The Evil Dead (1981)

What separates this low budget horror movie about a group of teens trapped in a cabin in the woods fighting off supernatural foes? The wild creative force of a director and his team giving their all.

The Evil Dead was shot in 1981 by director Sam Raimi. He and his friends made this feature length horror fest for next to nothing. They made the film with as much creativity and ingenuity as they could muster in order to create a maximum impact horror extravaganza, and it shows. The film has a very rough hewn quality. It was shot on 16mm film which lends a grittier look to the movie. It feels more tactile and immediate. The camera moves with frightening speed and energy throughout the film. The camera itself is the monster for most of the movie as Raimi plays with perspectives and puts the viewer in the eye of the evil. With canted angles, ominous lighting and a camera that never stops moving, the filmmaking on display here is visceral and unforgettable.

The movie follows a group of five college kids who go to a cabin in the remote woods for a weekend of fun. In the basement, they discover a tape recorder. When they play the tape, the voice on the recorder reads from the book of the dead and unleashes evil on the kids.

This is the third film this month to use this premise. It wasn’t the first film to use it, but this film relishes its setting more than most. The remote cabin is a playground for horrors in this movie. Every inch is utilized. Every crack and crevice looks real and lived in. The reality of the setting lends more credence to the horrors going on inside. There is evil in the woods surrounding the cabin, and no cabin in movies has ever looked so remote. These kids feel alone as they fight against whatever is out there.

The makeup effects are highly effective here. Ash’s sister is assaulted in truly horrific fashion and becomes infested with the evil. Her physical self transforms into something gruesome and disturbing. Her skin seems to be flaking away from her hands and her face is a grotesque mask of dead flesh. Most horrible of all is her eyes which turn a bloodshot white that glare out unblinkingly. Does it look like an actor wearing makeup? Sometimes, but it also looks like the most disgusting makeup I’ve maybe ever seen. The makeup has a tactile quality to it that is just revolting.

There are some cheesy stop motion effects that place in the film as various demonic entities are destroyed. These don’t hold up to modern computer generated effects. They move in a jerky jerky fashion that does not look entirely convincing. However, there is so much to be said for something tactile that is really being photographed by the camera. Computer effects are more lifelike, but watching real things happening in camera is so much more satisfying.

The acting is not great. When these actors are asked to deliver dialogue, the movie becomes clunky and awkward. However, that happens very rarely as most of the movie is just action. Wisely the dialogue scenes are kept to the barest minimum. The rest is just reaction and action. If there is a star aside from the filmmaking it is Bruce Campbell as Ash. He is charming and carries much of the film on his charisma. Without him, it would just be Raimi throwing the camera around the woods. Campbell is a lot of fun to watch here as a very unconventional hero. He is cowardly at times. He makes mistakes, but he’s doing his best. It’s a relatable quality in a hero.

This movie is needlessly gruesome. It is bloody and violent in the extreme. It reaches absurd levels of horror, yet I loved it. It’s not the scariest movie I’ve seen. Honestly the scariest part about the movie is how far they’re willing to go with it. It’s not terribly original, but it is just so much fun to watch. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. Give it a look or give it another look if you’ve seen it. It is fun and funny and horrifying in equal measure.

It is my cup of tea. A-

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