Breihan Dryden, A&E Writer
Over the past week, I have taken it upon myself to show my fiancé the Evil Dead trilogy. The trilogy is made up of The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, and Army of Darkness and, in my humble opinion, they make a rock solid trio of horror, comedy, and high concept fantasy. While she overall enjoyed the series, she pointed something out that I’ve never really given much thought to. That being that The Evil Dead is the only film in the series that seeks out to be a straight up horror film. Not that this is necessarily a detriment to the series. Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are fantastically gory flicks that throw all of their budgets at the wall to see what sticks, but admittedly, there is a rather large disconnect between the self-contained, micro budgeted first film and its higher budgeted sequels. This week, let’s take a look at the gross, unnerving mess that is 1981’s The Evil Dead.
Throughout the 1970’s, frequent collaborators Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Scott Spiegel cut their filmmaking teeth on making low budget, super 8mm short films, mostly of the slapstick variety. During this time, Sam and Bruce decided that they wanted to make a hyper gory exploitation horror film, so they went out to a friend’s cabin and shot Within the Woods, which was a prototype to The Evil Dead. While some things would change, such as the inclusion of an ancient Indian burial ground being the source of the evil and Bruce Campbell being the antagonist (although this would later be reused as a plot point in Evil Dead II), the basic structure was there: a group of friends go out to a cabin in the woods for a good time and end up unleashing an ancient evil that proceeds to decimate the group. After securing a screening in a local Michigan theatre playing before The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Within the Woods was a local hit and led to Sam wanting to juice it up and turn it into a feature length film. With a goal in mind, a budget scraped together, and a cabin secured in Tennessee, the mostly group of filmmakers set off to see their vision through.
After a shoot that could only be described as “grueling”, Sam and Co. were finally ready to unleash their creation out into the world. And what a creation it is. The Evil Dead is an exercise in budget filmmaking done right. The film has a very kinetic energy behind it that is always building up the idea that something is constantly watching this group. The moon is always being shrouded by thick smoke, fog is constantly spewing from the ground, and the woods themselves have become living, breathing creatures. How does the group handle the messed up things happening to and around them? Well, about as well as you and your friends would, which is to say, not very well. People bicker and make dumb decisions, but never at any point do you actively want these people to die. Unfortunately, the Kandarian demons that have taken to possessing these kids have different plans in store. The characters are beat up, thrown around, possessed, un-possessed, and one girl even gets raped by one of those ye ye trees. Through the use of over the top sound design and viciously icky practical effects, you can feel each and every little thing that the characters have happen to them, and it truly is glorious.
The Evil Dead is a film that every aspiring filmmaker should watch, because it gives one hope that with enough drive and the right people around you, anything is possible. Do you think that Mr. Raimi and his crew thought that their little exploitation film would go on to be one of the most well regarded horror films ever created? Probably not. But hell, they gave it their everything and it totally shows.
The Evil Dead gets 9 Golden Taylor’s out of 10.