Evil Dead (1981)
First Released: 1983
Director: Sam Raimi
Current UK Status: Passed 18 uncut
Arguably the best known of the Video Nasties, Sam Raimi’s violent and shocking onslaught of pure horror first arrived in cinemas in 1983, although this version was already cut by the BBFC. Palace then transferred the cut cinema version to video, which was subsequently banned in October 1983. In September 1985 The Evil Dead was removed from the list, and was re-released in 1990 with further cuts by the BBFC. Chopping an added 1:06s off the 1990 version, The Evil Dead now had 1:55s of cuts. However, in 2001 the film was finally made available uncut through Anchor Bay, and since then has been re-released numerous times by Anchor Bay.
Director, producer and writer Sam Raimi has been in the business for over thirty years, yet surprisingly has only directed 19 films. On the other hand, Raimi has produced 45 films and also written 20. He was always fascinated with the movies, and started filming using an 8mm camera by the age of 10. Obsessed with comedy The Three Stooges, during his teenage years he, and friends Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert, would play around making films until eventually they decided to try and get some money together to make The Evil Dead. They created a short film called Within the Woods (1978) which they showed to potential investors to raise cash for The Evil Dead, it worked and Evil Dead was born. The US did not warm to it, and the film was not granted a release, so Raimi presented the film to Europe where it was much better received. Glowing reviews and strong sales caused the US to take notice, and eventually the film got the release it so dearly deserved. The Evil Dead then went on to become one of the best horror films ever made, and a constant top ten entry in genre fans lists. It made a cult icon out of Bruce Campbell, and Raimi was pretty much God-like.
However, he followed the classic horror with Crimewave (1985) which was not well received, and so after the harsh time Evil Dead got with the censors, Raimi decided to make his third film a sequel/remake to Evil Dead, and so Evil Dead 2 (1987) was released, and it too became regarded as one of the finest horror films of all time, with some saying it was even better than the original film. With much more comedy, the film was a little easier on the casual horror fan, and was actually more successful than the original at the box office. Raimi was then handed his biggest budget yet to make Darkman (1990), a film which wasn’t as successful as Evil Dead 2, but certainly cemented Raimi as a director to watch. In 1992 he returned to The Evil Dead franchise with the brilliant and hilarious Army of Darkness, a film which proved Raimi had a terrific sense of comedy and playfulness which was very unique and incredibly enjoyable. The western The Quick and the Dead followed in 1995, and was quickly forgotten, but then Raimi blew everyone away with the stunning, jaw-dropping brilliance of dark thriller A Simple Plan (1999). The film stunned audiences as Raimi proved he can be a genius when he wants to. Baseball film, For the Love of the Game came next, but in 2000 Raimi again proved his worth with the creepy horror, The Gift, and turned Keanu Reeves into a seriously unsettling villain.
The Noughties saw Raimi tied up with one franchise, and a trilogy of films which catapulted him to the big leagues, Spider-Man. Raimi directed all three films, and while many say the third film was the weakest of the lot, you cannot deny that the trilogy, as a whole, is phenomenal. Raimi then finished off the noughties by returning to horror with 2009’s Drag Me To Hell, a film loved and loathed in equal measure. In 2013 Raimi directed possibly his biggest film to date, Oz: The Great and Powerful, a superb family film, but a far cry from the stripped back, low budget rawness of The Evil Dead. However, he gave fans something special by producing Fede Alvarez’ superb new Evil Dead film, and after producing the horror flick, The Possession last year, Raimi will continue serving horror fans by producing the remake of Poltergeist. Raimi is one of the few directors whose films have landed on the Video Nasties list who is still relevant today, and is actually growing in his success still.
The Evil Dead is a film which needs no introduction: anyone calling themselves a horror fan will have seen it, and anyone with an interest in filmmaking in general should have seen it, as it serves as a excellent tutorial in how to make an effective film on a small budget. From its sinister opening of a prowling camera drifting over a creepy lake, to its finale of absolute mayhem, Evil Dead is a film that continues, even today, to influence and dazzle in its brilliance. The film may look dated to some, but to others (myself included) it looks even more authentic, and more effective thirty years on. Few horror films today can match its sheer brilliance in its stunning special effects, and overall sense of balls to the wall horror. This is a film made out of absolute admiration of our beloved genre, and as a homage to pure, raw horror, Evil Dead is the best of its kind. Raimi also blends comedy into the proceedings, comedy which is incredibly effective. Simple one-liners like “this thing is solid as a rock” as the group of friends drive over a bridge which then breaks, is utter genius. And as Campbell’s Ash cracks as the film goes on, both he and Raimi display a level of comedy and intelligence rarely seen in horror. Campbell really goes for it, and Raimi encourages him and the end results are gold dust. The comedy is well timed, well thought out and cheekily written.
