Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Evil Dead (1981)

31 Days of Horror: Day 1
When I sat down to watch The Evil Dead recently, it was with the goal of re-watching the entire Evil Dead series, rather than enjoying the original film; it's not that I dislike the first entry in the series by any means, but Evil Dead II is a remake of the first film, and is funnier/gorier/awesomer.  Ask anyone.  After about fifteen minutes of The Evil Dead, though, I came to a realization: I have never seen this movie before.  I don't know why I was so absolutely certain that I had seen this movie --- I would have sworn to having seen this, even at gunpoint --- but that shock did two things for me.  First, it was a bit humbling to realize that I had missed a cult classic like this, especially since I enjoy its sequels so much.  Second, it meant that I should probably reassess my presumptions about the film.  So, here goes a review --- now, with fresh eyes!

 The Evil Dead begins with five coeds on a trip to a remote cabin in the woods.  And, by "remote cabin in the woods," I of course mean a traditional horror movie murder cabin.  This place doesn't look relaxing or quaint. 
Even odds on the lampshades being made from human skin
Whatever, this is a horror movie and unfortunate choices are bound to happen.  When exploring this rustic cabin, the group discovers a trap door that leads to a dank basement.  Now, as a horror movie viewer, you might imagine that the basement is going to have something scary in it.  It's a reasonable assumption.  However, the trap door has been fashioned so that you can chain it shut, which makes it --- and this is a best-case scenario, mind you --- a torture dungeon.
"Last one in is the gimp"
But, once again, horror movie logic dictates that the two men of the group, Scott () and Ash (), go down to the creepy basement and explore.  Surprisingly, it's not too bad down there.  There's a few weapons, but nothing alarming.  In fact, the most interesting thing they find is a weird book and an audio recording.
So...it's a book about Megadeth?
Being curious youngsters, thy decide to sit and listen to the audio recording while flipping through the obviously-not-evil book.  Ash's sister, Cheryl (), had had some weird premonitions of danger before they found the book, which culminated in her drawing hand getting possessed and making a truly dull pencil drawing.
Her possessed hand drew...Spongebob?
Of course, she doesn't tell anyone about this incident because HORROR MOVIE.  Instead, she listens to the audio tape with the others.  It seems that the book they found is a Book of the Dead, which has spells and incantations for all sorts of bad stuff, and the tape they found was the audiobook version of it.  Why would somebody record spells on an audio tape?  Maybe to allow underprivileged aspiring cult leaders to cast spells without having to learn demonic languages at Satan School?  Anyway, Cheryl freaks out, runs into the woods, and winds up getting raped by the woods.  What does that mean?  It means just what it sounds like.
Not surprisingly, that makes a bit of an impression on Cheryl.  However, she handles it in an somewhat surprising fashion: she gets possessed by a demon (or something) that has a fondness for skin-shredding.  Whatever she has is contagious, too, because every member of the group demons-out at one point or another, except for Ash.  Can Ash save his friends?  Will they survive the night?  Or will they all become *pause for effect* the evil dead?
It's not as bad as it looks.  The heavy makeup ruins your complexion over time, but hey, you're dead.

The Evil Dead was twenty-year-old writer/director 's first movie (although IMDb does list some Super8 shorts he made as a teen), and it definitely has some rough edges.  The dialogue is frequently stiff and unnatural.  The cast tends to overact, even in the most basic scenes.  The synth-heavy soundtrack only adds to the overall sense of cheesiness.  The story doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, and there does not really seem to be much logic in who gets "infected" by demons and when.

And why is Ash's nemesis in this film bookcases?
And yet, that somehow doesn't really matter.  Raimi put together a bizarre movie --- a horror film without an enemy to attack and overcome --- and he spiced up this unusual format with plenty of creative gore.
Raimi's sped-up POV-ish camera work for the forest demon-things is distinctive enough to make a movie with a LOT of stereotypical setup feel different.  Is this great work from Raimi?  No, but it is, at the very least, interesting...provided that you can get past the initial cheesiness.

The acting in The Evil Dead is pretty terrible, overall.  A very young showed some charm, but his best moments were the less serious moments.  It is also kind of cute listening to him without his trademark baritone.
Campbell, charting when his other testicle will drop
was pretty awful as Scott, but he also had the dumbest character in the movie, so it's probably not entirely his fault.  , , and don't really have many instances to be much better; at best they are damsels in distress, at worst they are cackling witches.

Acting isn't everything, though, in a horror movie.  The ultimate question here is whether or not The Evil Dead provides a scary experience.  And that answer is: kind of, I guess.  There is certainly enough violence and gore to satisfy most fans of the genre.
Not much in terms of sex, which is probably for the best.
The makeup is actually pretty good in this movie.  The special effects --- the ending melting scenes and the tree rape --- are not technically impressive, but they are pretty memorable.   
Above: Not your standard monster death

Overall, The Evil Dead is a solid low-budget horror flick.  It's not that scary, but it more than makes up for it in gore and strangeness.  It is substantially different from Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, but that difference in tone is what makes this worth watching.  Evil Dead II is so goofy, it is interesting and fun to see the same talent doing the same story with a different spin.  It doesn't happen much, but The Evil Dead is a rare example of a movie that is definitely less impressive than its remakes, but still worth a watch.

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