Sam Raimi’s first film, ‘The Evil Dead’, has gone down in the pages of history as one of the all- time great indie horror films. With some excellent practical effects and some genius camera work The Evil Dead stands up to the test of time despite it being a far from perfect film.
The setup of The Evil Dead is the now oft used trope of kids staying in a cabin deep in the woods. After the perfunctory getting there – including the foreboding of things going wrong (car going out of control), the cabin is introduced and to be honest it is as much part of the cast as the humans are. The cabin is very imposing despite being small but the way it’s framed and shot gives it such a dark look that you almost expect tentacle arms to come out of it walls and grab the closest character. The lead up to the characters entering the cabin is a great sequence. An ominous slamming of a swinging bench sit creates a rhythmic pounding until the door handle is grasped when it suddenly stops. The door is opened and we get sparse piano note and a sliver of light, with dust swirling, nothing actually happens at this stage and yet it is a fully effective moment before any of the madness begins.
Of course with the kids in party mode, the cellar door crashes open inviting the kids to check it out, which they do. It is here that the film has a mis-step with the music, up until this point the music in the film has been great but when the door flies open, you are blasted with a score that sounds like it would be more at home in a 1950s or 60s film, its jarring and lasts far too long. That aside once the kids explore the cellar and come across the necronomicon and the tape recording, the Evil Dead kicks off.
This is also the meaty part of Raimi’s outstanding direction and camera work. An absolutely outrageous set piece with Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) being called outside by voices only to be raped by the trees… it sets the tone for what is to come and throws the audience totally off balance. Then the first possession happens and the gloves are well and truly off by then. Raimi’s camera flies along close to the ground, it hovers above the characters and it never really flinches when comes to getting graphic. Raimi also gets up close with his characters the shot of Ash (Bruce Campbell) with beads of sweat; breathing heavily is just another way that Raimi amps up the tension in an already unpredictable film.
The practical effects are both effective and disgusting and it is possibly the least outlandish of the effects which ends up being the most effective – a pencil in the ankle – it looks real, looks painful and makes you squirm. For a low budget production it certainly has some amazing shots, the image of a demonic girl chewing through her own hand is something that shocks even on repeat viewings.
The sound design is also very good. The demonic voices, the creaks, the groans are all excellent but I think the one thing that really makes the sound design in this film stand out is one small moment, where the camera passes in from two bits of wood and it makes a sound that would happen if you pass something close at speed, it’s a tiny moment but something which stood out.
The acting in the Evil Dead is varied as you would expect in an indie production. Despite this no one ruins the film and yes, the acting could’ve been better but at the end of the day it is not a big factor. Bruce Campbell as Ash looms large over the Evil Dead, in a twist he *spoiler* ends up as the final guy at a time where the female was the survivor *end spoiler*. Campbell is the glue that holds the film together.
The Evil Dead is a true inspiration for upcoming horror filmmakers, showing that dedication and hard work can overcome budgetary obstacles. The film itself stands out almost on its own for a film made in 1981; it is almost the sole survivor from that decade which produced some of the most forgettable and terrible horror films – with some exceptions of course.