The Evil Dead (1981)

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There are many important rules that one picks up while watching horror films, some of which Randy the film nerd (maybe Jamie Kennedy’s only decent performance) warned us about in the film Scream. Two important ones that aren’t mentioned in his monologue are broken within the first twenty minutes of The Evil Dead: 1) Never vacation in an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods, and 2) Never awaken ancient evil spirits, intentionally or unintentionally. If you do, your friends will probably all become possessed, and you’ll have to butcher them all to save yourself. Just saying.

Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead was a landmark horror film of the early 80s, and helped set the bar for inventive, terrifying monster films. It also was the first in an incredible horror trilogy, followed by Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness. According to the Internet Movie Database, Raimi is also set to direct next year’s Evil Dead remake, and also, there’s an off-off-Broadway musical based on the films.

While Evil Dead II is both a horror film and a comedy, and Army of Darkness is slapstick/horror at its finest, the original is a straight-up horror film with some comic elements. The film was shot over four years, by Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and star Bruce Campbell, and, believe it or not, it’s held up pretty well. It is ridiculously over-the-top in the blood and gore department (always a good sign for horror movies), and it’s also still frightening (watching it again recently, I was surprised how much I still jumped).

The plot is simply an excuse to show lots of possessed demon creatures, and lots of blood, guts and entrails. In other words, the good stuff. As Ash, the reluctant hero, Bruce Campbell, the great cult cinema star, is not up to his later performances in the series in this, his feature film debut. His acting here’s a little stiff, as is most of the cast. But, that stiffness helps add to the idea that these are just normal college students out for a weekend getaway. The four other main actors (Richard DeManincor as Scott, Betsy Baker as Ash’s girlfriend Linda, Theresa Tilly as Shelly and Ellen Sandweiss as Cheryl) suffer a lot of beatings and thrashings, perhaps none worse than Sandweiss, who gets raped by a variety of plants and weeds, who have been animated by the evil spirits. Ouch.  (Trivia note: Bob Dorian, the host of American Movie Classics, is the voice of the ill-fated professor on the recording Ash plays).

The 1980s had many important horror films that revolutionized the genre. The Evil Dead would definitely be one of them.

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