‘The Evil Dead’ is a B movie masterpiece
Eerie and perverse in its low-budget tangibility, Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” has held up as a B movie masterpiece ever since its release in 1981. Before he ever did the “Spider-Man” movies with Toby Maguire, horror was Raimi’s entrance into filmmaking and is hailed as one of the greatest autors within the genre. “The Evil Dead” started it all for him as his terrifying feature-length debut.
Fog looms over a desolate cabin, trees deadened from the late fall, isolated from any civilization. A group of five college friends rent out the cabin for the weekend, unbeknownst to the enduring terror that lurks within the lifeless woods. Everything seemingly goes well at first on their planned get away from school. However, their cozy vacation goes south quickly, down deep into a nightmarish hell.
The group eventually discover a mysterious book imprinted with a face and bound in human flesh, the Necronomicon (the Book of the Dead). They find it sitting next to a tape recorder on the table in the cabin’s basement. They decide to play the tape which is filled with recorded demonic incantations from the book spoken by a professor who once resided there. Unwittingly, the group resurrects the slumbering horde of demons thirsty for their souls. The fog thickens to a smoke-filled soup netted in-between the decrepid trees, dead leaves, and the ominous cabin. Shrieking distant echoes escape the woods as the demons begin to rise in hunger. The cabin sits as a purgatory realm for Raimi’s filmaking horrors; a location where the mercy of his characters are at disregard to his twisted gory-filled story-telling.
As the tape player continues to turn, the professor eludes that the only way to kill those possessed by a demon, is to dismember their corpses piece-by-piece. They close the book, laughing in skeptics. The group, however, begins to become possessed one-by-one by the hellspawns they ignorantly raised; beginning with the possession of Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), as she leaves the cabin from her escalating fear from the mysterious book and recording. This would lead to her getting attacked by the demonic possessed trees of the woods with heavy use of fog machines in-tow. She becomes possessed by the demonic tanglings of the tree that attacks her and the evil force that chases her back to the cabin.
Covered in bruises, blood, and lashes, Cheryl screams of her trauma involved in the events that she went through out in the woods. To no avail, the group disbelieves that a tree came to life and brutally attacked her, undermining the vile event. Concerned for her hysterics, Cheryl’s brother Ashley ‘Ash’ Williams, played by B movie legend Bruce Campbell, decides to drive her into town to stay the night. The demons already were planning for any of the college students inevitable departures, however. Ash and Cheryl get to the bridge they originally crossed at the beginning of the film, sketchy in its shambled wood boards. Though now, the bridge is destroyed as if it was blown up by a supernatural force, leaving no way to return to town from the evil that preys upon them.
Forced to return to the cabin of horrors, Cheryl’s possession takes hold within moments of arriving. Covered in heavy use of frighteningly superb make-up effects, the demonic spawns are the most memorable piece of “The Evil Dead.” Next to the super cool Bruce Campbell that is. Even with the low-budget nature of Raimi’s debut piece of late-night nightmare theater, the make-up and special effects were the greatest utilization of his $375,000 budget. The demonically possessed characters are almost unrecognizable with the pounds of rotten fleshy makeup, white coated contacts, and fake blood seeping down and around their faces/bodies; all combined to make for innovative and memorable change to form of the demonic possession trope.
Cheryl proceeds to grab a pencil unaware to Ash’s girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker), and stabs the point into her ankle. With a twist of the pencil, Cheryl injures Linda in a gory cringe-inducing manner, with respect to the amazing low-budget special effects work. The group grab her and throw her into the cellar, locking the chains that cover the wooden trapdoor.
Soon after, Shelly (Theresa Tilly) becomes possessed and without warning, attacks Scotty (Richard DeManincor). Remembering what the professor mentioned from the recording, Scotty grabs an axe and continues to dismember Shelly with it in true ’80s gory fashion. He and Ash then wrap her body parts in a blanket to bury them as recommended by the professor’s recording.
Scotty then goes out to find another trail out of the woods for safety, leaving Ash to check up on everyone at the cabin. Upon returning to the horror house of the possessed, another has joined them. Ash finds Linda to be the next among satan’s army of the dead. Scotty returns shortly after but had gotten mutilated by a possessed tree, telling Ash that he found another trail out of the woods, before he falls into unconsciousness.
Linda, previously rotted and coated with a possessed demeanor, seemingly returns to “normal” before Ash, who’s now alone in consciousness. She tricks him by her temptation of false sympathy, coaxing him to let his guard down. Ash takes and drags her outside before returning to a now dead Scotty. Though there is no time for sympathy for a fallen friend as here, Linda returns from her act of innocence and tries to stab Ash, but clumsily falls onto the dagger herself. He drags her body outside to dismember her with a chainsaw in order to vanquish the demon that possessed his lover. However, he ends up burying her intact instead, which would be an instant regret on Ash’s part as she quickly rises from the shallow grave. Nothing but a good beheading with a shovel to solve the issue with Linda by Ash’s hands. Her disembodied head taunts him with spooky demonic voice-overs, along with her animated body that would chase Ash all the way back to the cabin.
Scotty is now possessed by the evil horde and a now escaped Cheryl haunts the shack for Ash, the last surviving member of the group. It is up to him to dispose of the demon horde and survive the nightmare till morning. What ensues onward is a gory showdown of good versus evil which spawned one of the most iconic heroes in all of horror, the chainsaw wielding and shotgun shooting Ash Williams. In order to escape the clutches of demonic possession, he must survive the night, where morning will atone for the evil and distinguish the benevolent fog. However, the evil stems from the Necronomicon for which Ash eventually discovers it’s uses against his demon possessed friends.
Despite being an iconic film, praised by horror fans alike, it is far from a perfect movie. This is primarily due to the low-budget constraints of the film, as it unfortunately lacked in a lot of areas where it could have been improved upon production wise. However, this would be something that was greatly improved on in the bigger-budgeted sequel.
Despite the low-budget constraints, Raimi proved he was a significantly talented director with his frugal use of camera work, a tight-knit script, utilization of his actors, and crafty set designs and innovative makeup effects; all combined to make an entertaining cult horror classic. The film is a fast-paced horrific thrill-ride of panic inducing situations and stomach churning gore. Packed into a concise 85 minute runtime, “The Evil Dead” never ceases from being an entertaining rollercoaster of thrills and bloody-good scares.
Though the original film stands as a highly influential piece of horror canon, the subsequent sequel, “The Evil Dead II,” gets a bit more ‘groovy’ the next time around along with an exceedingly higher production budget. Stay tuned for my review of the bigger, better and more insane sequel next week.
“The Evil Dead” has an IMDB rating of 7.5/10 and is rated NC-17 for substantial graphic horror, violence and gore. It can be watched/rented via HBO Max, Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and Youtube TV.
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Chase Bottorf is a staff reporter for The Express.