The following review for Sony’s region-free UK release of The Evil Dead is essentially the same as the one I wrote for Anchor Bay’s “A”-locked US edition … but with a few little extra bits slipped-in, here and there. You know what I'm like.
“The most ferociously original horror film of the year!”
Well, Sam Raimi should forever thank Stephen King for the above quote because it was precisely that single phrase that got his over-the-top, independent, low-budget gore-fest The Evil Dead noticed by distributors and critics alike and, thus, brought one of the most inventive, knee-jerking super-shockers ever made to an audience that was just about ready for the next step in the genre ... and make him one of the most promising and talked-about new filmmakers in the business. Playing at the London Film Festival brought in a slew of accolades too and, from that moment onwards, its director/creator Sam Raimi and its nominal star, Bruce Campbell, seemed destined for cult infamy. Even slashed by the BBFC under the auspices of James Ferman, who must have been the busiest censor we have ever had, The Evil Dead's rise to celebrity was further emboldened by getting itself placed at the numero uno slot on the DPP's list of banned videos following its hugely successful debut on the home format for our own forward-thinking distributor, Palace Pictures. This, naturally, led to its status being elevated to meteoric proportions and ensured its place in the dark hearts and souls of every horror fan out there.
“We're gonna get you! We're gonna get you! Not another pee-eep ... time to go to slee-eep!”
I've gone over the pivotal years when the genre transformed itself many times before in other reviews, but the case of The Evil Dead's rise to glory (or infamy), is a little different. The door to gore had swung open on a tide of claret long before Raimi and long-time producer Robert Tapert swapped their 8mm cameras for 16mm and took off to the woods. Romero and Peckinpah had already broken into Cinema's psyche and redecorated it red. Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven had subsequently pushed the envelope with Texas Chainsaw and both Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes (which Raimi is cheeky enough to have a little pop out in his film) respectively, and The Exorcist and The Omen had made the once unpalatable and certainly unthinkable a mainstream crowd-puller. All of these celebrated films were the result of directors with singular visions and deliberate stories to tell, but used the violence and explicit horror within them only as an element within their narrative, albeit a crucial and extremely effective one. Sam Raimi, on the other hand, was a fan of these films and, as such, broke the mould by trying not only to emulate them, but to surpass them. He didn't want to burden his cabin-set tale of demonic possession and bodily dismemberment with social allegory. He didn't want to pass comment on moral bankruptcy, racial tension or ineffective wars overseas. He just wanted to pummel the horror fans, whom he believed had gone stale with an endless succession of stalk 'n' slash flicks that never quite delivered the goods, with a non-stop barrage of raw viscera, pulverising shocks and delirious taboo-breaking imagery. He took the trend for splatter to new extremes but he did it with an incredibly inventive supernatural quality and an aura of pure, unadulterated dread that lifted The Evil Dead far and above the then-current crop of teeny-bopper cut-'em-ups. If he couldn't get the girl, he reasoned, then he would do his damnedest to stop the guys in the Drive-In from getting them either by scaring all the snoggers out there utterly senseless.
With a ground-breaking distribution deal in the UK, via the once-indomitable and system-bucking Palace Pictures, The Evil Dead finally went out to meet to the masses and made instant history. A rip-roaring and unrelenting saga of flesh-shredding demons, accursed books, axe-and-chainsaw mayhem, gender-role-reversal and eye-popping ultra-violence added up to something that genuinely hadn't been seen before. That it was put together by college nerds who were making the whole thing up as they went along only added to the maniacal gusto with which the story unfolded and the reception it received. Two sequels, a videogame, comic adaptations, a potential remake and a possible new instalment, and an incalculable number of rip-offs and filmic descendants later and the original Evil Dead still stands proud and unique for yet more generations to discover. Weirdly, it doesn't even seem to date, fluffy hair-do's and cords aside, or its shocks go musty. Sure there was raw talent here on both sides of the camera, but The Evil Dead must have had some authentic black magic coursing through its celluloid veins to have weathered the thirty years since a young and ambitious and incredibly game-for-it cast and crew took to a dilapidated old shack in the Tennessee woods and raised hell.
