Back in Vue #2 – The Evil Dead (1981)
We’ve had The Evil Dead oozing out the wazoo here at Best For Film. Alongside our review of the Evil Dead remake, BFF contributor Duncan only yesterday ranted on at length about the things Hollywood can learn from the new film. Proving that a good movie never dies (it only comes back vomiting blood,) a revisit to one of our favourite horror films of all time in the comfort of a Vue cinema showed us The Evil Dead ’81 is very much alive and well.
Sam Raimi is known today for big-budget special effects-ridden summer blockbusters such as the Spider-Man series or the recent Oz: the Great and Powerful, but he started out from the humblest of beginnings. Shot for $350,000 in the winter of 1980, The Evil Dead has become infamous for its terrifyingly casual approach to staff safety, twisted camera angles, and one very naughty tree.
The Evil Dead has a simple setup that was rote and cheesy even back in 1981: five friends go for a weekend retreat at an abandoned cabin in some creepy woods. They discover a cellar containing a book written in blood and bound in human flesh, as well as an awesomely retro tape recorder. Playing aloud the tape, on which an archaeologist was recording his translations, summons “The Force” (not the Star Wars kind) which take a keen interest in messing with the group in sadistic and demented ways.
It’s no Shakespearean tragedy, is it? The simplistic story has been thoroughly rinsed by horror films both before The Evil Dead and since, most critically in The Cabin In The Woods. However, the true genius of the film is that it is completely aware how silly it is, rejoicing in its own camp factor, while still managing to genuinely unnerve. The little moments of humour in the film such as Bruce Campbell mincing about, the sheer stupidity of the gore, the ridiculous gloop-gloop sound effects, all serve only to ratchet up the tension. Sam Reimi’s greatest ability, as seen throughout The Evil Dead series and the massively underrated Drag Me To Hell, is making horror fun, without diluting either quality.
The only character that anyone cares about is of course our beloved Ash, played by legendary B-movie actor Bruce Campbell. He is consciously played as a wimp from the very start of the film, cowering in the back, never eager to show courage or rush to the aid of others. He’s cringing and, for whatever it means, rather feminine. Even his name is androgynous. There’s nothing early on to tell you that Ash will become the focus of the film, that you’re watching his transformation from a complete craven into a filth-covered hero who is able to stand toe-to-toe with the possessed corpses of his former friends. Bruce Campbell’s contorted, disbelieving expression, just on the verge of losing all semblance of sanity, is the most enthralling thing on screen.
This relationship with the audience is The Evil Dead‘s greatest hook. We cheer Ash on as he gets pummelled over and over again, wincing as he gets hurt and reveling in his victories. As decently made as the remake is, it lacks this connection to the audience, the perfect character of Ash on whom we can project.
The Evil Dead is a perfect example of what can be done with very little. The camera work is second to none, and the stories behind how each shot was captured are fantastic. The camera shot of the evil force flying through the forest, for instance, was taken by slapping an expensive camera onto a 2X4 and having Sam Reimi and his brother Ted run through the woods like madmen. Another fantastic shot is when Bruce Campbell exits the car and walks towards the bottom right at a completely different angle than you might expect. It’s some obvious trickery, but it’s just so wonderfully pointless and indicative of the general creepy atmosphere and creativity of The Evil Dead that you can’t help but beam with joy on seeing it.
There’s so many beautiful moments in the film that we couldn’t fit it all into a single blog. The pencil scene (OH GAWD IT’S NASTY), the questionable need of tree-rape, the freaky possessed Linda giggling away, all the effects of blood and guts and stop-motion creamed corn, the contact lenses that made the actors’ eyes bleed, the most perfect credits music in the history of cinema, all add up to a classic that truly deserves the title. If you do nothing for the rest of the week, go see The Evil Dead ’81 in at a Vue cinema. It’ll be the best £5 you’ve ever spent.