31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #9 – The Evil Dead (1981)

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Tagline: They Got Up On the Wrong Side of the Grave

Director: Sam Raimi

Writer(s): Sam Raimi

Studio: New Line Cinema

Budget: $400,000

Box Office: $2.6m

Release Date:  17th January, 1983

IMDb Rating: 7.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Bruce Campbell – Ash

Ellen Sandweiss – Cheryl

Richard DeManincol – Scott

Betsy Baker – Linda

Theresa Tilly – Shelly

Trailer

Plot According to Google: Ashley “Ash” Williams, his girlfriend and three pals drive to the woods to a cabin for a fun night away. There they find an old book, the Necronomicon, whose text reawakens the dead when its read aloud. The friends inadvertently release a flood of evil and must fight for their lives or become one of the evil dead. Ash watches his friends become possessed, and must make a difficult decision before daybreak to save his own life.

Inertia’s Insight: At the height of the Mary Whitehouse Witch Hunt aka the ‘Video Nasty’ era, a lot of culturally and historically important films were shoehorned into the holy water casting category. The Evil Dead, whilst blood-soaked and gory, isn’t quite on a par with the films that championed the ‘Video Nasty’ category: titles such as Cannibal Holocaust, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and SS Experiment Camp. However, the video nasty movement achieved the opposite of its intention: rather than demonise the films and make them seem unattractive to audiences they became cult must-haves, and The Evil Dead was one such film that profited from its ‘you-must-not-see-this’ label.

Sam Raimi is from the era of filmmakers that shot their own short films on scratchy 8mm from an early age, with the propensity to shoot a no-budget film as a coming-of-age project. The Evil Dead was the product of just that.

Famous for being shot on an incredibly low budget and made by first-time filmmakers, where actors doubled as crew between scenes in uncomfortable conditions, The Evil Dead is a masterpiece and a masterclass in low-budget horror filmmaking. Opening with the infamous low tracking shot racing across the floor of the woods, intercut with the introduction of the travelling bunch we are about to go through hell with.

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I love their slow approach to the cabin – silence, except for the repetitive bang of the swinging hammock against the wooden frame of the cabin. Settling in for a night at the cabin with food and games, the basement door in the floor flies open, revealing a hidden trove of terror beneath. I’ve been watching The Evil Dead since I’ve been able to get away with it, and one thing I noted upon repeat viewings after delving into a slew of other like-minded horror films is the absence of the “Party Bunch” – these young friends are genuinely at the cabin for a quiet getaway. There’s no heavy drinking, drugs, sex or promiscuity – there’s no immoral behaviour being displayed, which makes the events that unfold all the more difficult to endure.

The standout performance comes from the Iconic Chin™ – the main man, Mr Bruce Campbell. Now a horror legend, back in 1981 Bruce Campbell was Sam Raimi’s best mate who brought the heroic Ash to life. He would go on to elevate Ash’s status to a pop culture character worthy of his own Pop Funko in Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Army of Darkness and more recently, Ash vs the Evil Dead TV series, but here Ash is the lone survivor of a terrible attack by the undead on his friends, sister and girlfriend.

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The Evil Dead is famous for a lot of iconic horror moments, and perhaps the most memorable (and most uncomfortable) comes from the early scene in which Cheryl does the horror film unthinkable: goes outside to a dark and unusual place to investigate a strange noise. The tree scene… I don’t know. It has the effect that Raimi intended: something is not quite right in  – with – these woods. I can see why it caused controversy back in the ’80’s and it’s still a scene that is uncomfortable to watch now, but it serves its purpose. Cheryl’s traumatic event leads her to plead for the friends to leave. They try, but the bridge is out. Looking to hole up for just the night, they play cards to pass the time. Linda is guessing each card that Shelly holds up, and when Cheryl starts to guess them too… This scene scares the shit out of me even to this day.

Cheryl reveals her possession, and so the madness that is The Evil Dead really begins. One by one Ash’s friends become possessed and dispossessed of life. The sole survivor, Ash must fend off the undead and attempt to survive until Dawn, with only a chainsaw and his will to live to see him through.

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Bruce Campbell gives a great B-movie horror performance, and it’s easy to see why he has become the iconic symbol of horror that he is today. He gives life to Ash, a believability in the loss of his friends and the turmoil he endures on the supposedly idyllic getaway.

The Evil Dead paved the way not only for the ‘Video Nasty’ era but also for the careers of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, as well as the inspiration for a plethora of filmmakers who would go on to emulate Raimi’s knack for producing low budget horror with high impact effect.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • Filmed in a real-life abandoned cabin
  • Banned in over 8 countries. The ban in Germany was only lifed uncut in July 2016.
  • The film was shown to Stephen King, whose endorsement pretty much sold the film to the public.

Quotes

LINDA: We’re going to get you, we’re going to get you. Not another peep. Time to get some sleep.

VOICE ON RECORDER: I believe I have made a significant find in the Kandarian ruins, a volume of ancient Sumarian burial practices and funerary incantations. It is entitled “Naturum De Montum”, roughly translated: Book of the Dead. The book is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. It deals with demons and demon resurrection and those forces which roam the forest and dark bowers of Man’s domain.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #10 – Hellraiser (1987)

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