Today: February 25, 2024

Evil Dead Legacy Part One

– By Edward Boff – These days, whenever he has a new film out, Sam Raimi is nearly always credited on the poster as “the director of Spider-Man”.

By Edward Boff

These days, whenever he has a new film out, Sam
Raimi is nearly always credited on the poster as “the director of Spider-Man”.
However, until those films he was better known among film
fans and horror buffs for a very different trilogy. With Raimi’s trademark camerawork, ever-evolving style, and
the charisma of star Bruce Campbell,
the Evil Dead series has earned a
place in the hearts of all cult film fans. With the remake of Evil
in cinemas Thursday 18th April, Ed Boff looks back
across the trilogy to see why it’s earned itself such a cult status. So come on in …. join us …

The Evil Dead
based friends Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert
and Bruce Campbell had been making no budget Super-8 films together for years
before throwing their hats into the ring and going for a full feature. Given the growth of the American
independent horror movie over the previous decade, they decided this would be
their way in, though their specialty had been comedy before. The shoot itself has become the stuff
of legend, with nearly all the cast and crew in the depths of rural Tennessee
in its coldest winter on record covered in Karo-Syrup based blood and/or
wearing incredibly uncomfortable contact lenses. Probably the best account of this ultimate experience in
gruelling filmmaking is in Campbell’s autobiography If Chins Could Kill: Confessions Of A B-Movie Actor. Despite all this, though, the finished
product ended up being a smash hit and the launch pad for more than one
promising career.

The film
begins as five young friends drive down to a quiet cabin in the Tennessee woods
for the weekend. This cabin holds
a dark secret though. Before they arrived an academic had been working there on
an ancient text – a Sumerian book of the dead containing spells for summoning
demonic forces. Good thing none of
the teens can read Sumerian then!
Bad thing that the academic was making a recording when he said aloud
that phrase, which the friends then replay ….

The Evil Dead is immediately different to the other films
in the franchise, and many a later horror films, for having a much slower and
more deliberate pace. It’s
interesting that, for a film with such a reputation, it has a lot of old-school
horror, atmosphere and tension building segments to it. Even though this was a first time
feature film, Sam Raimi already knew the importance of setting up the
characters, location and premise properly, effectively giving the audience a
guided tour early on to set up many of the places where the real chaos would
unfold and the end result is far more satisfying.

As for said
chaos, hoo boy! Taking the advice
of one investor fairly literally (who said “you must have blood running
down the screen!”), The Evil Dead seriously broke ground in terms of gore
and violence. From a pencil in the
Achilles tendon, to total bodily dismemberment, to a final stop motion
meltdown, this film shocked everyone.
Yet, even at its most shocking and transgressive moments (like the
infamous violation by a tree, something Raimi himself said may have been a step
too far), there’s none of the grim sense of “nastiness” the worst of
schlock horror has. Unlike Saw, Hostel or many a Grindhouse horror, there’s a sense of playfulness
and fun at work. The Evil Dead understands the real reason why people watch
horror and plays with it like a mash-up of an old fashioned ghost train ride
with the trends going on in film at the time. The scene where they listen to the tape by the fireplace is
almost like a mission statement. It’s the film saying “this is like one of
those hoary ol’ campfire stories, don’t take it too seriously and have
fun!” Stephen King definitely got that when he saw the film and gave it
the press quote “the most ferociously original film of the year”.

Not that
these points mattered to the British Board of Film Classification. Evil
was a massive success in the UK, both in cinemas and on the then
growing home video market, but as a result, it got caught up in the Video
Nasties controversy going on at the time.
The UK distributors Palace
found themselves having to appear before the courts for it but
ended up acquitted and unprosecuted after the judge actually watched the film
and realised there was no case.
Chances are, this probably helped the sales and rentals of the film no
end, with lots of people saying; “They tried to ban it? I dunno what this is, but I’ve gotta
see this to find out why!” The film has long shrugged of any stigma of
being one of the Nasties, and to be honest, it’s one of only a handful of films
from that list that’s actually still any good. The DVD has an excellent documentary on all of this called Discovering the Evil Dead.

With a
strong sense of atmosphere, buckets of Kensington Gore, and some dynamic camera
work (including the famous “shakycam” POV shots, achieved by bolting
the camera to a plank and having someone at each end run like hell), it’s easy
to see why it’s well remembered and respected. There are definite flaws to it. The acting isn’t fantastic for
the most part and the low budget shows through on more than one occasion (look
out for the shot of the full moon matted in for some shots that looks like a
postage stamp in the corner of the frame). On the whole though, it’s a well-made, cheesy fright fest
that makes for a real fun evening.
Also, the DVD is worth having for Bruce Campbell’s commentary alone,
that not only has a lot of info on the film but is also endlessly funny. Highlights include…

intellectual college crowd, which is probably you watching this right now,
presumably playing some hideous drinking game…”

(On a
deleted scene where they smoked marijuana) “And yes, I did inhale, unlike
certain presidents of ours”

(On the
infamous “tree rape”) “At this point we lose about 30% of women
in the audience, not sure why- oh, right!”

those who’ve seen the film forty-six times, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for

Tune in same time, same place next week, when Ed
takes a look what happens when you throw some actual money at an already
popular franchise …

The Evil Dead remake is in cinemas Thursday 18th

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