The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead posterWhile Evil Dead 2 was one of my prime entries into not just horror but my love of film in general, its predecessor is a film I’ve not seen as often but I have always held in high regard and so, as Halloween approaches this year, I thought it time to give it another watch.

Appropriately subtitled ‘The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Horror’, Sam Raimi’s 1981 movie The Evil Dead is about as tight a piece of horror movie film making as you’re likely see as it follows a group of five friends heading off for a fun weekend in a remote cabin in the woods that goes awry in spectacular fashion.

The plot isn’t really anything to write home about as each member of the group becomes possessed by an unseen evil over the course of a night and the acting, by a group of very new actors, is generally hokey and wooden without much of a knowing sense for the most part.

Along with that the film feels more like a series of set piece ‘sketches’ than a fully coherent narrative with many call backs and references to horror and thriller movies of old with nods to everyone from Hitchcock to Hooper and beyond.

The Evil Dead cast
The young cast of The Evil Dead

What makes it work, and work it does, exceptionally well, is the execution.

Raimi and his team create the film with such joie de vivre that it’s intoxicating, and somewhat ironic for a film that sees its principal cast various mutilated and massacred, and it whips you along on a non-stop 85 minute ride from the opening tracking shot of whatever it may be in the forest to the same kind of closing view.

This use of low angle tracking through the woods is also a masterstroke, leaving the ‘Evil Dead’ of the title (apparently an ancient demonic force) a mystery throughout that we only see once it possesses a living host and with no clear link between them other than their exultation to ‘join us’.

The Evil Dead - Ash Williams - Bruce Campbell
Bruce Campbell as Ash

Along with this Raimi uses a range of in camera effects to keep the whole thing feeling on edge and off kilter, whether it how he positions the camera, over- or under-cranking the speed or possibly even shooting in reverse, it all adds to the unnerving edge.

Along with this is plenty of schlock and gore to keep hardened horror fans happy and it’s clear from this and its treatment of its characters why it was added to the so-called ‘Video Nasties’ list in the 1980s, even if it’s motives were, fairly clearly, purely innocent.

This though is where it’s most disturbing aspects come to the fore as the real run of events kicks off with what’s been dubbed the ‘tree rape’ scene that remains shocking in its execution even now, nearly 40 years later.

The Evil Dead - cellar deadite
The ‘deadite’ in the cellar

Added to this is the fact that the primary target of most the violence is the female characters which, while I think an innocent decision in keeping with traditional horror stylings, sits somewhat uncomfortably looking at it now.

Contrary to that is a surprising sense of fun, something that would really be explored in the sequel, but that is present in places here too and, I think, tempers it into a far more enjoyable package than it might otherwise be.

On top of this is something that had bubbled on the edge of my consciousness when watching in the past but really stood out this time and that is that the real horror might not be the unseen monsters in the forest but actually something in the head of our apparent hero, Ash (Bruce Campbell).

The Evil Dead - Deadite
Scott posessed (Hal Delrich)

I was left wondering, as we really follow the story from his point of view, is this a story about demonic possession and schlocky horror or are we watching a young man lose his mind and kill his friends….

I’ll leave that up to you, but suffice to say Sam Raimi’s original 1981 The Evil Dead is a horror classic for a very good reason and a must watch for any horror fan, while also being a great and surprisingly fun way to spend an hour and a half.

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