The films set-up is simple: five friends go to stay at a cabin in the woods (THE cabin by the way!), and upon arrival, things begin to go wrong and escalate into more and more shocking moments. Raimi introduces us to his unique skills as a horror director by having his camera follow the friends almost like a peeping Tom. It crawls along the floor, keeping its distance as one of the group, Scott (Hal Delrich, who often resembles a young Harrison Ford), heads for the cabins front door. An eerie silence is broken only by the sound of a wooden sign swaying on its chain and banging against a post. Upon opening the door, the wooden sign stops swaying, and panic well and truly sets in! The friends enter the cabin, muck about and eventually find a tape recorder which they decide to play. A creepy voice talks of his experiments with The Book of the Dead, and eventually he speaks words that wake the horrors in the surrounding woods. From this point on, the five friends are well and truly up shit creek without a paddle, so to speak!
Before we get to the horrors, there is still time for one last bit of playful brilliance as we see Ash giving his girlfriend a necklace. Raimi uses his intruding camera to close-in on the eyes as Ash pretends to be asleep, but keeps peeping to see if his girlfriend has found her gift. It is a brilliant exchange, and proves Raimi could have been just as successful directing comedy. However, it is not long until the real horror begins, and here is where Raimi is dangerous. An onslaught of shock after shock results in the viewer finding it very difficult to relax. Just when you think it is all ok, BAM, another shock! Raimi uses raw, uncompromising and mean spirited ‘tick-box’ horror to deliver a genre fans wet dream. The low budget enhances the films back to basics brilliance, and the terror becomes real. Raimi uses his small budget in a way few directors would dare to try. The surrounding woods are the stuff of nightmares: often shot at night, with blinding mist and unsettling noises, the woods are not a place you would want to get lost. Then there is THAT camera shot, the one which becomes the evil in the woods, the one which whizzes through, knocking down trees and howling some hideous, satanic noise. Often imitated, NEVER bettered! Raimi directs as if he has been making horror his entire life, and as a debut film, this has to be one of the best ever.
The mood of the film turns ugly when the scene which caused its notoriety rears its horrible head. Yes, the infamous tree rape scene is still, to this day, hard to watch. It is violent, brutal and savage and upset a lot of people. It is not a pleasant scene, yet look past the nastiness and you will find a masterstroke of visual effects. It is flawless filmmaking as we see tree vines rip off a woman’s clothes and tie her up. Yes it is disturbing and cruel, but also brilliant. After this scene, the films horror goes up a notch as one of the group becomes possessed, and eventually turns on her friends, resulting in her being locked in the cabins basement. The first time she attacks comes as a surprise as the film lets rip on blood and violence. A vicious pencil stabbing of an ankle should have been enough, but Raimi keeps it going as he introduces us to our first Deadite. You won’t know whether to laugh, scream or throw up as the film gives us our first clue as to the horrors that will be coming later on.
The friends all panic, but there is no escape, and we will all have to spend the night in this cabin, and deal with the madness. Ash begins to crack, and as the film goes on, he deteriorates before kicking into action as the iconic, cult hero Campbell has so deservedly become. Watching the mighty Bruce Campbell crack is worth the ticket price alone! When he finally erupts with “you bastards! Why are you torturing Me like this!”, followed by one of the finest “shut up’s” you will ever hear, the moment is worth its weight in gold. A cult icon is born, and Campbell will forever be remembered as Ash, and it all started here.
The films finale is breathtaking, and so over the top you cannot help but applaud it. Raimi literally throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, and anything that can go wrong does go wrong. Campbell delivers a blistering, belter of a performance as he battles the Deadites and his sanity, and blood flows everywhere, literally. Seeing Ash pound a Deadite’s face with a plank of wood is still a moment to cherish as Raimi cranks up the sound effects, and the films finale is one which other horror films will always be measured upon. Raimi let’s rip, and it is a hell of a lot of fun. With blood, violence, bizarre mirrors of water and projector screens, added with terrific sound effects (the hideous, demonic cry of the Deadites is stunning) and a camera willing to get into every angle possible, The Evil Deads finale well and truly justifies the build up.
The Evil Dead is gratuitous in its violence, shocks and horror, and bloody proud of it. It is legendary among not just horror fans, but movie fans in general, and is a beltering display of how a low budget is no excuse for a poorly made film. Raimi and Campbell introduced themselves to the world of horror, and the world of movies, and to this day they continue to feed off this films success. Horrors come and go, but there are a certain few which leave a mark so strong, that you can see their influence in thousands of films since. The Evil Dead is one of those films: genre defining, totally brilliant and a true masterclass in filmmaking. It has never been bettered, and never will be. Here is a film which made the Video Nasty list, became legendary, and is fully deserving of its standing in the move world today. It is rightly regarded as one of the finest horror films ever made, and it will continue to fascinate and influence for decades to come. When people discuss one of the pivotal moments in horror, The Evil Dead will always be talked about as one of those key moments. Classic is not a good enough word to describe this work of absolute genius!
Should The Evil Dead have been added to the Video Nasty list? I suppose, it is hideously violent, and the tree rape scene alone is enough to upset even the diehard horror fan. Nasty stuff indeed!