‘The Evil Dead’ – Sam Raimi’s Ferociously Inventive Cabin-in-the-Woods Masterpiece
The very first word that comes to my mind regarding Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is masterpiece. Stephen King described it as ‘the most ferociously original horror film of the year’ at the time of its release and nothing could be closer to the truth about this movie. There is ferocity to this film that a hundred other horror films could only have wet dreams about. It starts off slow and picks up speed like a forest fire. Get in its way and you will be burned to a crisp and trampled underfoot and left in a pool of your own boiling blood and gore.
With his 1981 splatter-fest ‘The Evil Dead’, indie maverick Sam Raimi fused humor, horror and inventive style into a gory classic that endures as a masterclass in DIY filmmaking. When five friends unwittingly unleash demonic forces in a remote cabin, the ensuing carnage reaches delirious levels of frenzy. Made for just $350,000, Raimi’s debut still inspires awe for its creativity and bravura execution.
The Evil Dead possesses one of the most threadbare plots that I have ever seen in a film. Five friends venture to a remote cabin where they find The Book of the Dead and a tape recording of demonic incantations. They read the book and play the tapes and all hell breaks loose. One by one they are all taken over by flesh possessing demons. All but Ash, that is; he’s the final girl of the film. He’s the one who has all the fun chopping off limbs, decapitating, poking his thumbs into eyeballs and listening as his now demonic girlfriend chants ‘We’re gonna get you’ over and over and over again. It seems the only way you can beat these evil dead baddies is through total bodily dismemberment. Oh, what a joy!
Raimi displays uncommon creativity on a shoestring budget, moving the camera in endlessly inventive ways and utilizing low-fi practical effects that maximize gore. Deadites spew viscera across the cabin in brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, while Raimi’s roaming, kinetic camerawork makes the film breathless.
With sly winks accompanying the relentless carnage, ‘The Evil Dead’ nails the balance between scares and laughs that would become Raimi’s signature. Made for next to nothing, it set a new standard for DIY horror and exerted enormous influence on the genre. Nearly forty years later, it hasn’t lost an ounce of its feral power. I watch The Evil Dead at least twice a year. It helps to remind me just what a horror film should be made up. Three parts fun, three parts fear and three parts blood and gore with a simple uncluttered plot. If you haven’t seen it, what the hell are you waiting for, a written invitation?
After completing principal photography in the winter of 1979-1980, most of the actors left the production. However, there was still much of the film to be completed. Most of the second half of the film features Bruce Campbell and various stand-ins (or “Fake Shemps”) to replace the actors who left.
Director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell were friends from high school, where they made many super-8 films together. They would often collaborate with Sam’s brother Ted Raimi. Campbell became the “actor” of the group, as “he was the one that girls wanted to look at.”
Bruce Campbell twisted his ankle on a root while running down a steep hill, and Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert decided to tease him by poking his injury with sticks, thus causing Campbell to have an obvious limp in some scenes.