The Evil Dead (1981) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 20

by Jovial Jay

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…there’s a cabin in the woods. Well this is the original cabin in the woods, and it’s about the most haunted house you can find!

I don’t know what to tell you about this film. It’s The Evil Dead! Sam Raimi’s original low budget horror film.

Before Viewing

If you don’t know about this film, watching the trailer doesn’t provide any plot clues, and only gives the tone of the film: scary and bloody! Camera’s race after girls running through the woods. Vines come to life and grab people. There’s demon possession, stabbings, and melting corpses. An audio tape makes reference to a book that creates possessed people, and the only way to stop them is through dismemberment. Cut to: someone gearing up a chainsaw!

Strap in, stay focused and whatever you do, don’t open that book! OK? Groovy baby.

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

It’s definitely been a while since I watched The Evil Dead. I have spent a lot of time confusing this first film, with Evil Dead II, which has a lot more humor. In this film, five college students head out of town to rural Tennessee to spend some time in a cabin in the woods. The group consists of Linda (Betsy Baker) & Ash (Bruce Campbell), Ash’s sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and Scott (Hal Delrich) & Shelly (Sarah York).

The group discovers a strange book in the basement, along with a tape recorder and an ancient dagger. Playing the tape recording appears to awaken some unseen force in the woods. Cheryl is the first to notice and steps outside to see what may be causing the ruckus. She is grabbed by vines, held down and penetrated by a tree branch. Returning to the cabin, see becomes “infected” by the spirits released by the book.

Soon Linda is affected and tries to kill Ash, then Shelly becomes aggressive and attacks Scott. All the characters get turned into monsters to some degree, except for Ash, who must fight them all off with a shotgun and the dagger. Ash manages to throw the Book of the Dead into the fireplace stopping the possession of his friends. Their bodies dissolve and he is left alone. It appears that he will escape with the coming morning, but the last shot is a demon’s POV racing through the woods towards a screaming Ash!

[The Book] 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.” – Voice on Tape Recorder

When I think of the Evil Dead films, I focus more on part II and III (aka Army of Darkness), where humor is a key component along with the horror. I had completely forgotten how intense and “unfunny” The Evil Dead actually was.

Not that any lack of humor should put anyone off from seeing this film. It creates some great atmospheric horror, with some pretty unique low-budget tricks. The audience never sees the demons, unless they’re inhabiting a body. In those instances, it’s an actor with makeup on. But to heighten the tension of unseen forces descending on the cabin, director Sam Raimi utilizes a free-floating, omniscient camera that races through the forest, toppling trees, and observing the protagonists, unseen.

The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead (1981) – Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams.

To say there’s no humor may be inaccurate. There are humorous situations, but Bruce Campbell does not ham it up, like we see in later entries in the franchise. There is one amusing gag that Raimi repeats to help dispel tension. Early in the film, Ash gives Linda a gift by pretending to be asleep and leaving the box on his leg. Every time Linda looks at him his eyes are closed, but when she looks away, he opens his eyes. It’s a sweet scene, and the viewer might anticipate that Ash is going to scare her when she takes the box, but that doesn’t happen. Later the roles are reversed, when Linda is possessed and laying on the ground, pretending to be knocked out. Ash cannot be sure that she’s unconscious as he tries to grab the weapon between them. The scene plays out as before, but the roles are reversed and this time, there is a scare!

What this film lacks in production value, it makes up for in enthusiasm and intensity. Raimi and crew create a taught 85 min thriller with frequent frights and scary scenes that should appease the most ardent horror fan!

Assorted Musings

  • The film spawned two sequels, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn in 1987, and 1995’s Army of Darkness. A TV series, Ash vs. The Evil Dead premiered on Halloween 2015 and lasted 3 seasons.
  • A remake of the film, just called Evil Dead came out in 2013. It will be the feature film for tomorrow evening.
  • A T-shirt hanging in a closet has the name Camp Tamakwa on it. This is the name of a real summer camp Sam Raimi attended. It’s also the subject of the (non-horror) film Indian Summer (1993), which features Raimi as a caretaker at the camp.

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