Although it took Sam Raimi almost three years, on and off, to make his film, the eventual year in which it hit screens was one of the most genre-stuffed to have come along. The period of 1981-82 (Evil Dead played the festival circuit in late 81 but received its full release in '82 on a wacky double-bill with, of all things, Harry Bromley Davenport's lurid Xtro!) saw Jeff Lierberman's Just Before Dawn, Landis' An American Werewolf In London and Dante's The Howling, Spielberg's Poltergeist, Carpenter's The Thing, Cronenberg's Scanners, Romero's Creepshow, Damiani's Amityville 2: The Possession, as well as The Entity, Tenebrae and The New York Ripper! Phew! To make a name for itself amidst that lot certainly meant that Raimi had something special in the bag. What he didn't warn audiences about, at first anyway, was that he was going to be pulling that special celluloid coup out of something of a sick-bag. Even during this stomach-churning period of groundbreaking makeup FX - The Howling, American Werewolf, The Thing were the epitome of what the “high-end” technicians could do - Raimi's cabin-carnage was a breed apart. He wasn't content to just create monsters, he had a perfectly nasty little desire to show us exactly what those monsters could do to you as well. Taking his cue from H. P. Lovecraft's “unspeakable horrors” (and, until now, virtually unfilmable, too) and, particularly, that infamous old tome, the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead that loomed large over the author's fiction), Raimi unleashes ancient demons from some other realm via the incantation heard over a long lost tape recording. This is his re-interpretation of those crusty old archaeologists reading aloud from the Egyptian variation of the Book of the Dead in Universal and Hammer days. Clive Barker would approach this from a more “intellectual” standpoint - the solving of a complex puzzle-box would herald his demons in Hellraiser. But the theme of demonic resurrection is just the same, and Raimi happily taps into this traditional horror staple and thereby marries the Old School with what could certainly be termed as the New Wave.
It may have been typical by now to have had a horror film commence with a group of teens taking off to some secluded spot in which they will be systematically butchered over one night of insanity, but The Evil Dead really does break with the standard conventions right around that point. For a start, there is no deranged inbred killer lurking in the woods, waiting to pick them off one by one. No mutated form of nature lumbering around the place with an insatiable appetite, nor the angered occupant of a crashed spacecraft. There is no innocent, virginal female protagonist who must go through hell in order to eventually survive the ordeal come daybreak. Our party - two couples (Ash and Linda, and Shelly and her unpredictable japester boyfriend, Scotty) and Ash's tag-along sister Cheryl - become the monsters mostly themselves, and the ensuing battle will be fought between them. The women are first to go - Cheryl, played by the alarmingly vigorous Ellen Sandweiss, who becomes the haggard, cackling, cellar-dwelling queen of the brood - but none of them in the accepted sense of stalked damsels. For it is they who will turn on the blokes and put them through the wringer with an alarmingly speedy swapping of allegiances. After chaos ensues and whittles down the good guys quicker than a cellar trapdoor can be wrenched off its hinges, it is obvious that this tale is not playing by the rules ... and that it probably won't end well with the arrival of a local sheriff. (I mean, think about it, guys and ghouls, even if Ash made it out of there, just how the hell would he ever convince anybody of the truth?) Thus, with no escape and an enemy that just won't fight fair, it is left to Ash (the great Bruce Campbell) to soldier on through the ceaseless nightmare, praying that he can make it until dawn in one piece.
“There's a way ... a trail. But the trees, Ash ... they know. Don't you see, Ash ... they're alive!”
