Review: The Evil Dead

Director(s)Sam Raimi
Principal CastBruce Campbell as Ash Williams
Ellen Sandweiss as Cheryl Williams
Hal Delrich as Scott
Betsy Baker as Linda
Theresa Tilly as Shelly
Release Date1981
Language(s)English
Running Time 85 minutes

This is one of the few western horror movies I grew up watching, so it’s near and dear to my heart. As a naive middle school student, I believed the reviews online that said it was cheesy and corny. The word funny was thrown around everywhere, so I went in thinking I’d be laughing a lot. After the movie, I was left horrified. Nightmares for days on end. Tons of high pitched cackling involved. I refused to go near it again. Then the soft reboot, Evil Dead, was announced. It looked scary and intriguing and I was immediately reminded of the terrors of my not so distant youth. I decided then and there, that I had to get over the movie eventually and immediately went and saw The Evil Dead. The movie still scared me, but because I knew what was going to happen, I could view the events with a certainty.I could sit back and just watch the madness unfold. Now that I’m done a few rewatches, I can confidently say Sam Raimi’s low budget horror movie is one of the best ever made. It manages to scare me, intrigue me, impress me, and make me chuckle a few times every time I put it on.

The plot is campy if you look at it from today’s standards but you should keep in mind the movie came out back in the 80’s and was considered one of the scariest back then. It was ahead of its time and dared to go to some awful, depraved places. The story follows a group of five teenage friends – Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, their friend Scott, and Scott’s girlfriend, ,Shelly – as they go off to a cabin in the woods to party and enjoy themselves. From the moment they step foot in the area, things are off. When Scott goes to open the door, a swing repeatedly knocks into the wall of the house, almost as if another entity is trying to enter. Once our group opens the door, the knocking stops creating a sense of impending doom. After a series of events leads to an incantation from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis , things quickly go south as malevolent supernatural entities come to play.

The movie is very much a story of an unfortunate group of “kids” who are only partially to blame for their situation. They barely have time to do anything because the action st arts almost immediately, and the actions they do end up taking are heavily influenced by the supernatural. It’s almost like they’re doomed into a situation. This is made all the worse because the story takes time to develop the characters, so watching them get tortured is hard. It’s a few moments here and there, but character motivations are fleshed out and almost everyone feels like they have a purpose in the story. Yes, the story is mainly about Ash, but that doesn’t mean everyone else just exists as a prop. The story makes use of these relationships to create horrifying, gut-wrenching, and comedic moments.

It’s easy to tell there are production issues. Yes, Raimi didn’t have a ton of money to spend to make this look realistic. So he doubles down on the absurdity of the situation and makes the action and horror sequences bloody, over the top, and disturbing all at the same time. Makeup is on point. It gets bloody and really shows the damage the supernatural events are having on the group. As evidenced by below, it can get pretty real.

Makeup is on point. The Deadites look absolutely horrific.

Embracing the over the top gore makes the movie both horrifying and comedic. The production issues feel like intentional ways of showcasing the absurdity of whatever is going on. In the face of absolutely nightmarish situations it makes so much sense to laugh, because taking it seriously would make you go crazy (which is more Evil Dead 2). The humor doesn’t come from overt jokes. It comes from the juxtaposition of ineptitude with the horrific nature of what’s going on. Bruce Campbell goes full klutz as Ash. He finds a way to fall or crash in every scene, and puts his full energy into each and every tumble. You can feel the incompetence seep out of him. Add on some crazy facial expressions with his distinctive eyebrows, and suddenly every situation becomes a bit funnier. The spirits haunting the cabin also have a sick sense of humor. They love laughing in horrific sounding cackles and joking about everyone’s darkest fears. They actually relish just making people suffer. It’s funny in the moment, but every time I stop and think about the reality of what’s going on, I shudder. There’s a lot of messed up stuff here that I laughed at because taking it seriously was too off-putting. One scene involving Cheryl has stuck with me ever since I saw it. I have no idea how it got in there, but if sexual assault scenes that are visceral in nature are too much for you, you might want to watch it with a buddy.

To add on to all of the visual splatter and horror, the movie employs a lot of surreal/abstract imagery. There are recurring motifs that are fun to track throughout the movie that have you questioning their real purpose. These scenes are my favorite because I love that weird ambiguous artsy stuff that has you analyzing and re-contextualizing constantly. There are some more obvious symbols/icons that are also used to great effect, so the movie manages to balance the abstract with the “grounded” really well. It lends to a well crafted horror movie that has scares for multiple groups of people.

The camera movement is also exceptional and highly effective. Raimi knows exactly when to do close-ups and every time he does one it feels purposeful. No movement ever feels wasted. When the supernatural force is hunting down the members of the group, the camera moves frantically showing it choosing its next victim. It’s almost like the air and everything around the cabin is tinged with a negativity that seeks to envelop everything.

Report Card

TLDRThe Evil Dead is a movie that manages to be hilariously over-the-top and horrifying at the same time. The humor is dark and absurd in nature and is used to counterbalance the violence and splatter-fests the movie ventures off into. If you can get over the “dated” feel and/or watch the movie as if it’s 1981, you’ll get swept up in one of the scariest horror movies made. A surreal nightmare turned black comedy.
Rating9.8/10
GradeA+

I’m writing something more involved about this piece, so I’ll save the spoiler thoughts for that.

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