The Evil Dead is the horror classic. Hailed by Stephen King himself as “the most ferociously original horror film of the year” when it was released in 1981, it’s been banned in countries all over the world and is the first feature film from Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man trilogy, Drag Me To Hell and Darkman.
The Book of the Dead is where it all begins, the fabled Necronomicon of the Lovecraftian mythos, the ‘Naturan Demanto’, a book so evil that it contains an incantation which, if read out, will summon the spirits of the dead to kill all in sight. So you can imagine what happens, can you not?
Five college students travel into the wilderness of Tennessee to spend a pleasant holiday in an abandoned cabin. Everything seems great until they hear noises coming from a chained-up trapdoor in the lounge and decide to investigate, but they find nothing except an old tape recorder and a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood (oh, what could it be?). On playing the tape, they hear a voice reading out some sort of incantation and from that point onwards their holiday is ruined. Completely ruined.
The best, and probably the most impressive element of The Evil Dead, aside from its innovative camera sweeps and demonic voice overs, is its visual effects. The stop motion gore is hilarious, it’s disgusting, obviously fake, but brilliant gore. Tree branches turn savage, limbs get amputated and monsters disintegrate all over the place – the actual time and effort put into creating effects like these with such a low budget ($350,000) is incredible. The film is well deserving of its Clavell de Plata award for special effects.
The mass appeal of The Evil Dead and its sequels is probably due to its ability to combine full on horror with a certain playfulness – for every moment of disgust, there’s a one-liner or a bit of slapstick to match it. And like Stephen King said, it’s just so unique: a simply structured 85 minutes of fun and blood. The film has gone on to inspire countless other horrors, from Braindead (one of Peter Jackson’s earlier efforts that uses the same sort of ‘animated gore’ effects) to the more recent Cabin in the Woods. There’s even a musical based on the Evil Dead trilogy, which at the time of release was named ‘the new Rocky Horror’.
Admittedly the acting isn’t the greatest, but this just adds to the film’s slightly mocking tone, as does the fantastic dialogue (“kill her if you can, loverboy”). Each actor has emerged from the series as a cult hero in the horror community, especially Bruce Campbell with his chainsaw antics. Nowadays, aside from sitting at a computer retweeting Evil Dead quotes (@GroovyBruce) and playing Sam Axe in Burn Notice, Campbell still holds a strong presence in the world of cinema. His friendship with Raimi continues, having appeared briefly in many of the director’s later films (the boxing announcer in Spider-Man, for example) and, in more exciting news, both Raimi and Campbell are producers of the 2013 Evil Dead remake, which follows the same storyline and stars Jane Levy (Suburgatory). It doesn’t even look that terrible.
Just watch The Evil Dead this Halloween – put it on while carving a pumpkin and you’ll have a wonderful time, but whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously. Or venture down into the cellar…