Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Evil Dead (1981) - Sam Raimi



Five ‘kids’ spend a weekend at some manky old cabin in the middle of nowhere. After finding a book bound in human flesh and listening to a tape recording of some old fossil going on about bygone civilizations, evil and chanting in some ancient made up language, everything goes tits up. The woods come alive and so does the film. From that point on we get a healthy dose of low budget gore, more rubber puppets than your average episode of Spitting Image and best of all Sam Raimi’s amazing eye for camera set ups.

I was around 14 years old the first time I ever watched The Evil Dead. It had long been deemed far too nasty for the great British public to watch. So like pretty much everyone else my age, my introduction came via a fairly decent VHS pirate copy. I remember being really excited to finally be getting to see one of the school playground’s most talked about films. Me and John Jackson (who had procured said VHS from God alone knows where), had bunked off school for the day and holed ourselves up in my front room. The curtains were pulled tight, not just keep he sun off of the TV screen, but also just in case a passing neighbour should happen to witness the naughtiness and buckets of gore that were about to explode off the screen.

Eighty minutes later and it was all over. It wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped it would be. We made some toast and watched it again. It was alright, but not really all that scary. Not like American Werewolf in London or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both of which still made the dash from the light switch to my bed the most frightening five seconds of my day. We watched it a third time that day knowing that we might never get to see it again. We laughed quite a lot third time around, but there wasn’t really anything that made me want to check under my bed before turning in for the night.

Over twenty years later I can’t say how many times I’ve seen The Evil Dead. It’s been quite a few though. Yet I would never claim to be a huge fan of the film, maybe that’s because I have friends that have Book of the Dead tattoos and all that sort of thing. Still every few years it ends up being thrown into the DVD player. And every few years I end up feeling the same way I did all that time ago when I first watched it.

The big problems for me stem mainly from the fact that it doesn’t scare me at all. Not in the slightest. Then there’s the fact that it looks cheap, really cheap, which of course it was. Haircuts change, continuity doesn’t appear to exist and the acting is pretty ropey. There’s no real attempt at any character development or backstory either. It’s a simple set up, and you get what you get. Raimi never let the lack of budget get in the way of his vision though and I feel torn between applauding him for managing to do so much with so little, and also wishing that maybe he could have dialed it back a little. Maybe have creatures lurking in the shadows instead of totally visible all the time, since when you see a rubber head being bashed with an axe, it just looks like a rubber head being bashed with an axe. The claymation sequence at the end of the film is on the one hand Raimi pushing himself further than any first time director ever should. On the other hand though it looks woeful, goes on way too long and should probably not be in the film. Still it’s these sort of things that give the film it’s charm and have earned it a hugely loyal following.

Where the film works best is when the awful dialogue disappears and Ash (Bruce Campbell) takes center stage. Campbell has a screen presence that the rest of the cast lack. The scenes of him just reacting to what’s going on are fantastic, as are a number of the things Raimi does with his camera during these sequences. The last shot of the film for instance is one of those ‘once seen, never forgotten’ moments.

For me this is a film that’s easy to admire but difficult to love. Nowhere is that better shown than the infamous tree rape scene, which is technically well executed, but is quite grim to watch and feels out of place with the rest of the horror in the film. I prefer the Evil Dead II far more than The Evil Dead, which is probably sacrilegious to some, but what the heck it's the truth. It’s still not scary but it's at least looks like a professionally made film. It's funnier too.

1 comment:

Masterofoneinchpunch said...

With the group I know over here in California we consider it blasphemous to think more highly of Evil Dead than the later two. It does not help that I've only seen Evil Dead once and Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness countless times.

I first saw Evil Dead II in a hotel in LA with fellow Academic Decathletes (some American High School academic contest basically). It looked scary, but the humor kept it fun. I mainly watched the first one because, well Bruce Campbell was in it. But then again I'll watch a lot of things with Bruce Campbell in it.

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