Evil Dead is camp. It DEFINES camp. It also introduced people to the living god of camp, Bruce Campbell, for the first time. Look at his name: The word "camp" is right there! There is a huge cult following surrounding the Evil Dead series - which also includes two sequels, Evil Dead II and the awesome Army of Darkness - and Bruce Campbell.
A "Book of the Dead" bound in human flesh? That comes to life if people recite what's written in it? Director Sam Raimi had to know people would never be able to take this stuff seriously. But one of the keys to really great camp is that the director can't direct knowing people aren't going to take it seriously. It has to be unintentional, or at least directed like it is. If it's directed WITH campy intentions in mind, you're going to come up with a revered piece of art. I'm looking at you, Quentin Tarantino, and Kill Bill - which by all means totally rocked, but it just wasn't real camp. Raimi, however, appears to play games with us in Evil Dead. Sometimes he appears to know full well how ridiculous this all is, and at other times he seems to be the guiding hand for a hack producer looking for a quick, cheap buck by creating a run-of-the-mill horror flick.
Evil Dead begins with another stop-me-if-you've-heard-this-one-before cliche as a group of teenagers is headed to a run-down cabin in the woods for a secluded vacation. There is an evil spirit running around in the woods, and the kids find a mysterious flesh-bound book in the basement along with a recording of some scientist who was apparently studying it, let it loose, and realized all too late that he didn't know how to stop it.
Sam Raimi uses a lot of first-person camera work in Evil Dead, much like Steven Spielberg did in Jaws. This is a very effective trick under certain circumstances, and those circumstances are in Evil Dead. Raimi, however, is also clearly using this trick to conceal the fact that he has no budget. The special effects are relatively cheap and many of them could probably be performed at home without help from a computer. Raimi's low budget clearly works in the movie's favor, because Raimi is being forced to be as creative as possible to tell the story much of the time. When our teens begin turning into zombies, the special effects even in many of those scenes are little more than makeup and fake blood.
Oh, there's a gore factor in Evil Dead, all right. The makeup looks truly disgusting at times, and since the evil that's taking hold of everyone can only be defeated through disembowelment, Raimi pulls no punches in showing us the details whenever he can squeeze them out. Blood bursts out of the cabin's electrical appliances in one scene near the end. Some of the gore, especially at the end, is done using claymation.
The plot of Evil Dead is easy to explain, and there are only five characters in the entire movie. Scott, Ash, Cheryl, Linda, and Shelley are heading to a secluded cabin in the woods for a private getaway. None of them, except Scott, have even seen this place before and they don't know anything about it. Once there, they find a weird book with a bunch of drawings and a recording of some scientist who talks about the Book of the Dead popping to life when read aloud. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem because the book is written in a language none of the teens seem to know, but they keep the recording on while the scientist chants away in a dramatically overdone voice. Apparently the whole chanting rule does not give exemptions to recordings, so the dead come to life.
With the one way (of course) leading into and out of their spot in ruins, the group has to survive the night. But the evil dead don't make this easy. They start going after everyone in the place.
An interesting thing about Evil Dead is that the evil dead never really appears in a defined corporeal form, at least not onscreen. Yes, one of the girls gets attacked by plants when she first goes outside to inspect something. And when the evil dead penetrates the cabin, it starts making the group into zombies. But it itself is never given a real form. Granted Raimi's budgetary constraints are probably responsible for that, but there's no escaping that it detracts from the camp value of Evil Dead. Of course, that detraction may actually be part of the reason Evil Dead is so campy in the first place. If Raimi had shown a monster, it may not have been taken seriously enough to be elevated to the level of camp, and Raimi might have gone on to a career reputation as the next Ed Wood instead of the big-budget director of a Spider-man franchise which, in most respects, is freaking awesome. The lack of a monster tries to give the movie a small measure of artistic credit, which in this case made the difference between campy and bad.
Another thing that takes away from the camp value is Bruce Campbell, who plays his role as Ash completely straight. This might come as a real shock, considering Campbell's reputation. But this was Campbell's big break, the role which got people to notice him, and so he tries to play his role. At the very least, Campbell tries to play the movie star, dominating the movie with his presence and charm, and he does. But this isn't the same Ash who told a flock of medieval warriors to buy his Grand Rapids-made boomstick at their local S-mart from Army of Darkness. It's Ask being visibly scared, not knowing what the hell is going on, though knowing quite well that no one - himself included - really believes it.
Evil Dead does an awful lot like a standard slasher flick, but it still turns that horrible genre onto its head by turning the victims into the killers they fear. In the long run of the genre, it really doesn't make THAT much of a difference, but it's still an interesting little inversion.
Evil Dead may be tacky and low-budget, but, well, that's part of the whole point! And getting to see Bruce Campbell is always worth it! He is the king, after all, and hail to the king!
Anchor Bay's DVD edition of Raimi's goofy, gory cult classic sports a picture trimmed to facilitate a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, catering to 16x9 television owners. Pan & scan butchery was equally ugly, but Elite's 1.33:1 release and all of the VHS editions of identical formatting that preceded it were surely more accurate presentations of this movie, which was shot in 1.37:1. That aside, this is a quality disc. It's unsightly, but that's how it was shot - on outmoded Arriflex … more
**** out of **** Often considered one of the biggest cinematic bloodbaths ever, as well as one of the darkest comedies in existence, "The Evil Dead" is Sam Raimi's "big indie beast"; a stunning debut from a man who can successfully take one genre, and can still make a film about not one, but two things. That could only be the work of a true craftsman. But how can a film as violent and bloody as this one have been made with actual craft? Isn't it no … more
The Evil Dead is set in the back woods of Tennessee in an old abandoned cabin. Five young kids, all in their early twenties are all set for a weekend of camping, partying and having a good time. All is going well until they find the basement in the cabin. There had been some kind researcher living in the cabin quite some time back. It appeared that he had left in a hurray or just never came back to get his materials. Scott and Ash found a book and some audio recordings. So while having a few cocktails … more
Evil Dead was one of the last midnight movies (at least in my area). It was also the most violent, gory and cheesiest horror film I have seen in the last twenty or so years that was highly entertaining. A group of college kids go fooling around in some old cabin and discover the Necronomicon. Yes, they find the book that H.P. Lovecraft used to love to write about. A book made from human skin and contains a bizarre language and horrific images that drive people insane. Once when these silly … more
Pros: Bruce Campbell, well directed Cons: Lighting, make up, costumes Five college students head to a cabin in the woods for a little vacation. They accidentally awaken some demons by way of recorded incantations from the Necronomicron (Book of the Dead), and are forced to fight them to stay alive. One by one, the students themselves become possessed, leaving Ash (Bruce Campbell) the last man standing. All alone, Ash must fend off the Evil Dead, while … more
Director Sam Raimi's first film has achieved legendary status since its 1982 release, and for good reason. Though perhaps not as widely seen as its two sequels, EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS, THE EVIL DEAD is arguably the best of the three. It is the story of five college-age friends who travel to a cabin in rural Tennessee where the stumble upon the Book of the Dead, an ancient tome bound in human flesh and inked in blood. After unwittingly awakening the unspeakable terror told of in the book, each of the friends is transformed into the evil dead, one by one, except for Ash (Bruce Campbell). So, Ash is left with no other way to survive than to dismember the living corpses of his sister, girlfriend, and two of his friends. Shot on a shoestring budget, the film boasts some impressive camera work and extremely over-the-top gore effects as well as a sense of humor much more subtle than the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic of the two sequels.