Monday, August 27, 2012

#742. The Evil Dead (1981)

Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor

Tag line: "Can They Be Stopped?"

Trivia:  The zombie guts in this movie consisted of creamed corn dyed green

I love the opening scene of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, which follows three separate actions at the same time. First, the camera glides through a forest, providing the point of view of someone, or something, flying along the ground at a rapid pace. We then join our main characters, driving down the road towards what they hope will be a quaint, out-of-the-way vacation spot. Suddenly, the scene cuts away to reveal a truck is just ahead of them, on the other side of the road, traveling in the opposite direction. As the vehicles approach one another, the car’s steering wheel jerks to the left, seemingly by itself, thus putting our heroes on a collision course that threatens to end their getaway before it begins. What do we learn from these initial moments? 1. Something’s lurking in the woods, and 2. things will happen that are beyond anyone’s control. Based on this early sequence alone, one might conclude that The Evil Dead is going to be a visually spectacular low-budget horror film.

And “one” would be absolutely right!

As already established, The Evil Dead is about a group of friends vacationing at a cozy cabin in the woods. Shortly after their arrival, the five: Ash (Bruce Campbell), Linda (Betsy Baker), Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scott (Hal Delrich) and Shelly (Sarah York), stumble upon a strange book decorated with ancient hieroglyphics, as well as an audiotape, recorded by a professor of archaeology and containing readings from the Sumerian Book of the Dead. For laughs, the group plays the tape, and, in so doing, release several demonic spirits into the surrounding woods, specters powerful enough to possess the body of whomever they choose. The spirits then take turns inhabiting the five, and according to the tape, the only way to defeat them is to dismember the body of the possessed. Can these friends summon up the courage to murder one another, or will wickedness win out in the end?

The Evil Dead features a slew of camera tricks; yet even more impressive is how director Raimi can generate terror using much simpler methods, occasionally scaring the hell out of us with common, everyday items. When the friends arrive at the cabin, Scott walks to the front door to look for the key. Next to the door is a porch swing, swaying in the breeze and crashing into the side of the cabin. Once Scott reaches the porch, the swing stops moving, as if it suddenly became aware somebody was nearby. I don’t know how much of the film’s reported budget of $350 thousand went into shooting this modest sequence, but when that swing stops dead in its tracks, it sent a million dollar chill down my spine.

If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that the movie is a bit too stylized at times, to the point it becomes a distraction. Yet, despite such missteps, The Evil Dead remains an ultra-entertaining motion picture, with a number of well-conceived segments that have helped make it a favorite among genre fans.

Yes, even the “tree rape” scene!


Adam Lafferty said...

Great review! Gotta pick this up!

James Robert Smith said...

First time I realized that at least one Coen brother was invovled, I was watching the end credits and saw the Coen name. No wonder the editing was so good.