October is an important month for Evil Dead. Not only is it the month of Halloween, but it also coincides with Sam Raimi’s birthday (born October 23, 1959) and the movie Evil Dead itself debut on October 15, 1981. So, let’s take a look back at another outdoor/cabin classic, Evil Dead (1981).
In 1979, budding director/writer, Sam Raimi, actor, Bruce Campbell and crew sequestered to a cabin in the Tennessee woods. Not to drink beer, or party or to take a dip in the lake (it was much too cold for that). They went to make a movie. A movie that would not only go on to redefine the forest/horror genre, but forever change independent film and movie making altogether, Evil Dead (1981).
Filmed in a real abandoned cabin, Evil Dead was in a sense a case of art imitating real life. The narrative follows a bunch of college students, who rent a cabin in the Tennessee woods, because “it was cheap”. In reality, Sam Raimi picked the location because it was available (having exhausted all avenues) and more than cheap, as it was an abandoned cabin. They had to fix it up just enough to make it workable, but not just workable, liveable. The cast consisted of family, friends and crew living under this one cottage roof and (in most cases) the same room with everyone sleeping on the floor. The conditions were just bearable and tensions lead to arguments on set. So, in some sense it was very much like cottage experience itself, having to have all these people living in a small space. You know some demons are going to come out.
The story of Evil Dead follows Ash (played by Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), with friends Scott (Richard DeManincor), his girlfriend Shelly (Theresa Tilly) and Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) who travel to a cabin for a little getaway. After a series of “dodgy” encounters including almost getting run off the road and crossing a collapsing bridge, they finally make it to their destination: a run down/rickety shack in the forest.
After the smoke clears and the dust settles, so does the group of friends into their creepy accommodations. However, one of the friends, Cheryl, begins to experience strange supernatural phenomenon, including momentary demonic possession with a little Pictionary on the side. Later, they decide it’s a good idea to investigate the chained up cellar (of course), where they happen upon a book, The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, and some audio tapes (no, not Cottage Country Mix), but a series of recordings by Professor Raymond Knowby discussing the book. After they play these tapes, all hell breaks loose and they release demons who seem bent on their destruction. Without giving away too much, the friends must bind together to defeat the demons and hopefully survive the night.
Upon its release, Evil Dead was a cultural phenomenon, with modest gains in the theatres, it really took on an after life in the VHS rental market, becoming the number#1 rental in many countries that year. However, this was not without controversy due to all the blood, gore and violence. The film would be banned or censored in Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland & Sweden and be labelled a “video nasty” in the UK. Subsequently, this only made the film more alluring and added to it’s infamy, as Evil Dead was viewed at many an adolescent birthday party and teenage get together. Lauded by horror enthusiasts (including Stephen King) and misunderstood by parents and the censor boards.
However, as bloody and violent as it is, Evil Dead is pretty tame by today’s standards (post-Saw), but it still manages to thrill, frighten and gross out its audience and has since, grossed $29.4 Million worldwide. A far cry away from Campbell and Raimi’s early 8mm films they produced as kids.
For Sam Raimi’s, Evil Dead was his major directorial debut, but he would go on to make televisions’ Xena and Hercules shows, as well as other major motion pictures, including the Marvel’s Spiderman trilogy. Evil Dead itself would go on to be one of the most influential “cult” movies of all time with sequels, spinoffs, video games and even musicals in the Evil Dead franchise .
More committal than his half-bowl haircut, Bruce Campbell really commits to the role of Ash. As sparse as the furniture in the cabin is, he always manages to smash through (literally). In fact, Campbell lost teeth when camera smashed into his face. But it’s precisely this debauched style of shooting that adds an element to the movie. There is a naivety, a fearlessness that manifests on the screen, like shooting live ammunition towards the camera (which happened). Evil Dead however, is not just all blood without heart. Some say it is an analogy for the loss of friends, something that the character of Ash must come to terms with throughout the film, when he is not being chased by them in their demonic form.
Evil Dead and its Influence on Music
Besides being a huge influence on movies, Evil Dead was also hugely influential on music, finding an audience with the disenfranchised youth of the 80s. Punk, heavy metal and other “extreme” music, that lived on the fringes, found a kinship with Evil Dead. This was not just because of Evil Dead‘s darker themes (and in some cases its sense of humour), but during this period of Tipper Gore and PMRC, they too met with extreme resistance from the puritanical right in the 1980s.
Stylistically, you can see echoes of Raimi’s distinct aesthetic in music videos themselves. Raimi’s much touted and toted “vas-o-cam”, which consisted of two people running beside each other, carrying a two by four between themselves with a camera on it. The effect was a cheap dolly shot, but every time I see a sped up shot over the fallen leaves, I feel it almost owes a debt of gratitude to Raimi and Evil Dead. You would go on to see or a similar effect in lots of music videos from Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” to Death’s “The Philosopher”. Also, the Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighter’s paid tribute in their “Everlong” video.
Conclusion – Evil Dead (1981)
Evil Dead (1981) is a bonafide cult classic that literally puts the blood on the camera and on the projector and is a highly recommended horror movie, that happens to take place in the woods (check), but not just in the woods but in a cottage (double check). Ok it’s more like a cabin. That being said it’s not for everybody but if you like horror movies and haven’t seen it, you should see it! Some prefer Evil Dead‘s sequel, Evil Dead 2, because it is a more comical, more big-budgeted Evil Dead movie (from the franchise), with Ash’s antics in full swing and Raimi at the helm. This first instalment is more so your straightforward, gory horror movie, but is clearly more elevated than many amongst its peers of 80’s gross out movies.
Length: 1h 25m
Rated: NC-17 (violence, sexuality)
Best time to watch: Night time is the right time for this one!