The shocks that keep piling on top of us are incredibly effective despite being fairly obvious in their mechanics. My favourite - and one that gets me every damn time, just like Ben Gardner's head lolling into view in Jaws - is when the two hands come crashing through the door behind Ash. Even the fact that we can see the point where the marigold rubber gloves end, this instance is a sure-fire classic jolter. I love the build-up to it. Ash realises he needs to reload and pops another shell into the shotgun. Then he spots the little necklace he had given to Linda (Betsy Baker) and has a lost and wistful moment of tragic reflection over the girlfriend he has been forced to stab, batter, bury and decapitate (in that order). Then the cabin goes deathly quiet ... and slowly ... slowly now ... he raises his head, listening, until just before his eyes reach our level ... and CRASH!, those hands come smashing through to grab him round the throat. Beyond this, the film is filled with a multitude of such mechanical stingers. And, as announced as they may be, the rapid succession of spasmic sensory overload can't fail to fray the nerves and gradually unhinge even the proudest and most experienced horror fan. What is great about this cavalcade of “stingers” is the mischievous aplomb with which they constantly arrive, and the sheer variety of directions and angles that they arrive from - Raimi literally utilises every corner of the frame from which to spring his tricks. The pipes in the cellar that gurgle and groan and then eventually dispense gallons of blood right into Ash's face - definite shades of the Hammer's House Of Horror episode, The House That Dripped Blood, there - and the subsequent supernatural variety show that then places Ash centre-stage for a true Grand Guignol spectacle of flamboyantly ghastly chaos. When Cheryl is suddenly able to guess the playing cards - from a distance and not even playing the game - Raimi's build-up to the big possessed reveal is remarkably assured. The rest of the cast react so perfectly, and as one, that it must send out a subliminal message to everybody else watching the film. Every time I have seen the movie with a crowd of people, they have moved, uniformly, backward in an involuntary spasm - not jumped up, but jumped backward in retreat from Cheryl's vicious turn-and-snarl. That, folks, is how you place your audience inside the film. How you make them feel it.
“Hit her! Hit her! HIT IT!
Of the many trump cards that Raimi plays, one of the most prescient and unusual was his depiction of a hero who is actually pretty much useless, even impotent, for much of the time. Bruce Campbell's Ash is one of the genre's demigods now, of course, but his crowd-cheering persona wasn't always so noble. In this first misadventure with the Book of the Dead, Ash is a pathetic, often helpless buffoon. Evil Dead II and Army Of Darkness would continue his prat-falling and clumsiness in the face of witchcraft and devilment but his heroism would also be thrust to the fore as a Deadite-basher. This was a wake-up call that challenged the stereotypical view of masculinity in the movies. When most of the monsters at work here are actually women, this upside-down shift in genre traditions becomes quite a radical departure. Raimi is almost denouncing the all-too-easy vogue for female protagonists that ran so prevalently through the unending cycle of masked killer exploitation pictures at the time and, in fact, still continues to this day. It actually made you realise just how vulnerable we all are when terrified and confronted by something that we cannot understand or control.
And this strangely vivid and accurate depiction of how people react under pressure is reinforced throughout the film. There is a brilliant moment when Ash, still the weakling, tries to tell Scotty that they can't leave without the injured Linda. “She can't walk,” he implores. “Not with her leg like that.” But Scotty, frightened but still a man of action (and joking no more, it should be pointed out) simply and honestly states, “She's your girlfriend, you take care of her! I don't care what happens to her.” It is a startlingly matter-of-fact statement of one man's desire to survive. And, as unpleasant as it is, it's also very realistic to a situation that has turned unbearably desperate. It is degenerating into “every man for himself” … as it would do. The suppressed mockery of Cheryl, after her traumatic return from the woods, is another example. It is clear that something has happened to her, but the rest of the party are apt to shrug it off as just another moment of lonely Cheryl losing the plot, despite her cuts and bruises.
“Why have you disturbed our sleep ... awakened us from our ancient slumber? You will die! Like the others before you. One by one we will take you!”
