Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly
Directed by Sam Raimi
Expectations: One of my all-time favorites.
The Evil Dead. It’s hard to believe that this movie is 33 years old. It still elicits scares and laughs just as much as it did the first time I saw it all those years ago. But this re-watch was something extra special: I saw it on the big screen. This was a pleasure I had never experienced before, only discovering the film on VHS in the ’90s when a friend let me borrow it. While it’s cliché to say that the big screen made the film a much better experience, that’s exactly the case here. I’ve seen this movie more times than I could ever hope to count, but the theater experience still revealed to me things I had never taken the time to notice or care about specifically.
The first of these is the sound design. While the original soundtrack is only mono — and a fairly abrasive mono with all the shrieking and such — the sound design that accompanies the coming evil of the woods is paramount to the film’s success. The wonderfully inventive camerawork that Raimi uses to realize this spirit flying through the woods is impressive enough, but coupled with the sounds of voices and brooding synths it makes for something that you’ll never forget. I’ve always loved how alive the forest around the cabin in The Evil Dead felt, and I have to credit a lot of that atmosphere and staying power to the ever-present, excellent sound design.
The other main thing that stuck out this time is just how low-budget the film is. Or, I should say: how much Raimi and co. were able to achieve despite the film’s low budget. But it’s also that The Evil Dead is an amateur feature, made by a group of friends with a shared goal. Raimi was a mere 20 years old when he began shooting the film, funded with money he had raised from local businessmen. Much like Peter Jackson’s debut, Bad Taste, The Evil Dead was made on faith and passion, with the end result becoming insanely impressive from a filmmaking standpoint. If you’ve ever tried to make a movie I think you’ll understand just how nuts it is that The Evil Dead is what resulted from Raimi’s first stab at a feature. He was clearly destined for the job.
That raw talent shines throughout the film, with all kinds of clever angles and camera moves that enhance the horror and the story at every turn. The Evil Dead is one hell of an energetic film, with all kinds of wildly inventive, unique situations for the characters to ram their heads against. There’s always a foreboding sense of doom and atmosphere that hangs over the film, leaching its way into your soul as you watch. As the woods call out a haunting repetition of “Join us!” to the inhabitants of the cabin, Raimi is saying the same to the audience with his energetic camera. Any supernatural story will always need to overcome the hurdle of disbelief, but the beckoning call of Raimi’s talent, Bruce Campbell’s natural charm and the film’s brooding atmosphere are the perfect disarming team. Not to mention all that wonderful FX work. If all low-budget films were this good, low-budget would cease to be a “bad” term.
The Evil Dead has held me in its embrace since I first saw it, and its grip only tightens with every viewing. This is hands down one of the greatest low-budget films of all time, and if you haven’t seen it — or god forbid, you’ve only seen the godawful remake — do yourself a favor and take a trip to the real cabin in the woods.