The fifth and final entry in our Week of Horror series is The Evil Dead, a horror film from 1981 that launched the careers of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Note: Minor spoilers ahead. Some NSFW images inside
The Evil Dead is one of those movies that is required viewing if you consider yourself a horror fan. Following the story of a group of friends off to a deep-forest cabin for a fun vacation, it examines what happens when they accidentally raise the dead through an audio recording found in the basement. On it, a man reads from the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead. This causes gateways to open up in the forest, allowing evil spirits to flood the area and inhabit anything nearby. Trees, inanimate objects, people…nothing is safe.
Sam Raimi’s camera work here is exquisite. Oddball angles, smart editing, and straight views of all the gory action abound throughout the movie. Even though the effect work is a bit low-budget, within the context of the story it manages to maintain an air of realism. To us the viewer, that melting body looks like clay…but given all of the crazy stuff going on, it’s quite possible that a melting demon body within this story really would look like clay. While they have a slightly cheesy sense about them, the gore effects are overall very well done. Considering the film’s meager $375,000 budget, I’m surprised they managed to have as many gore shots as they did, some of which are extremely complicated.
From the inhuman wailing of demons being impaled by a dagger, to noises being made up in the rafters, to the low-tech yet eerie music, the sound work in this movie is very unique. Much like The Shining, just about anyone who has seen The Evil Dead could identify a two second audio clip from it. My personal favorite sound effect is when Shelly gets stabbed in the back by the crazy skull dagger, and she lets out the most other-worldly noise I have ever heard in a film. Her scream, which was heavily filtered through multiple effects, really does sound like something from beyond our world. I have to really commend the folks who worked on the sound for this film; some of their effects are the best you will ever hear in any type of movie movie. In a way, The Evil Dead is worth watching just to listen to the music, hear the foley work, and experience the processed voices.
The Evil Dead never reaches scary status, but there are some extremely creepy moments in this movie. Some truly creative scenes were envisioned for this film, and considering how well done they are, I like to think that they appear on film exactly how Raimi saw them in his head. Despite the “low budget”, this is a very deliberate and precise picture. Everything seems to have an exact purpose, whether it be building tension, adding to the creepy, or making you feel comfortable before the creepy…I personally don’t think there is a wasted moment in this movie.
The most common complaint about The Evil Dead is that the beginning is a bit slow, but I enjoy the back and forth banter between the characters. It gives you just enough of a chance to get to know their quirky personalities…not to mention get the image of them looking human burned into your brain. When you see them tromping around as demons, the way they used to look comes flashing back. These people aren’t actors in makeup…they convincingly go from slightly dorky mid 20-somethings to demon-infused psychotics. Campbell steals the show, obviously, but Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Hal Delrich put in amazing performances as well. Their transformations (both the acts of them and the end results) are really convincing. Campbell’s performance is excellent, but a lot of that comes the synergy between him and the other actors. They don’t get the glory like Bruce does, but they still deserve it for their rounds as demonic evil.
The Evil Dead truly is a horror classic in every sense of the word. I consider it a rite of passage for any new horror buff, and put it in the “recommended viewing” category for anyone even remotely interested in the genre. If you haven’t watched Evil Dead in a while, take it off your shelf and pop it in; it’s just as awesome the hundredth time as it is the first time.