Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Evil Dead (1981) Film Review
Released in the years before cable TV and before video cassettes made low budget schlock available to the average viewer, Evil Dead found its audience with the midnight movie horror festival crowd. No way did it get a nationwide release. Privately owned cinemas bought prints and slowly the film spread from coast to coast and even made its way to Britain. But by this time videos were gaining popularity and it was released on cassette at the same time as a very limited theatrical release.
Critics and censors dismissed it as trash and not long afterwards it was relegated to the video nasty bin and banned. As silly as this may seem, that was the logic of the BBFC. The fact that it is inventive and well directed was lost on them. And until recently only cult audiences appreciated its value. With Anchor Bay's new DVD we can all finally enjoy the uncut, definitive and best-looking presentation possible.
Originally released in 1981 as The Book Of The Dead, this was a feature length re-make of Sam Raimi's short film, Within The Woods. The plot (excuse) and story (violence) involves a quintet of friends, enjoying a few days of quiet at a remote cabin in the Tennessee woods. These are not Friday the 13th goofballs who want nothing but sex and skinny-dipping. They are realistic. And it all goes nicely until Scotty (Hal Delrich) finds an ugly-looking book (with a face) and an old reel-to-reel tape recorder in the basement. The tape is of an archaeologist explaining how he resurrected demons that took over his wife in the very same cabin. The professor is nowhere to be found, but the haunting burial rites and incantations written in Sumerian text in the ugly book, The Necronomicon Ex Mortis-Book Of The Dead, are on the tape also.
Sheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) freaks out. She hears a demonic voice out in the woods. "Join us!" Foolishly going out to investigate, she is raped by a tree. Although this particular scene isn't so hard to watch, the film still has the power to disturb and make you squirm.
Once Sheryl returns, all hell breaks loose and Raimi has a helluva time firing torrents of blood of varying colours throughout the cabin. Limbs are hacked off with carefree abandon and poor old Ash (Bruce Campbell) has to take them all on at once.
The supernatural hijinks were repeated to a much lesser effect in the sequel, but here Raimi creates an atmosphere of dread and whatever that force is out in the woods - it's scary. It does have some humour, but first time around the filmmakers obviously wanted horror first. You'll wince a few times, no doubt. The raw tone goes hand-in-hand with the low budget and Raimi's bizarre, hardcore cartoonish style is much in evidence.
More time is spent building character. Ash loves his girlfriend and a simple little scene between them makes us totally root for him. He is still to become the hapless buffoon, as he will repeat in Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.
At the very least, Evil Dead is so popular that it can no longer be regarded as a cult movie. It's not a classic. Not yet. But it is highly regarded and definitely worth several viewings.Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2002