Evil Dead [retro review]

revil“You bastards! Why are you torturing me like this? Why?”

The Scoop: 1981 R, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss and Richard DeManincor

Tagline: The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror

Summary Capsule: An old demon resurrection rite is read aloud, and the evil dead begin attacking a group of teenagers stuck in a remote cabin.

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Justin’s Rating: I will never use a No. 2 pencil again in my life.

Justin’s Review: While this may not be the strongest film in the Evil Dead trilogy, it still is a heckuva flick. Sam Raimi took the horror genre and turned it on its bloody ear, inventing wildly new camera techniques and a bold, in-your-face presentation that took no prisoners and left no clichés alive (in this sentence).

We know well enough not to be visiting remote cabins in the woods, sight unseen, but that’s exactly what a wacky bunch of doped up college kids do here — including mild nice guy Ashley “Ash” Williams. Steadfastly ignoring a string of freaky omens (a rocking porch swing, a possessed hand), the group settle in for what turns out to be a genuinely gory night.

One by one, the teens are taken and possessed by what’s dubbed “The Evil Camera” — an evil force that lurks in the woods, sight unseen, that was summoned by the group’s use of the forbidden Necronomicon (the book of the dead). Zombification is only the start, as Raimi also throws in a completely gratuitous tree molestation scene that will have you quirking up your eyebrows and shaking your head in disbelief. Weird guy, that Raimi.

There is large, nay, massive quantities of gore used, but it is so excessive that it quickly becomes unreal. I was more freaked by the subtle gestures of the filmmaker: the incessant laughing and singing of the evil dead girls, the cellar trip (complete with self-playing phonograph), and the house slowly coming alive. Ash (Bruce Campbell) is mostly in the background in this one, but he has a couple one-liners and some decent action. The horror blends into comedy so seamlessly that you’ll be unsure whether to laugh or give a nervous scream.

If, like me, you saw this movie last in the trilogy (after all, it’s the least well-known), it might seem quaint and redundant compared to Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Yet repeated viewings have shown me that this flick has merit and style all to itself. It’s just an enjoyable film for a dark night, zats all. And it’s necessary for any dedicated Ash fan.

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Andie’s Rating: 1 out of 5 really fake looking special effects

Andie’s Review: I’m sorry to all the horror movie gurus who say this is one of the best ever, but I was really disappointed in Evil Dead. Now I’ve been told that Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are way better, so they are on my rental list, but this one just did not live up to my expectations.

I am a girl who enjoys being scared. For me, being scared is like a drug. I like both the “man-jumps-out-of-the-closet” startles and the underlying feeling of fear; a good horror movie can evoke both. Evil Dead did not deliver on either level. It didn’t make me jump, it didn’t leave me feeling creeped out. It didn’t even gross me out with gore because the gore looked so fake. I could’ve made better gore in my back yard with my little brother. I’ve also been told or read that Evil Dead is funny as well as scary. Well, it’s not. The only line I laughed at is when Ash says “We can’t bury Sharyn, she’s our friend.” I laughed maybe twice at how stupid the movie was, but that was it.

The only part I thought was cool was the tree roots rape scene. I’ve never seen that done before and it was neat and pretty creepy. The rest of it sucked. Sorry to all of you singing its praises, but that’s my opinion.

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Nancy’s Rating: Wahoo! Times one!

Nancy’s Review: The Evil Dead movies are something that have been honored and loved for many fine years here at the mutant staff. Well, I’m Nancy, and I’m here to say I love it!

What do I love about Evil Dead? This is another one of those reviews that is very hard to write, because it’s just a simple fondness in my heart that I can’t quite explain. Although my favorite out of the three is Evil Dead 2 (I know, I changed my mind, shut up), Ash is my favorite here. He is hilarious in the fact that he is impeccably dumb, not too witty or cool, genuinely freaked out (I’m ninety-nine percent sure Bruce Campbell was honestly afraid during a lot of the scenes shown here) aaand still way hip, in my book.

The movie’s plot itself we’ve gone over many a-times. Zombie zombie bo-bombie banana fanana fo fombie fe fi fo fambie, zoooombie! There. Plot recap done. What’s cool about is it’s straight-up, it’s a cheap horror flick but it’s so incredibly badass in it’s genuine nature and the fact that everyone in the production line KNEW EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE DOING! They knew the kind of film they were making. This was no accident!

My friend bought me this on DVD for Christmas this year. I don’t own many DVDs. So, I discovered a little magic known as audio commentary, which led to my Christmas morning adventures. Some folks open presents with the family and drink egg nog. And I’m all for that, I guess. But the lady I am watches Evil Dead twice – once to appreciate it, and then with audio commentary, Mr. Bruce Campbell (in whom I often reference as My Real Dad, which kind of makes my dad mad but also psyched that he knows me). Love zombies! Merry Christmas!

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Al’s Rating: Not the Ash you’re looking for.

Al’s Review: Interesting-but-true fact about The Evil Dead: Everyone who sees it the first time is disappointed. All of you. I was, too. It’s okay, though. It’s not our fault. Personally, I blame everybody else. Shame on you, everyone! With the gooey explosion of Sam Raimi all over pop culture thanks to Spider-Man and the ascension of Bruce Campbell into B-Movie God thanks, in large part I think, to the overwhelming numbers of bored, sycophantic fanboys wallpapering the internet with tribute sites during the late nineties (for those feeling affronted, I include myself under this banner), it is now impossible to wade into the salty waters of cult film without scraping your shins on the coral reef of The Evil Dead.

