As I have mentioned before on here and on others’ blogs in the past, I’m not the biggest fan of horror films. I like them in theory as I’m fascinated by the paranormal, myths & legends, and psychological nutcases. However, when it comes down to actually watching a horror film, I’ll quite often want to weep within the first 15 minutes. Even horror films that everyone apparently thinks are awful will quite often reduce me to a quivering wreck. And yet I’m still somehow drawn to them.
I had seen the trailer for the remake of The Evil Dead and thought it looked fantastic, even though after just a two-minute clip I still wanted a massive cuddle afterwards. This intrigued me to check out the original, a film I know is loved amongst cult horror fans and is apparently the inspiration for many horror films that followed. So I turned the lights off (I like to do things properly) and booted it up.
Plot: A group college students take a holiday to a cabin in the woods where they find a creepy old book and an audio tape. When they play the audio tape it is a series of incantations of writings from the book which releases evil demons that one-by-one possess the hapless students.
The Evil Dead was made way back in 1981 and was director Sam Raimi’s first feature film. He had made several short films prior, including Within the Woods which would serve as a trial run of sorts to drum up investment for The Evil Dead.
As shown above, the plot of The Evil Dead is incredibly simple but that’s no bad thing at all; it’s the films simplicity that is it’s strongest element. We don’t need deep back stories or complicated love triangles; instead, we’re thrown straight into the story, essentially just being told to accept what’s happening without giving it a thought. The whole thing pretty much takes place in and around the solitary cabin which gives it a very claustrophobic feel, amplifying the horror.
And it is scary. Despite the fact that it’s obviously become dated and hasn’t aged particularly well, it still remains a lesson in how to do low-budget horror. There are a few jump scares, but the film mixes it up and there are plenty of other techniques used to get under your skin. The camerawork, for instance, is very clever; one scene sees Ash (Bruce Campbell) try to drive his girlfriend away from the cabin but stops the car to get out. It appears that the car is parked on flat ground but was actually parked on a slope and the camera tilted to correct the slope. This adds an eerie disorientation to the shot as Ash walks away from the car at a seemingly strange angle.
As I mentioned, the film hasn’t aged particularly well, which could well be why Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are revisiting it for the remake. The acting is pretty atrocious, although that’s what you often get with low budget films. You could argue that it’s part of the film’s charm, but there’s no denying that the acting is somewhat laughable at times. Some of the effects are also dated, but on the whole they don’t really take anything away from the film. The OTT effects are a hark back to the B movies that influenced the film and are what gives it some personality.
Many cite The Evil Dead has an example of horror/comedy, albeit very dark comedy, but there’s something about that that doesn’t really sit right with me. I believe that this was never intended as a piece of comedy but as a proper, straight-up horror film. However, various things (largely due to the budget) led it to become slightly amusing in places. The bad acting, the over-the-top gore and make-up, etc, now seem worse than they did back then and any comedy drawn from them is likely accidental. Recognising this, Raimi maybe thought he would embrace it with the sequels (of which I haven’t seen but am aware). I could be wrong but I doubt Raimi would have made the film as it was if he had a larger budget, which could well have eliminated much of what added a level of comedy. I have a feeling that people may be laughing at it slightly more than with it.
What is very interesting is the obvious effect The Evil Dead has had on horror films that followed it. I doubt it was the first to feature an isolated cabin in the woods or a cursed book that released the dead, but it’s certainly one of the most influential. It’s hard to think that any filmmaker incorporating anything like that into a horror film doesn’t have The Evil Dead at least somewhere in their mind as they do so. It’s even spawned a number of comedy horrors, such as The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs Evil, which use The Evil Dead as such an obvious point of reference that they don’t even attempt to hide it.
The film also gained a lot of its cult popularity from the fact that several attempts were made to censor it. Many countries, in fact, banned it for some time. It was labelled as a ‘video nasty’, a title reserved for only the nastiest and most disturbing films. This definitely adds to the film and gives it a certain level of expectation going into it. This could well explain why I was left feeling ever so slightly disappointed by it. It was entertaining enough but it didn’t really enthrall me as much as I was expecting. Perhaps if I had seen this when it first came out I would have a higher opinion of it. I appreciate and respect The Evil Dead’s significance and what it achieved with the resources available but I’m not sure it belongs in the higher echelons of cinematic greatness.