Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Hal Delrich, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Plot: Five teenagers go to a cabin in the woods and awake an evil spirit that begins possessing them one by one.
The Evil Dead is a typical case of brilliant director, but amateur effort. It is clear from the first five minutes that there is a lot of potential here, only some of the genius is not contained properly. There are a lot of pretty shots to praise in the Evil Dead. The swooping, flowing tracking shots are visually stimulating, building atmosphere and making the unknown positively creepy. The early scene where the cabin is introduced by a swinging bench banging into the side of the building thanks to the wind is horror cinema at its best, creating a thick atmosphere of dread, without even introducing the hint of threat. However, it is all very messy. The edit is a little all over the place. Some shots are good, but held too long. The point is made, but the shot lingers for an uncomfortable amount of time, killing the pace. Certain frames look out of place, Raimi choosing to cut to something that feels off somewhat. It also strikes me as a production that was more concerned about the technical side of things than the story. I don’t mind the ‘that’ll do’ plot, with the five teens wandering to a cabin in the woods and fending off swarms of creatures that come for them. However, the acting could have been directed better. Moments suggest that the cast aren’t as bad as the cheesy acting they come out with implies. The dialogue just lets them down, perhaps also held back by a director that is more worried about the shots and atmosphere than unlocking his characters. Even the lead, Bruce Campbell, who goes on to become quite a cult figure thanks to this movie, is strangely devoid of a character outside of what the plot dictates. However, many of these arguments are shut down, because the Evil Dead has slipped into cult cinema.
Despite its numerous flaws, I must admit that Raimi kept me engaged throughout. There is something about The Evil Dead that makes it riveting, even if the production isn’t as smooth as I would have hoped. This is mainly to do with Raimi’s complete control over his story. Ash is the kind of character that deserves better than the horrors he is subjected to and, for that reason, we are invested in what is happening. It helps that the ‘creature’ is never explained, so we have no idea how the characters are getting infected. Every time Ash is attacked, we begin fearing that his character is next to go. Perhaps the lack of explanation for what the monster is can be seen as a flaw, but the movie zips along so sharply, it doesn’t affect the viewing experience. I was pleasantly surprised by the horror movie creature. I was expecting zombies for some reason; perhaps it was the name Evil Dead or some misplaced piece of information, but I came into this expecting a more Romero based action. When an entirely new creature reared its head, I was overjoyed. It is nothing overly original, but Raimi’s creation is used precisely, bringing up several moral conflicts within his cast, as well as allowing for some bloody kills to crop up later on in the movie. It is also appreciated how no two monsters are the same, all embodying a different kind of creepiness. For me, it was the cackling one, sitting patiently in the corner with that piercing grin – that was the monster that gave me the chills. While The Evil Dead is a very messy movie, when it dies down to the final half hour, Bruce Campbell trapped in a cat and mouse game with the monsters at his door, it becomes much easier to see why The Evil Dead has become such an iconic piece of cinema. It shocks, it entertains, it provides some set-pieces that are fixed in horror cinema.
So in conclusion, it is a mixed bag of a film. Technically, it is a bit naff, but Raimi’s control over atmosphere is second to none, creating a horror film like no other. It is a must for any independent horror film-makers out there. I am taking a star off for the tree rape scene, though. No… just no!
Final Verdict: The Evil Dead is a bit slap-dash with a by-the-numbers plot and rushed performances and editing. The atmosphere and set-pieces are iconic however.