As Scotty writhes in agony, the possessed Cheryl cackles from beneath the trapdoor - listen for when the laughter goes all guttural. Jeez, I can hear it now and it still scares the proverbial out of me. This is another important genre element that Raimi, perhaps unconsciously, taps into. The fiends, here, openly mock their victims, belittling them and taunting them with threats. Think back to the garishly gory days of Herschell Gordon Lewis, and the home invasion of Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, even, at a push, the malevolent campaigns of both Robert Mitchum's Max Cady in the original Cape Fear and his preacher in Night Of The Hunter. Raimi's ghouls sort of combine the talkative menace of all of these with the devout and unrepentant desire to do harm. The girls' horrendous trickery of turning back into their former selves to bedevil and ensnare Ash - “It's your sister, Cheryl!!!!” (cue that gurgling giggle). The theme of those nearest and dearest to you becoming monsters has a long heritage, of course, going back to Dracula, the Wolf Man and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and sweeping through Hammer's vampirical cannon until reaching the likes The Omega Man, Count Yorga, Dawn Of The Dead and The Thing. And, surprisingly enough, it is this micro-budgeted labour of love from Sam Raimi that actually supplies some genuine feeling to the dilemma. Everyone struggles emotionally with each new metamorphosis, each new changeling. And the fact that our protagonists can also be fooled into believing a friend has come back from the brink also says a lot about an adherence to authentic humanity that most genre offerings only pay lip service to. No matter how ugly and aggressive your girlfriend has gone (and, let's face it, some are like that to begin with) you are still going to be reluctant to do what is necessary when the time comes, especially when she was still the love of your life only an hour or so earlier.
“Ahhh, we can't bury Shelly ... she ... she's a friend of ours ...”
As a kid I always wished that we could see what happened to Scotty on that trail when he makes that lonely bid for freedom. Shelly's rape-by-tree was certainly something that we hadn't seen before, but, greedy little ghoul that I was, I wanted to see some sort of grim arboreal atrocities being wrought about. I mean, he's a real mess when he comes back! Did he encounter the big, rushing speed-demon as well? The sequel would bring the trees to life though - and that was great. But the point is, whether he could have afforded it or not, the film is immeasurably better for not showing us Scotty's ordeal. With almost everything else splashed up front and in lurid colour, it is actually a wonderful treat to have some greater element of horror lurking Outside that we can't deal with, and this takes the story totally out of the realm of all that we'd seen before. Most teen-slaying flicks had an established bogeyman to shrink from, but Evil Dead gave the impression that it could hurl absolutely anything at us, at any time. Now Raimi was not only giving credence to Lovecraft, but also embracing the surrealist anything goes attitude of the Italians ... namely Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Of course, the whole thing about that unseen speed-demon rushing about in the woods is this concept written large. But there was an element that slightly bugged me about this too. Although I agree that not showing it was a wise and valid practice, there are moments when Ash (and Cheryl before him) clearly sees it rushing towards him and this gives him the edge over us. He can see what he is dealing with, what he is up against besides the possessed folks that keep cropping up around the joint. I always thought that this was a little unfair, especially as we are beside him every step of the way. But as well as being a brilliantly stylish device, what this practice does, if you think about, is to make us the monster in the woods. We assume the hurtling perspective of the demon, and it is therefore we who keep on attacking Ash. Sly old Sam! He’s made us complicit in the film’s dark deeds, which means that there's blood on our hands too.
“Ahhh ... we'll all be going home together. Bet you'd like that, wouldn't you? You, me, Cheryl, Linda ... Shelly ... no ... not Shelly ... she ...”
