Stephen King, author of The Shining and Misery, called The Evil Dead “the most ferociously original horror film of the year”. Personally, I feel that this is a very appropriate description for the film. It is a very ferocious film and, for its time, was very original. While there had been plenty of movies about young people stranded in the woods and movies about people becoming possessed by demonic forces, there had never been a movie that combined the two together. As anybody who knows me well enough will tell you, The Evil Dead is my all-time favorite horror film. Some people have asked me why this is my all-time favorite, so let me take the time to explain why.
The film follows five college students: Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, his friend Scotty, and Scotty’s girlfriend Shelley. They’re together for a camping trip to the woods, where they stay in a small, isolated cabin. When strange things start happening including weird voices and odd sounds, Ash and Scotty decide to check the basement. There, they find various items including a tape recorder, an ancient book and dagger, and a shotgun. Once back upstairs, they play the tape recorder, which has a recording by a professor who found the dagger and the book, known as “Naturum De Montum”, aka Book of the Dead. As the recording continues, the professor recites incantations from the book, releasing an ancient evil in the woods that possesses them one by one. As those possessed wind up killing each other, who will be taken next and who will survive the night?
There are many things that make this film stand out from many other low-budget horror films from the time. First, it is a very well-made and well-directed film, utilizing unique camera angles and some unconventional editing techniques. This was the directorial debut of Sam Raimi, who would later helm the original Spider-Man trilogy from 2002-2007. You can definitely see his style in the movie, from the various camera angles and tricks used throughout the movie. For instance, the second half is mostly shot at dutch angles to give a sense of unease and suspense throughout. Also, there are the famous POV shots, done by mounting a camera on a 2×4 and running through the woods.
What also makes the movie work is its mix of suspense and atmosphere, and insanely graphic violence and gore. It can be a tricky thing to balance the suspense and tension with the buckets of blood and guts. Often times, it can lead to tonal clashes with your film, but in this one, it works. The suspense and atmosphere compliments the blood and guts, similar to what John Carpenter would do later with The Thing.
Of course, the movie does have its flaws, but they don’t ruin the film for me because of my love. Plus, I feel like some of its flaws help lend to its charm, given the tough filming conditions throughout. For instance, a lot of the acting is questionable, not as bad for instance as something like Cabin Fever. There, everyone just acts like complete asshats with no personality, while here the characters are much more likable. Also, you can definitely see the low-budget production on the screen, even if you didn’t realize it. Things like how cast members change every so often, how the cast is clearly getting cut up and bruised and beat up because they did their own stunts and didn’t have any safety protocols, and how Bruce Campbell tends to age between shots, going from a babyface to looking more defined and how we know him today.
Even with that said, I still love this movie. It is one of the greatest horror films and has inspired many other filmmakers, including Edgar Wright and Peter Jackson. It’s spawned two sequels, comics, video games, action figures, a TV series, a remake in 2013, and even a musical. If you consider yourself a true horror fan and haven’t seen this, you owe it to yourself to watch it. If you dismiss this film as being nothing more than yucky trash, give it another chance and recognize it for how it started careers and how they put a lot of time and energy into making this.