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Evil & dead Evil & dead
by Asa Butcher
Issue 5
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Information
Film
The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi
1981
When I spotted The Evil Dead DVD in the store, it went straight into my basket. I had never seen it before and knew nothing about the plot, but its reputation had imprinted itself on my movie-loving soul. Never a fan of horror, especially the ‘video nasties’ of the early-80s, there was no aching desire to delve into this genre.

Two decades later, a few years older and the DVD a mere £5, it was time to experience the content of Sam Raimi’s ‘The Evil Dead, the Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror’, as the closing credits say. Before sitting down to watch, I had a gut feeling that there would be a few dead people, they wouldn’t stay dead and they would probably be evil.

The plot involves five friends, three girls and two guys, who decide an abandoned cabin in the woods is the perfect spot for a vacation; it even requires driving over an old rickety bridge that you know will trap them there. Still, they make themselves comfortable and then the fun begins, with mysterious gusts of wind, clocks acting strangely, a possessed pencil, a full moon and stormy night, fog, creaking doors and a tempting trapdoor.

In an act of equality, Scotty invites one of the girls to explore the sinister contents of the pitch-black cellar. Naturally, they decline his invitation and the two guys discover the Book of the Dead, a tape recorder belonging to a professor and a shotgun. The recording reveals that the book is bound in human flesh and written in human blood – not quite something you’d get from HarperCollins – plus it contains resurrection passages that unleash evil forces from the woods.

My assessment that the dead will be evil appears to have been an accurate assumption, even more so when the tape explains that the only way to kill somebody that has become a zombie is total body dismemberment. Nice. The director spends over half-an-hour building the tension and suspense creating believability in the plotline, rather than having flesh-eating zombies from the get-go.

From the opening ‘floating’ camera shot across a still pond to the stalking shots of the hapless victims, you’d never imagine that it is a low-budget film. The cinematography has an edge, a rawness, which works extremely well to create a sense of isolation and apprehension. Some shots are handheld and invasive from a distance that obviously inspired films, such as The Blair Witch Project and Dog Soldiers.

No matter how great the camerawork and direction, this film would have failed if it had not been for the incredible special makeup effects created by Tom Sullivan. His zombie creations are plausible and you can still see the actors’ faces beneath the extensive makeup. The line between comedy and tasteless is blurred at times, such as removing a head with a shovel and pushing thumbs into eye sockets, but it is the twitching limbs of their dismembered friend on the floor that stays in your memory.

Today many of the moments, actions and dialogue have become classic horror clichés, spoofed in movies like Scream, but The Evil Dead was one of the first and is entitled to use phrases, such as, “Let’s split up!”, “I think it is dead!” and “Aaaaaah!” The film’s exaggerated sound effects help create the right atmosphere and the overly dramatic music actually adds to the film, while the woman’s cackling laugh is one of the most annoying sounds ever on film.

The Evil Dead was worth watching and it still managed to scare me 24-years after its release, even while writing this I had an uneasy feeling. I guess that is why horror was never that appealing to my sensitive nature, but this film managed to imbed itself in the subconscious playing upon the primeval fear of agoraphobia in nature. Maybe that explains why I dislike summer cottages…

  
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