books as one of the greatest tales of fear and humor. All of this is made possible by one man and his chainsaw. Kudos, or, as he famously puts it in the follow up film, “Groovy.”
Raimi originally wanted to title this film "Book of the Dead," but
producer Irvin Shapiro changed the title to "The Evil Dead" for
fear that kids would be turned off seeing a movie with a literary reference.
completing principal photography in the winter of 1979-1980, most of the
actors left the production. However, there was still much of the film to
be completed. Most of the second half of the film features Bruce Campbell
and various stand-ins (or "shemps") to replace the actors who left.
in a real-life abandoned cabin.
corn dyed green was used as zombie guts.
Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell were friends from high-school, where
they made many super-8 films together. They would often collaborate with
Sam's brother Ted Raimi. Campbell became the "actor" of the group, as "he
was the one that girls wanted to look at."
the tape, in which the demon resurrection passages are read aloud. The
words are in a form of Arabic, which actually mean "Rob Tapert and Sam
Raimi are the men on the side of the road".
voice of the professor on the tape recording is that of American Movie
Classics host Bob Dorian.
Grainger, a friend of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, gave them the advice:
"Fellas, no matter what you do, keep the blood running down the screen."
They included the scene in the finished film where the blood runs down
the projector screen as a tribute to him.
cabin used for filming The Evil Dead was located in Morristown,
TN. The cabin mysteriously burned down years later.
cabin did not actually have a cellar. The cellar scenes were filmed in
Raimi's garage. For the scene where the students descend into the cellar,
a hole was cut into the floor, a shallow hole was dug, and a ladder was
placed into the pit.
first opening sequence of the evil moving over the pond, is actually Bruce
Campbell pushing Sam Raimi in a dingy while he filmed the shot.
last name is never mentioned throughout the entire Evil Dead trilogy, though
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell did toy around with calling him "Ashley J
Williams" and "Ash Holt," the latter revealing how Sam viewed the character...
Evil Dead was one of the first films to be labeled as a "Video Nasty"
scream of Bruce Campbell at the end of the movie is genuine. Sam Raimi
actually crashed into Bruce with the bike he used to create the "Evil Camera"