Sam Raimi Horror Review – The Evil Dead (1981)

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Sam Raimi is one of the most famous directors of contemporary horror cinema, as well as being one of the most famous film directors overall. His childhood friendship with the legendary Bruce Campbell and a Super 8 camera inspired a lustrous career in film as he has directed some of the most famous movies of the 20th and 21st century, such as the polarizing Spider-Man trilogy and the successful Oz: The Great And Powerful. However, many who know of Sam Raimi’s work will state that the Evil Dead series was Sam Raimi’s crowning accomplishment. The Evil Dead trilogy, it’s subsequent comic spinoffs, video game tie-ins and TV show Ash Vs. The Evil Dead made an icon out of Sam Raimi and his leading man, the legendary Bruce Campbell.

So, after Bruce Campbell’s retirement, and the wrapping up of the Ash Vs. Evil Dead TV show, I have decided to reflect upon Sam Raimi’s horror career in order to give it a second look and see if it’s as legendary as history seems to tell me so. Starting with his second movie (not his first as many would believe) The Evil Dead.

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The Evil Dead is one of the most notorious and one of the most successful indie horror flicks ever created. Made on a budget of $400,000, The Evil Dead pulled $2.4 million dollars at the box office and steadily made even more profit on the vhs and dvd markets with release after release from many, many different distributors. In 1981, no-one had seen such a rough, cheap and brutally gung-ho extreme horror film, and neither were they expecting it. The Evil Dead took the American nation by storm. It was approved by critics, loved by Stephen King, its simple premise has become a cliche of the horror genre, and the film gathered an incredible following on vhs. Unfortunately, the vhs market is also where The Evil Dead met the majority of its problems. Sam Raimi has gone on record saying that The Evil Dead was intended to be as gruesome as possible and he payed no heed to censors or ratings boards. However, this meant that The Evil Dead was rated ‘X’ by the American ratings board, a rating shared by many pornographic movies. The film was also banned in many parts of Europe including Germany and England because of it’s gruesome content. Nonetheless, The Evil Dead remains a cultural icon, and it’s enormous amount of success has cemented it’s place as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

However, that’s not to say that The Evil Dead is a perfect film. Upon watching the film, I personally found The Evil Dead to be quite a clumsy movie. Even though I understand the short budget that Sam Raimi was working with, the movie has quite a few overlooked flaws that never get brought up by contemporary reviewers. Firstly, The Evil Dead isn’t a very well written movie. The flow of the story is quite irregular: It starts off at breakneck speed, getting every plot point out of the way so that the the conflict can start, before steadily slowing down until it crawls through the last 20 minutes. Also, the dialogue is very clumsy, leading to some of the most weirdly quote-able scenes. What’s strangest of all when it comes to the writing, is the fact that, for such an extreme movie, The Evil Dead tries to interject comedic moments into the story, such as the amount of abuse that happens to Ashley and the comedic timing of some of the more ‘suspenseful’ sequences. However, unlike the sequels, which achieve this balance very well, the original film is far too extreme to be funny. The juxtaposition is so jarring between the horror and the comedy that it’s hard to laugh. I’d go as far as to believe that the infamous ‘Tree Rape’ scene was supposed to be funny and disturbing at the same time due to the absurdity of the situation, but that particular scene is so dark and disturbing that laughter would be the last thing on any viewer’s mind.

The writing isn’t helped by the acting either. As much as it pains me to say anything bad about Bruce Campbell, an actor whom I personally hold in high regard, the acting in The Evil Dead is very stale. It’s quite obvious that none of the actors are very experienced when they made this movie. Bruce Campbell has yet to hit his acting stride and the other actors are so hokey that their performances are more distracting than believable. However, what I can give the actors credit for is the dedication and strain that they put into the roles. The Evil Dead is a film with no stunt doubles or safety equipment, but the film contains a lot of scenes in which people are tossed, hit, dragged across steps and smashed into cabinets and shelving units which are all solid and full of solid, unbreakable objects. It’s quite shocking and quite refreshing to see a troupe of actors push themselves to such degree in order to make a movie. Many Hollywood style productions would put the actor’s safety first and provide stunt doubles, harnesses and safety equipment so that no-one got actually hurt. The Evil Dead went against the grain, putting the actors in harms way so that by the end they were bruised, broken and some were even stabbed by wooden splinters. The pain and anguish they went through really does translate onscreen thus making The Evil Dead a rough, raw cinematic experience unlike anything seen in a mainstream movie at that time thanks to the suffering and dedication of the actors involved.

But, alas, the greatest aspects of The Evil Dead are behind the camera. The production side of The Evil Dead was incredibly low budget, but very ingenious. The crew made cheap rigs instead of buying expensive equipment and Sam Raimi created his own version of Steadicam dubbed the ‘shaky cam’ for most of the film’s outdoor shots. All in all, this make the camera-work on The Evil Dead quite fascinating to witness regardless of how clumsy the cinematography is. Many of the shots are very inventive and quite memorable in all honesty. However, whilst watching The Evil Dead, it’s very clear to see where most of the budget went. The film’s make up and special effects are outstanding. In fact, the special effects of The Evil Dead are still quite outstanding to this very day. Every gory effect is %100 practical, %100 uncensored and created by the use of fairly realistic looking models, buckets of fake blood and quite effective, yet crudely made ‘guts’. Personally, I believe that the gore in The Evil Dead is still quite shocking to witness to this very day despite 27 years of cinematic achievement, and many films to this day cannot match the crude effectiveness of the special effects of The Evil Dead.

In the end, The Evil Dead is the complete antithesis of the ‘polished’ horror film. The Evil Dead is rough, cheap, raw and completely amateurish, and those are the most common reasons as to why The Evil Dead was such and still is such a success to this day. Personally, I feel that The Evil Dead is a very flawed film, but still enjoyable regardless. I don’t feel like it is the absolutely legendary horror film that history says it is, but I feel that it’s a perfectly serviceable horror flick that does it’s job well. In conclusion, I feel that The Evil Dead is a flawed, dated little gem that’s reasonably enjoyable to watch, and I would recommend that those who haven’t seen it yet go check it out for themselves despite it’s glaring faults.



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