The Evil Dead (1983)
The Evil Dead (1983)

Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.

Release Date: April 24th, 1983 MPAA Rating: X

Director: Sam Raimi Actors: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly

 


 

F

ive teens cross the Tennessee border to vacation at an old log cabin in the woods. The setting is immediately creepy, wasting no time with character development or setup; the shoddy structure features a dark, dusty interior, animal skulls, lights that seem to emanate incorrectly, a mysteriously rocking swing, a broken clock, and a cellar containing some sort of malicious entity. Within the first five minutes, Scotty (Richard DeManincor) descends into the inky, humid, subterraneous housing to investigate – leaving the others bewildered at his lengthy absence. Of course, he’s only fooling around for the sake of a momentary scare. In the basement, they discover an old recording of the previous resident’s notes on his research of Sumerian relics – including the Book of the Dead, the demonic possession of his wife, and the solitary solution of bodily dismemberment.

While listening to the tapes, the fivesome accidentally unleashes angry demons that begin attacking the students. Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) carelessly wanders into the fog and darkness and is the first to encounter the archfiend, which takes control of some gnarled vines to bind and rape her. She escapes back to the cabin, but the others are skeptical of her wild story. Ashley “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell) reluctantly agrees to drive Cheryl to a nearby hotel, but the bridge they originally crossed to get to the cabin has collapsed. When they make their way back to the others, Cheryl undergoes some drastic transformations, including displaying rotting flesh, glazed-over eyes, levitation abilities, and a throaty voice. And the rest are soon to be targeted for grisly supernatural seizure.

Eerie violin music (alternating with lighthearted romantic riffs), echoing voices, quick zooms, extremely tight close-ups, jump scares, loud noises, and tons of gore comprise “The Evil Dead,” a film earnestly trying to be horrifying, but unfortunately mixing in the most ineffective acting and scripting. Twice Ash is trapped underneath a fallen bookshelf; blood and goop comedically splash into Ash’s open-mouthed gaze; the characters are so slow to move that it frequently appears as if the paralyzed victims are simply refusing to react; and everyone insists on daringly venturing into the woods alone. There’s also an inconsistency in details, with the gudgeons getting entranced without definition. The dialogue is incredibly unconvincing as well, counteracting the moments of fright with spoken absurdities.

But for all the elements that don’t work, there are more that do – “The Evil Dead” is, at times, genuinely terrifying. Unnerving camera angles, creatures lashing out from the blackness, stop-motion animation, and screeching sound effects are more than adequate. The makeup effects are spectacular, creating truly ghastly, zombie-like monsters, while the utilization of gallons of blood and guts makes this one of the most bloodthirsty of all horror films. This is noteworthy considering the surprisingly low budget and lengthy, difficult production, with director Sam Raimi and his cast and crew cooped up in the remote cabin for weeks of shooting without access to basic amenities. The film was originally given an X rating (converted to NC-17 in 1994) and, thanks to the unforgettable practical effects, it remains incredibly graphic and visually alarming to this day – a real treat for slasher enthusiasts. It would be met with enough success to spawn a profitable franchise spanning two sequels, a remake, a musical adaptation, comics, toys, and more, and is widely regarded as one of the very best cult films of the ‘80s.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10