The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead (1982) There are some things money can’t buy. And one of those things is your first viewing of The Evil Dead (1981).

Maybe you found it randomly on some abandoned VHS at a lake house. Maybe you were at a midnight movie with some weird boy named Donnie who was prone to sleepwalking. Or maybe you were in high school when someone told you about a film where a young woman is raped by a tree, and your best friend’s new punk girlfriend insisted you watch it in her basement.

Your idea of horror had to be changed after seeing it. As were the lives of Bruce Campbell and director Sam Rami after making it…….both doomed to a life on the horror-fan convention circuit.

What can be said about Evil Dead that hasn’t been already? It rattles to this day (I still can’t get over possessed Cheryl beckoning from under the floorboards) and rarely do they make ‘em this genuine anymore — equal parts camp, gore, terror, and sickening fun.

The Cabin to End All Cabins

The Evil Dead Cabin

Cabin from The Evil Dead

We follow five college students on their spring break to their Tennessee hills cabin: Ash (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), Ash’s sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and their friend Scotty (Richard DeManincor) and his girlfriend Shelly (Theresa Tilly).

A trapdoor mysteriously opens to a cellar where Ash and Scotty discover the Naturon Demonto: the Book of the Dead. But that’s not all — there’s a tape recording that plays back some incantations, and it’s those incantations that release evil demon spirits that ravage the group. Cheryl hears some voices outside and ventures out to investigate. While alone in the woods, tress beginning moving and slithering around her. They’re somehow possessed by evil, and they go on to…..have their way with her. It’s a scene unknown to just about anything else in horror, and something you have to see for yourself.

Soon Cheryl becomes fully demonically possessed, telling the others that demons are going to kill them. Then its Shelly to be next on the possession docket (Note: the “zombies” in this film are the possessed college students, although the title refers to the evil spirits summoned by the book of the dead). From then on out, it’s a bloody battle between the un-possessed and the demonic — with the demonic doing that oh-so scary thing where they try and convince you that they’re not demonic.

There’s gross out gore, hilarious slapstick, and as you already know, Ash solidifies his reputation as one of horror’s best-known protagonists.

The film was, of course, low-budget ($90,000 on the low end estimation and $400,000 on the high end), and several people (up to 18) were used in different scenes as stand-ins for actors in order to speed up production.

Rami also famously tormented the cast to get real reactions of pain and horror: Campbell wrote in his book If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor that Rami enjoyed poking a scrape that he got on his leg with a stick. Fun fact: Joel Coen of the Coen Brothers was an assistant during the film’s editing. Also, Stephen King gave the film a rave review when it was first screened out of competition at the 1982 Cannes film festival.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Kill Friends

The Evil Dead 1981

The Evil Dead 1981

The flick begot Evil Dead II (1987) and the time-traveling Army of Darkness (1992), in which Ash battles the undead in the Medieval Ages. Oh, and there was that reboot thing…..what was it called? Oh yeah, Evil Dead (2013), marketed as “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” I recommend the red band trailer, but that and only that.

In the re-boot, sincerity is forgone in favor of fevered intensity— and the whole thing ends up white noise. The reboot is brutal to a fault; you can literally see the tears of desperation from Rami and Campbell (both producers) among the endless blood.

It could never be more than a novelty because the original Evil Dead is such potent, scary stuff. The stuff of your best friends and family trying to kill you—while laughing. The stuff of needing to murder your way to safety. And the stuff of why we’ll always be afraid to venture into the woods alone.

Watch The Evil Dead below:

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Buy the film at Button
Buy the film at Button

Written by: Ben Mueller