Not that it’s a bad movie. In fact, I enjoy it quite a bit. The ‘college kids killing each other off as they slowly become possessed by Candarian demons’ plot is fun, original, and (dare I say it?) even a little scary. The gore is completely ridiculous but effective and, even today, still a little stomach-churning. The distinctive Raimi visual style blows most of its’ late-70’s crummy, low budget horror brethren out of the water. In fact, The Evil Dead has quite a bit going for it as a post-Texas Chainsaw/pre-Friday the 13th scary movie, and I think would still hold up remarkably well if not for one big honkin’ albatross — Ash. Yes, you heard me. Bruce Campbell’s character is the weak link in Evil Dead.

Now blow out your torches and put down your pitchforks and let me explain myself.

The name Evil Dead comes with a lot of baggage. It’s one big geeky cultural touchstone: the start for Sam Raimi. The start for The Bruce. The much-aped ‘mischievous demon hand.’ The square-jawed loudmouth with a chainsaw and a shotgun. “Gimme some sugar, baby!” “This is my BOOMstick!” A litany of oft-repeated-never-duplicated quotables and idiosyncrasies that even people who have never seen the movies will recognize. All these great things, not to mention the praise heaped upon it by everyone from the Stephen King and Entertainment Weekly to the thirty-something video store clerk with the three-day beard growth and a Transformers T-shirt, serve to build up a certain amount of expectation from a first-time viewer. The problem, however, is that not one of those things has anything to do with the first movie.

Ash’s behavior during The Evil Dead goes something like this: Ash is attacked by Shelley. Scotty saves the day. Ash is attacked by Cheryl. He gets trapped under a bookshelf. Ash takes his girlfriend’s severed head to the tool shed, clamps it down in a vice, and revs up the chainsaw. He can’t bring himself to hurt her and breaks down crying. He *cries* for Pete’s sake! Even his big Hero Moment at the end is bumbling and nervous and not cool in the least. I remember sitting in my basement in stunned, confused silence. Where’s the badass hero? Where were the snappy one-liners? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!

Understand, now, I’m not saying don’t see The Evil Dead. It’s just an acquired taste. The more you watch it, the more you’ll appreciate it for what it is — fun, campy, and creepy as hell if you let yourself get sucked in. So, first timers, consider this a plea to reserve your judgment for a few viewings. Watch it. Absorb it. Enjoy it as much as you can. Put it on the shelf. Rent Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness. Then come back in a couple of months and try it again. Groovy? Groovy.

(That’s from the sequel, too.)

It's hug time?  Already?  Dang!

It's hug time? Already? Dang!

Intermission!

  • Creamed corn dyed green was used as zombie guts.
  • There is a ripped poster of The Hills Have Eyes visible. Ostensibly, this was in reference to a ripped poster for Jaws that appeared in said film; Sam and the others interpreted that as Wes Craven suggesting that Hills was much more frightening than Jaws, thus they showed a ripped Hills poster because their film was to be even scarier yet.
  • The voice of the professor on the tape recording is that of American Movie Classics host Bob Dorian.
  • Most of the demon POVs that glide across the ground were shot by mounting the camera to a 2X4 while Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell ran along holding either side.
  • A closet is opened and a T-shirt with the word “Tamakwa” is visible. Director Sam Raimi went to camp Tamakwa as a child (which he returned to for the film Indian Summer)
  • The white liquid that often emits from the possessed after injured or maimed is 2% milk that Sam Raimi chose to incorporate, not to show how these aren’t normal beings, but also to mix it up so the MPAA wouldn’t give it an X rating.
  • It was aspiring film maker Sam Raimi, a professed Stooges fan, and his rag-tag film team who first coined the term “Fake Shemp” in this movie. His first project, it was riddled with potholes and first-feature obstacles that only a dedicated director of Raimi’s stature could handle. And handle he did — with Fake Shemps. When most of his crew and cast abandoned the unfinished project he was forced to use himself, his die-hard (deadites, to Raimi fans) friends Bruce Campbell, Rob Tappert, Josh Becker and assistant David Goodman, as well as his brother Ted Raimi as ‘shemps’.  The term stuck. To this day in all of Sam Raimi productions, both feature film as well as TV work, the term is used to refer to stand-ins or nameless characters. However, the term is not always used in the final credits. For example, in Darkman, Bruce Campbell’s quick cameo in the final scene is credited as ‘Final Shemp’.
  • Sam Raimi originally wanted to title this film “Book of the Dead,” but producer Irvin Shapiro changed the title to “The Evil Dead” for fear that kids would be turned off seeing a movie with a literary reference.
  • After completing principal photography in the winter of 1979-1980, most of the actors left the production. However, there was still much of the film to be completed. Most of the second half of the film features Bruce Campbell and various stand-ins (or “shemps”) to replace the actors who left.
  • Director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell were friends from high school, where they made many super-8 films together. They would often collaborate with Sam’s brother Ted Raimi. Campbell became the “actor” of the group, as “he was the one that girls wanted to look at.”
  • Filmed in a real-life abandoned cabin.
  • Bruce Campbell twisted his ankle on a root while running down a steep hill, and Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert decided to tease him by poking his injury with sticks, thus causing Campbell to have an obvious limp in some scenes.
  • During the scene where the possessed Linda attempts to stab Ash with the dagger, Betsy Baker actually had no idea where he was. With her heavy, white contact lenses preventing her from seeing Bruce Campbell, he was literally battling a blind actress.

Groovy Quotes

Ash: We can’t bury Shelly. She’s our friend!

Linda: [singing] We’re going to get you. We’re going to get you. Not another peep. Time to go to sleep.

Ash: You bastards! Why are you torturing me like this? Why?

Linda: Hey Ash! I guessed the card right!
Ash: Yeah… truly amazing.

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