In 1981, on October 15th, in Detroit, Michigan at a premiere, Sam Raimi made his debut as filmmaker with his feature film The Evil Dead, along with his good friend Bruce Campbell, after they started in 1978 with the legendary short super-8 film called Within the Woods. Their movie used to entice investors to finance a portion of their over the top and incredible horror movie, ultimately solidified by the endorsement of legend Stephen King. However, the core of America would not see it for quite a while, as it made a tour and release in Europe, especially the UK market, but did not return to the United States market until 1983. It is from here the cult status followed, and latest 35-years, and while date to some the endurance of this films, continues to influence others, it spawned, numerous figurines and comic books, two sequels, a remake, a musical and then a television series. Many times the horror genre points the success of gems in the independent market, but often overlook the Raimi’s contribution in this area, only because it really predates that avenue, yet undeniable the amount attention and love it still receives from the fans to this day.
The path to success often plagued with hardships, issues, and problems but the dedication of the crew, and cast assisted but the determination of the director leads them all to victory. When one doesn’t let the physical or emotional issues to prevent their creation from gracing the screen, then nothing denies them from reaching the goal and in this case to the cheers of horror fans and gross out from cinema goers. The Evil Dead (though not the original title, which was Book of the Dead), however it found itself stripped because of fears teens wouldn’t appreciate movie with word ‘book’ in it. Needless to say, as many know the history of the production of film, it sometimes frightens the upcoming filmmakers, because it involves hard work and physical heartache. For example aside from the freezing temperatures, Raimi’s style reminds some of a cross between Martin Scorsese and Buster Keaton, for each director, does many takes and sometimes delays to think about all the possibilities of a scene. Either way, the cast and crew members, endured and received overwhelming success, some of them losing eyelashes, teeth and twisted ankles. Everyone who is horror viewer, knows the plot, but for the newcomers or those only familiar with remake, a bit of backstory five college students venture to woodland cabin for a nice relaxing weekend break. The students included, if you the readers and viewers didn’t know Ash (Bruce Campbell), girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), his sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), pals Shelly (Theresa Tilly) and Scotty (Richard DeManincor). After a brief resting moment, an expecting cellar door reveals itself, a curious Ash plays a tape machine, which utters the dangerous words, from a translation by a professor of the Book of the Dead (i.e. Necronomicon) and opens the hidden door to hell unleashing the ancient ones. Slowly Ash and his friends suffer hellish torments and victimization of pranks, from the demons known as the deadites, escalating it to rape, possessions, and terrorizing agony. But that is not including what Ash brings to the table, from dismemberment to eye gouging, all with increasing amounts gore and blood splattering.
The Evil Dead really measures incredibly well in the 35-years with the amount of extreme to the special effects and the audio paranoia, which creates to disturb many horror newbies. Although the film does contain the most controversial scene of its time, the brutal rape scene of branches and vines, with simulated penetration, of Cheryl, an issue the director Raimi states, “little too brutal … people were offended in a way that I did it…My goal is not to offend people. It is to entertain, thrill, scare…make them laugh but not to offend them.” (*1) The scene captivates and repulses at the same time, and ripping of her dignity and creating exploitation moment showing that demonic force contain no mercy and seek to destroy and corrupt innocence, after all her character does wear white. Otherwise the film features shaky camera work to represent the evil swarming through the woods at increasing speeds, and never truly explained why it happens doesn’t matter as it only enhancing the insanity on the screen. Many directors take notes and direction from Raimi’s early works, though shy away when it comes to this previously mentioned scene however director Alec Asten used an outstanding maze of intertwined vines that strive to exact their revenge in his short movie The Curse of Micah Rood (2008).
As stated earlier, the movie became a hardship for the crew as well as the cast, especially for location of using an abandoned cabin in Tennessee, retrofitting the structure, running water and electricity. Bruce, Sam and others used every trick and method to fund their film, from cold calling businesses to taking high-risk loans on family property to borrowing from everyone, to complete their project. Now this really isn’t recommended, though others have done this action too, however trust in each other, commitment and belief in the film must always find they present. Sam also used the inspired tactics of the high elaborated showmanship of the talented director and producer William Castle, with ambulances for publicity stunts at the premier.
This movie remains a genuinely good solid flick, with all the sordid detail and scenes, from creation and suffering for their art to the low-budget masterpiece, which lives up to one their famous taglines, “The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror.” Without any doubt every horror fan, should own a copy of the film, as for this reviewer, I have the ‘fleshy’ DVDs of movie and Evil Dead II (1987), and in fact a fully uncensored version appear in 2001, likely newer version with more special interviews, reflections, and documentaries will have fans purchasing the flick over and over. All horror fans agree on the quality and importance of this horror film, and how it continues to influence future filmmakers in the genre year after year all for the pleasure of thrilling for over the top creativity.
(*1) Source: YouTube video of The Incredibly Strange Film Show (1988), and on the Birth Movies Death website, in the article Evil Dead 2013 and the Politics of Tree Rape by Devin Faraci from April 4, 2013. – http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2013/04/04/evil-dead-2013-and-the-politics-of-tree-rape