There's so much to applaud with this film that, even though he came up with two terrific Spider-Man movies (we won't count the comprised third instalment), it seems bizarre that Sam Raimi didn't actually attain even more acclaim and deliver us a slew of genre classics. But beyond Spidey, Raimi has toiled in cult asides such as Darkman and Secret Window, helped produce esteemed thrillers such as A Simple Plan and had his name attached to a great many potential projects. As well as playing a part in bringing the gore-drenched Spartacus: Blood And Sand to TV screens, it is the awesome Drag Me To Hell, which he helmed, that reveals he still has that old grisly and demented momentum and directing agility that he made his name with back in 1981. The photography, ostensibly by Tim Philo, but really devised and orchestrated by Raimi, has become legendary. Locomotive cameras barrel through the woods, incredibly missing trees only by only a hair's breadth. Demon-cam places us on the nose of the monsters, in one celebrated and still jaw-dropping track-shot putting us hot on Cheryl's heels and even taking us up and over the top of the parked car (Raimi's famous Oldsmobile - its film career began here, folks) in a dynamic shot that would have had even Dario Argento scratching his head in admiration. The amazing bent focus as Ash walks off into the shadows to discover that the bridge is out, his body literally climbing up the side of the frame with some funhouse trickery. And what about the overhead tracking shot of Ash pacing the cabin, the ceiling beams adding little musical jolts as we go? Or the complete 360-degree spin that we do when Ash first descends into the cellar to have a look around? Only John Carpenter was ever as inventive or as dynamic as this, and you can plainly see how Raimi's innovative style has been copied ever since ... even by the really “big” directors. Intense close-ups vie with elaborate group shots, eerie stillness juxtaposes with wild action. Check out the glorious moment when Cheryl goes out to investigate the ghostly voices in the woods, and moves towards an impossibly huge Moon that looks as though it has landed on the ground just ahead of her - it looks incredible. Spot that little homage to Hammer's The Plague Of The Zombies as a corpse lies besides its grave, its own severed head (like that of Jacqueline Pierce in the earlier classic) nestling just a foot or so away. And what about those semi-liquid clouds that bubble across the Moon? Ridley Scott did something similar with his Elysium skies in Gladiator.There's no way that you could pass any of this off as beginner's luck.
“Soon, all of you will be like me. And then who will lock you up in the cellar?”
Even the cast are much, much better than they have any right to be. Ellen Sandweiss is fantastic as Cheryl. We talk about Campbell 's trial-by-fire, but this poor girl gets violated by vines, kicked in the face, levitated and becomes one of the genre's most gruesome and relentless monsters, and she spends much of that time trapped in hideous, insanity-inducing makeup and behind painful glass contact lenses that robbed her of vision and could, ironically, have really blinded her. But her human reactions early on are incredibly convincing ... even if her character does foolishly stray out-of-doors into the dark woods on her own. Betsy Baker isn't any great shakes as the normal side of Linda, but once she has become host to a Kandarian demon, she takes on a fantastic “living doll” derangement that is profoundly creepy. Oddly enough, she becomes more “attractive” once the Evil Dead sense of humour kicks in, or is that just me? Sitting there in the doorway, cross-legged and curling her hair around her fingers, smiling and singing, she is like a coiled snake, and you get nervous when Ash turns his back on her, despite her eerily happy demeanour. Theresa Tilly (or Sarah York) as she was billed here, sort of just sits on the sidelines until all hell breaks loose, but once it does, she is sensationally malevolent ... even worrying about her “pretty skin” burning on the hot coals, and demanding a replacement from those still human. And, as Ash's oppo, Hal Delrich is excellent as the prankster, Scotty. In an inspired turn, it is actually Scott that we believe is the hero-type. With Ash such an obvious plonker, at least we can rely upon him to swiftly realise what must be done, and to mete out some axe-thudding payback. Of course, whether intentional or not, Raimi does the “Psycho” on us and has the one dependable character get himself offed midway through, forcing us to now place our bets on the weakling. Or against him, if you follow the smart money.
