I always seem to prefix horror movie reviews with the same statement and here it is. I don’t really like horror movies. I don’t like to be scared and horror movies scare me. Now that’s out of the way I can spring a little surprise and say that watching The Evil Dead was just about as much fun as I can remember having with a movie, possibly ever. It’s fantastically gory and over the top as well as being hilariously and outrageously funny to boot. I watched the movie for two reasons. The first was to try and expand my cinematic viewing (horror is the only genre I generally avoid) and the second was to make sure I saw the original before the remake Evil Dead hits cinemas next month. I’m really glad that I saw this terrific movie before the remake.
The story will sound very familiar as the concept has been copied hundreds of times over the last thirty years but basically five college students head to a cabin in he woods for a break and things start going bump in the night. Shortly after arriving they discover some creepy looking items in the cellar which include a tape recorder on which a scientist documents strange goings on in the woods. What follows is an hour of gory, gruesome and genuinely mirthful slayings as the kids battle the demonic forces that lurk in the woods.
The Evil Dead was Sam Raimi’s first feature film and unsurprisingly he has gone on to have a highly successful career as a horror director but has also branched out into action (Spider-Man) and more recently fantasy (Oz the Great and Powerful). For a debut feature the film is incredibly focussed and confident and Raimi creates a fantastic, creepy atmosphere and introduces some wonderful camera angles and shots. One shot in particular in which the camera is upside down behind Bruce Campbell before swooping over his head to face him, tightly focussed on his terrified face, reminded me of a similar shot in Psycho which has stuck in my head for months. Even aside from this there are loads of shots which are really well set up and executed and can only come from a man with a clear idea and great skill behind the camera. The use of Dutch angles, which Raimi relies on a lot, adds atmosphere and an off kilter sense of unnatural proceedings.
The creepy and unnerving atmosphere is added to with a great horror score. Unlike a lot of modern (and crap) horror films which go “quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG!” The Evil Dead makes use of the score to ratchet up the tension but doesn’t rely on it for scares. There’s a great moment when the camera is above an actor and panning across a room. When the actor is obstructed from view for a brief moment by a beam, a high pitched piano note is played. This happens about seven or eight times in quick succession and might have felt out of place had the rest of the score not been so good. The score compliments the film and is noticeable when it needs to be but it doesn’t overpower the visuals or distract from the eccentric and outlandish gore. Sound effects greatly add to the horror as well as the comedy and the sound of impaled flesh and crushing bones is well done but not too realistic. The doctored voices of the demonically possessed also sound great and appear to be the blue print for every horror film that followed although I’m pretty sure the distorted voice had been used before this film.
For me the film will be memorable for the macabre gore. The movie is incredibly gruesome and violent but unlike modern films such as Saw in which the realistic bone crunching makes me squeamish, I enjoyed the prosthetic and stop motion gore of The Evil Dead. It’s gruesome and disgusting but recognisably pretend. It also looks fantastic. For such a small budget and with limited experience, Raimi and his crew create some incredible shots of ghastly and repugnant dismembering and body poking. An early scene in which a tree interferes with a woman is also highly disturbing and unusual. There are gallons of bodily fluids flooding the cabin from the realistic looking blood to the less than realistic looking pink yoghurt stuff which the demons expel from their eyes, mouths and other bodily orifices. I’ve seen films as gory as The Evil Dead but they’ve never been as intense or as good. It is the over the top prosthetics and stop motion which provided a lot of the laughter but not nearly as much as the acting.
It’s fair to say that the acting in The Evil Dead is terrible. Most of the actors including Bruce Campbell (Jim Carey’s Dad) were already friends of director Raimi and Campbell is the only actor to have forged a successful career subsequent to appearing in the film. The acting is generally wooden and the actors give some rather odd reactions to what is happening in front of them. They tend to be better once possessed but on the whole it’s pretty poor. I personally don’t see this as a problem although it did cause me and especially my girlfriend to laugh at moments which probably weren’t intended. It is rare for a typical cabin in the woods style horror movie to feature talented actors on top form so I wasn’t really expecting Daniel Day-Lewis levels of acting prowess.
Overall The Evil Dead is gruesome, scary, funny and very well made. I was shouting at the TV, hiding behind my girlfriend’s shoulder and laughing hysterically and the film is enormous fun. I’m now eager to see The Evil Dead 2 as soon as possible and only hope that both that film and the forthcoming remake are half as much fun as this classic.
- Most of the demon POV shots were made by attaching a camera to a piece of 2x4 and having Raimi and Cambell run through the woods while holding the ends.
- The film became one of the original 'Video Nasties' in the UK.
- An early scene involving a tree and a woman was banned in some countries.
- The original title The Book of the Dead was changed for fear that young people would be put off by the word 'book'.
- The ripped 'The Hills Have Eyes' poster is a reference to the ripped 'Jaws' poster in that movie.
- Joel Coen was assistant editor on the movie.