When deciding what films to review for Horror Week there was no way that the Evil Dead was not going to be on the list. Not only is it the starting point of the careers of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell but it is also the original video nasty. Those of you not from the UK may not know what a video nasty is, it’s a pretty unique to the UK term. Later in the week I’ll be running a review on a film based around video nasties so all will be explained in due time. Suffice to say that The Evil Dead was banned, taken to court, re-released with edits and eventually passed for an 18 uncut. Naturally it’s this uncut version that I’m reviewing. On with the show.
Made with a micro budget of $375,000 over a period of 1 and a half years The Evil Dead is no a labour of love and determination for Sam Raimi and all those involved. There’s very few directors that can make such an impact with their first film, and it’s not just an impact of the films quality. See Evil Dead was, for a time, the most extreme film out there. It was the film that school kids would get together to watch on VHS around their friends house behind their parents back. It gained notoriety for being banned and cut in multiple countries, not just the UK. Most importantly you can see just how daring a director Sam Raimi was due to become. This was the sort of film you’d watch for shocks, for laughs and as a fan of film for it’s sheers balls-out-ness.
If you’ve seen Spider-man 2 but never seen The Evil Dead go and watch it now… don’t mind me, I’ll wait… Done? Sweet. Notice the similarities in how both films are shot? 23 years before Spider-man 2 was giving Dr Octopus’ tentacles POV shots The Evil Dead was doing that with trees. Dutch angles, crazy camera direction and various other examples of insane camera work are present in both films. Obviously Spider-man 2 is the more traditionally shot of the two films but there’s no doubting that in Raimi’s first film the traits are all there. From his very first feature he was an auteur. He was crafting what would become his visual style. He did this with no cranes, steady cams or tracks. It was all hand held or basic tripod shots with an 8mm camera. They don’t make films like that anymore. Hell, even hand held effects are usually added in in post. I have no idea if Raimi had developed his suit fetish at this time though.
The Evil Dead’s story is simple and hackneyed as you’d expect a low budget 80s horror films story to be. 5 teenagers go to stay in a cabin in the woods and then evil supernatural shit goes down. Possessions, bludgeonings and tree rape are among the grisly treats in store for the viewer here. Yes I said tree rape. You’ll understand when you see the film. I should assume that you have but I do wonder if this is a film that has successfully passed on to the younger generations. It’s not clean or visually flashy by today’s standards. At the time though these effects were pretty inventive and at times cutting edge for it’s genre. The films image quality always stunk a little though. That’s what happens when you use 8mm film in a predominantly dark set. Still, I love the grain and the grim that using such film brings.
The gore comes by the bucket load, especially in the last half hour. It’s clear that there must have been a pretty decent sale on corn syrup during the films production because they certainly get through a lot. It’s not just the amount of blood that earned this film it’s reputation though. It’s the way it handled the violent acts. A pencil gouged into an ankle is bound to make most viewers cringe first time, as would one of the earliest thumbs in the eyes effects. The was Raimi came up with to mutilate his characters is as inventive as his camera work.
It’s easy to criticise the film for many of it’s short comings. It’s age is showing. There’s many continuity errors. Framing can be haphazard, something not helped by the widescreen version that has become the most common now. But to criticise this film for those faults is to criticise it for being a low budget, 80s film, made by amateurs over the course of 18 months. There aren’t many who could pull off a film like this with the same restrictions they had at the time.
You may have noticed that I have a lot of love for this film. That’s because it was one of my favorite films as a kid, even in it’s edited form that was available in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s spawned a pseudo sequel/remake with Evil Dead 2 and the third film is almost a beast unto itself. This is the one I care about the most though. It’s an inspiring horror film and it’s damn fun to show to anyone that’s the slightest bit squeamish. If you’ve not seen The Evil Dead take the time to as soon as you can. You literally have no right to talk about horror films without seeing The Evil Dead first.