The in-jokes that Raimi loves so much also started here. There's his little cameo as a hill-billy at the roadside for starters, perhaps aiming for that Hitchcock vibe again. And, famously, there is the Hills Have Eyes poster languishing in torn-up ignominy down in the cellar. When Sam Raimi saw Wes Craven's classic shocker (see my separate review for the DVD and join me in praying for it to receive a BD release soon!) he felt traumatised and haunted by it. He noticed that Craven had placed a Jaws poster in there, and had ripped it half to imply that Spielberg's seminal frightfest was just “pop horror” and that his film was the real deal. In playful vengeance for the damage that Hills had done to him, Raimi, thus, ripped the poster for Craven's film in half to state that Hills was just “pop horror” and that The Evil Dead was the new king of terror. This beautiful tit-for-tat continued between the two for a while, but Craven retaliated with the best ever gag in A Nightmare On Elm Street when he has The Evil Dead playing on the TV and a character openly yawning at it before switching it off! (But just having Freddy Krueger’s finger-knives on the wall of the tool-shed later in the Dead series doesn’t seem quite enough of a retaliation, somehow.) Raimi reveals a penchant for visual poetry, as well. His early game of Ash playing possum with Linda is ominously reversed when it comes time to bury her body, and it is the possessed Linda who is now playing dead, literally. The haunted house routine that poor Ash goes through is gloriously amped-up in the sequel, but there are plenty of hallucinogenic touches to be savoured here. The mirror that becomes a physics-defying wall-pond, for instance. An old gramophone player that kicks into life with a mocking dance-band ditty from the thirties as Ash runs for his life through the warren-like cellar. A cine-projector that comes to embody our hero's screen persona by illuminating him and trapping him in its garish show-lights and then depicting him drowning in blood - a situation he would find himself in during at least three movies. And don't you just love the way that the big forest demon actually seems to grumble “Awwwwwww!” in disappointment at failing to catch Cheryl at the cabin door, as it then retreats back in to the woods?
“Oh, you bastards! Why are you torturing me like this? Why?”
It was around the age of 14 when I got my first taste of the full uncut version of the film from a copy of the US print and, just like the culture-shock whammy of seeing the unrated US version of Dawn Of The Dead for the first time (I actually saw them both on the same night after obtaining copies from the horror author Ramsey Campbell!), my fragile little baby gore-hound's mind was blown away. Ash hitting Linda several times with savage wind-up backhand and palm slaps. The shotgun butt slamming into the pus-filled hand on the door-frame not once, but a couple of splattery times. A leg being hideously raked open by talons for much, much longer. The full eye-gouging and a few more seconds of the pencil twisting around in Linda's ankle, amongst a smorgasbord of other extended morsels. Almost every scene of carnage had been trimmed for the UK . If the version we'd had “officially” was extreme, then this was positively apocalyptic. Over the years and the multitude of releases that this film has had, the full uncensored cut has become quite commonplace. And with the plethora of splatter that has spilled across our screen since then, you would think that this quite primitive showcase for blood-mixtures, prosthetics, vintage sclera lenses and latex facial appliances would now appear pretty tame. And you'd be wrong. Dismissing that ill-fitting and notably absurd rape-by-tree (which Raimi has often said he regretted doing), the violence in the film is still highly effective. Barring the jittering limbs on the floor and some stop-motion meltdown (you've just got to love that little maggoty-worm thing though, haven't you?), the inter-personal massacring that Tom Sullivan created is fabulously gruesome. The spewing blood from the cleaved neck of a headless woman; the shotgun blast that sprouts a geyser of gore from a ghoulish shoulder; Shelly chewing through her own wrist and, a little earlier on, her face burning in the fireplace. You've got gratuitous poker damage, a wooden beam smacked repeatedly into a noggin, some truly unorthodox and quite athletic stabbings and one man trapped beneath every piece of (flimsy) furniture in the cabin at one point or another. The Evil Dead certainly delivers all he gory goods you could ever wish for. And then some.
“Kill her if you can, Lover-boy!”
Composer Joseph LoDuca works eerie wonders for the film's decidedly creepy score, something that is all the more commendable when you consider that his material has to fight against a sound design that is appreciably diabolical - full of hisses, snarls, screams and infernal laughter. LoDuca would compose for the first sequel, whilst Danny Elfman would take over for Army Of Darkness. His crowning glory would come many years later when he composed the fabulous rich musical canvas to support Christophe Gans' equally fabulous Les Pacte Des Loups (Brotherhood Of The Wolf), but this fledgling attempt is splendidly skin-prickling and punctuated with little “medieval” figures and phrases that give a genuine sense of antiquity to the Deadites. A favourite cue would be early on, when Scotty first investigates the cabin and the outbuildings - LoDuca providing a haunting little lament on the piano that belies the carnage that will follow come night-fall. His score is actually one of the greatest string-based horror compositions that the genre has. Extremely gothic, middle-European and medieval in tone and mood, this is a truly wonderful evocation of the conflict. Although Elfman would score the third outing, there is no doubt in my mind the prolific composer was massively influenced by LoDuca's classical string-based approach - you listen to his work on Nightbreed, Sleepy Hollow and The Wolfman, amongst others, to see what I mean.
