Sunday 10 December 2023

The Evil Dead (1982)


The Evil Dead

“The Evil Dead” franchise is one of the most iconic horror franchises in existence. Even I am familiar with it and horror is not really my jam. At campus we would watch the movies a lot, though mostly the second and third installment while the first one generally went under the radar. Certainly, watching it now, I realize I have only ever watched extracts from it. We tended to prefer the third Evil Dead movie because of its slapstick elements and while that is certainly an element in the first movie as well, it is less of a thing. What is very visible is that “The Evil Dead” was made on a marginal budget compared to the later movies.

Five young people are vacationing in a cabin deep in a forest in rural Tennessee. It is clear, to us at least, that something is wrong right from the beginning. There is a strange entity swooshing through the forest, represented by a point-of-view camera sailing through the forest with an ominous low frequency rumble. The youngsters are happily ignorant though, but that is soon going to end. In the basement they find a strange looking book and a tape recorder, telling them that the book is an ancient Sumerian book-of-death and that a certain incantation will bring on evil demons. Somehow the tape actually makes the incantations.

Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is the first victim. When she goes into forest to find out what is calling her, she is captured by the trees in what might best be described as a bizarre rape scene. Desperate now to leave, she and Ash (Bruce Campbell) find out the bridge is trashed. They are trapped. Cheryl now becomes possessed and changes her appearance for the worse, so they trap her in the basement. The other girls, Shelly (Theresa Tilly), the girlfriend of Scott (Richard DeManincor), and Linda (Betsy Baker), girlfriend of Ash, fall in rapid succession, while Scott in an attempt to get out gets so badly mangled by the forest that soon he too becomes possessed. Eventually, Ash is alone, trying to fight off his former friends who just refuse to die and stay dead.

In this sense, “The Evil Dead” is similar to the sequels. Ultimately, this is Bruce Campbell as Ash fighting off a horde of zombies and demons in a wild and gory ride. The setting owes a lot to “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), with an isolated house under siege by zombies, and the possessed truly look and act like those zombies, though without the sluggishness. The difference is that the possessed are already in the cabin and it is a single guy trying to hold them off while being attacked from all sides. So, it is still an under-siege movie, the siege is just personal rather than the place.

Of course, in this genre it is all about the jump scares and the goriness. On the first account, “The Evil Dead” does very well, but I am also a very easy target. The second is not as convincing. It is clear that it really wants this to be a point and the demon possessed do look freaky. Some of the violence is also gory to the point of the nauseous, but there is a point where the play-doh animation takes over when it loses all credibility and just look amateurish. My guess is that it was this more than anything that encouraged a sequel with actual funding. “The Thing” was a good example of what was technically possible at the time. Combine that with the talent and enthusiasm of Sam Raimi’s team and this would be awesome (and so it was!).

Despite the flaws in production value, “The Evil Dead” works very well and it founded not just a very successful franchise, but also a horde of movies heavily inspired by it. The haunted cabin in the woods is now a movie trope and Peter Jackson started out making movies made to resemble “The Evil Dead” long before “Lords of the Rings”. I only felt a little disappointed that Ash would not wield his famous chainsaw, but that of course is only in the sequel.

“The Evil Dead” is extremely famous and rightfully so. As a movie to watch I do prefer the sequel, but then again, I have a history there. You get really far on enthusiasm, but sometimes a bit of funding does the trick. Still, this is a recommendation from me.



  1. Believe it or not I love these movies. They are so over the top I even laugh at points.

    Wow you are already on 1982! I really need to catch up. Maybe I’ll stick to movies in The Book for now.

    1. Exactly. That is why even I, with my low tolerance for horror, loved these movies.
      I would love for you to catch up. Those are really good movie years, also off the List.