Five friends travel to a secluded, idyllic cabin in the woods of Tennessee for a weekend getaway. While exploring the basement of the cabin they stumble upon a grotesque, flesh-covered book and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which contains a professor’s translated notes of the book. As the tape is played they learn that the professor’s translation, the very tape they are playing, inadvertently summoned demons that possessed his wife. As a result the professor was forced to dismember her and bury her remains in the basement. Nonplussed or just plain stupid, they continue to play the tape unleashing the titular evil dead. Ethical dilemmas abound, as difficult decisions must be made about how to deal with periodically possessed friends.
I always find it difficult to write about classic horror films. How do you come up with an original observation that hasn’t been made during countless previous viewings? Watch it with someone who hasn’t seen it before, that’s how. When I first saw The Evil Dead on VHS as a kid it scared the shit out of me, as I had never seen anything like it before and certainly nothing so gory. I’ve always considered The Evil Dead to be the “scary” one and it’s two sequels to be the “intentionally campy” ones. Watching the original as an adult I find myself placing it in the “campy” category. Sure it wasn’t director Sam Rami’s intention to make The Evil Dead funny, but bad acting and very silly lines make it a hoot. To confirm my suspicion that it was no longer a scary film I closely monitored my friend, whom I’ve been referring to as Whirlygirl, as she watched Ash get repeatedly pummeled by demons for the first time. Her ongoing chuckles firmly establish The Evil Dead as camp for me. I wanted to say, “Hey wait a minute, this is scary”, but how could I when I don’t believe it myself anymore. Linda’s transformation (pictured above) and her high-pitched giggling still freak me out a little, but for the most part this is just silly fun. Clearly Rami recognized the high camp value of the original, which he ratcheted up brilliantly in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and, to a lesser extent in Army of Darkness.
Things I love about The Evil Dead.
It begins and ends with Ash. Bruce Campbell in his acting debut gives it his all and without realizing it creates an iconic character. In The Evil Dead Campbell is playing it straight but his less-than-stellar acting ability can only make us laugh. In the sequels he plays it for laughs and is a natural.
I love how Ash repeatedly gets pummeled. If he’s not being thrown across the room, bookshelves are falling on him.
The blood. Ash can’t go two minutes without having copious amounts of blood or demon bile spewed in his face. After a while he just accepts it.
Although the characters are upset by what’s happening, they never seem upset enough. As their friends turn into demons they kind of just go with it as if to say, “Oh how annoying.”
Despite the low budget, the demons are pretty cool looking. This one in the floor is particularly effective.
To this day, the Evil Dead is really quite gross.