I’m a fan of the horror genre, but there are few horror films I’ve ever seen that have affected me to the point where I find myself considering what I’ve seen days later. The first was ‘The Exorcist’, which I saw as a preteen and likely affected my sleep schedule for a good week. I first saw ‘The Evil Dead’, eight years ago. To this day it remains my favorite horror film.
If you’re familiar with the movie, you may likely be familiar with its director. In 1981, with next to no budget for special effects, a young Sam Raimi made his directorial debut. Raimi would go on to direct cult classic superhero film, ‘Darkman’, starring Liam Neeson, before creating the blockbuster ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy. If you’re a fan of the original ‘Spider-Man’ films, and you have a stomach for gallons of fake blood, you won’t be disappointed by Raimi’s ambitious little horror flick that would spawn two sequels, a reboot, a comic book series, video games and a critically lauded television series which you can watch now on Showtime.
‘The Evil Dead’ starts slowly. Five college students take a trip into the woods where they’ve rented a cabin. It’s relatively rundown, but not horrific. Everything’s peachy until the cellar door opens suddenly, leading to the discovery of a crude skull-ordained knife and a book. Written in blood and bound by human flesh, “The Book of the Dead” holds the secrets to releasing an ancient evil that had been long dormant. Inevitably, the book is read aloud and the fun begins.
Using a fast moving point of view angle, Raimi orchestrates the disembodied presence of pure evil without ever having to show anything. At least at first. The true horror is kicked off by one of the most infamous scenes in the genre. One of the young women runs off into the woods, frightened. Unbeknownst to her, the woods themselves have been corrupted. Some people can watch this scene and laugh it off. Others have to cringe through. I fall in the latter. Even now, it’s still unsettling to watch. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows which scene I’m talking about. Those who don’t, well.. watch the movie.
From then on, this movie is intense violence and gore with brief breaks for high tension. Almost none of it is unexpected. Before the evil is released, the voice recording of an expert who discovered the artifacts explains that these evil ancient spirits can possess human hosts and, once possessed, the only way to stop them is total dismemberment. Even with the warning, the film is shocking.
The Evil in this movie isn’t a zombie that can be killed with a blow to the head. It’s not a demon that can be exorcised. Once it takes you, you’re lost. Period. As the characters become possessed one by one, Raimi leaves no choice for the survivors but to gruesomely slaughter their siblings, lovers, and friends in the most personal way possible. The possessed, or “Deadites” as they would come to be known in future installments, are far from mindless. They’re clever and incredibly manipulative.
As I said, the budget for this movie is cheap. For a viewer today, a lot of the gore is probably even comedic. But nonetheless, it’s disturbing at times and relentless at all times. The film also suffers from a lack of likable characters. None of the female characters are very developed. Between the two male characters, one is an asshole and the protagonist is a coward. This characterization of the series’ hero, Ash Williams, would take a total 180 in the sequel and thereafter when the movies themselves take a much less serious tone.
Having created one of the most influential films of all time, Raimi’s signature exists throughout the horror genre and beyond. I can’t call it a perfect movie, but I’ll always call it my favorite horror film. 9/10