The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi directs Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker in this supernatural horror where a group of kids head to a cabin in the woods, only to discover pure evil has been unleashed around it.

There are multiple ways to approach the imperfect but iconic The Evil Dead.

1. You can see it as the first baby steps of a beloved franchise. Knowing this is a zero budget debut feature, figuring its shit out. 90 minutes of showing your workings that gifted us the more vividly cartoonish, comedically confident Evil Dead 2 and then every joyous thing with Ashley Williams and the Deadites that followed. The jokes are less in your face. The rules of the Necronomicon haven’t been fully fleshed out. Ash isn’t really the Ash we know, he lacks that cult inspiring Bruce Campbell bluster and rockerbilly tomcat allure. Hell, The Chin That Kills changes his haircut and outlook three times in one night… he’s just not “groovy” yet.

2. A marvel of DIY ingenuity. Raimi and Campbell hit up relations and dentists to find their minimal investment. And with that pocket money they got inventive over a year of weekends. Can’t afford The Shining‘s groundbreaking steadycam… then running about the swamp with a camera nailed to a plank creates its own ethereal, flowing, pursuing threat shots. SHAKY-CAM IS BORN! Happy to bombard your players with plasticine, plaster-cast and red corn syrup. The splatter never convinces but it is relentless and charmingly ad hoc. A feast of cheap horror thrills, rather than slithers of gourmet FX. The Evil Dead is inspiring, and not just in that it proved anyone can make a film. If you go at it hell for leather and stay unapologetically true to your ambitious and shocking vision, then rough finish and snagging cheapness will be overwhelmed by the sheer energy.

3. A “What the fuck am I watching?” trip. The Evil Dead is a celluloid nightmare. Intense, disturbing, unpredictable. A woman gets raped by a tree, heads are lopped off, the terror is inescapable. I’ve watched it half a dozen times and still don’t know how exactly certain key characters die and how Ash doesn’t. Waves after wave of weird nasty disrupt any sensible plotting. Not all of it makes sense but you are so deep in the maelstrom of blood and pessimism and Lovecraftian insurmountable doom… clear cut storytelling has to take a back seat, the spook train goes into overdrive.

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