He may have remade the film with the glorious Evil Dead II (see separate BD review), but that did tone down the bloodshed and dial up the black humour. Although the second instalment is admittedly a far superior film in almost every way, there is still a fire burning in the sick heart of the original. The history of such insane creativity being unleashed on so low a budget has its genesis in the stables of Roger Corman, but you can also look at John Carpenter's low-rent, sky-reaching ambitions with Dark Star and Assault On Precinct 13, Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Romero's Night of The Living Dead, even George Miller's Mad Max. And with Raimi staking a claim on the genre with such kaleidoscopic vigour and at such a pivotal point, it was a cinch that others would heed the call. Hence, Stuart Gordon's Empire Pictures cavalcade commencing with the classic Re-Animator, Peter Jackson with Bad Taste, Frank Henenlotter with Basket Case and the arrival of Troma Pictures ... oh, and those college kids whose admittedly awesome internet campaign ensured massive success for the vastly overrated The Blair Witch Project. Horror and SF have always been the linchpin of the underfunded. Whereas it would be far easier, and obviously much cheaper to make a kitchen-sink drama, the very adaptability and imagination that goes into creating special effects and fabricating a believable universe of the otherworldly places such endeavours on a higher plain already.
“Look at her eyes! What happened to her eyes? FOR GOD'S SAKE ... WHAT HAPPENED TO HER EYES???!!!”
Actually, looking at her, her eyes are the least worrying part, luv.
Its roots are threadbare and ramshackle, but bolstered by endless - indeed almost supernatural - enthusiasm from a cast and crew of beleaguered, but dogged friends and relatives, a genuine flair for visual and emotional trickery and full-on desire to scare the living daylights out of you, The Evil Dead has gone on to become a genuine, bonafide phenomenon ... or should that be Necro- nomenon? The impact that it had on home video, especially here in the UK is of immensely resonant cultural and political importance and, rightly or wrongly, the authorities at the time only added to its already gathering kudos, and helped to create an unstoppable juggernaut that would only come back to bite them on their collective backside. Once vilified and now cherished and, more pertinently, held up as an example of critically acclaimed art, The Evil Dead lives on, its place amongst the Titans of Terror unsullied with the passing of the thirty years since its unleashing.
In a move that betters Anchor Bay 's gazillionth release of The Evil Dead, which arrived in the US in a rather mundane, icky-green lettered package, this Sony release utilises a better reworking of the original poster and is all the more striking. I still have the original UK VHS Palace release (!) in its simply gorgeous wraparound artwork and kind of wish they'd at least stuck with that tremendous EC comic-book design, even if they couldn't reproduce that ghastly rubber Necronomicon replica for us, this time out. But then, however you box it up, the film's title speaks for itself, doesn't it?
Whatever its amateurish genesis, however exploitative it is, you can do nothing but admire what went into creating The Evil Dead, and what it achieved. Not just a movie, but a cult phenomenon-in-the-making, Sam Raimi's game-changing classic hits the ground running and simply doesn't stop from there on in. It is a one-way ticket to a Lovecraft-inspired Hell that bathes in more blood 'n' guts than even Tom Savini had the stomach to wallow in and yet remains positively endearing. As genuinely frightening as it is and packed with indelibly disturbing imagery, you just don't want Ash's nightmare to end. The sequels expanded upon the mythos, but watered-down the viscera. Campbell became a superstar, Raimi went mega-A-list ... but although they have never forgotten their roots, they have never quite recaptured the all-out magic and unbridled imagination that they displayed here.
Whatever the CG crowd think when they view this for the first time, The Evil Dead is a masterpiece ... and earns its full 10 marks ... in blood!
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