THE EVIL DEAD - Vacation Alone or Else
The Evil Dead is an inventive and influential horror film that also serves as a reminder we should all vacation alone.
The Evil Dead
Release Date: October 15th, 1981
Date of My First Viewing: October 8th, 2019
A horror movie usually has a good message it’s trying to tell beneath all the gore and darkness present. Messages such as, “A government’s greed will continue to fuel a disaster in the shape of a giant shark” or “Pay attention to all the kids at a summer camp or bad things will happen”. In the case of The Evil Dead, the 1981 cult classic from Sam Raimi, the message is clear. It’s “Don’t ever go on vacation in Tennessee”.
Oh yeah… there’s that whole “Don’t ever read from ‘The Book of the Dead’ thing too but that’s a given.
For those who don’t know, The Evil Dead tells the story of 5 college friends, who just so happen to vacation in a cabin in a remote portion of Tennessee. If that isn’t scary enough, it turns out the cabin and surrounding woods are haunted thanks to the work of an archaeologist, who happened to be researching the Sumerian version of “The Book of the Dead”. Things go rather down hill from here as an ancient evil possesses all the friends expect Ash (Bruce Campbell). With a heavy dose of gore and some twisted humor at work, the film then details Ash’s attempts to survive this vacation from hell.
I’ll go ahead and get the whole “HOW HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE!?” question out of the way now. It’s rather simple. I’m not a huge horror movie fan. While I can admire the classics in the genre and the best paper I ever wrote in college involved a breakdown of horror film elements, I don’t actively seek out movies that are going to scare or disturb me. The same goes for films with healthy doses of gore.
It’s not that I’m actively against these films, but if I’m going to devote two hours or so of my time, I’m going to usually pick something else. If a horror film has something to say or has an interesting approach, I will give it a chance. It just might not be right out of the gate.
I’ve been aware of The Evil Dead, of course, for many years, but most of my previous awareness came from the overall franchise and not this actual film. Frankly, that awareness was really an aware of Army of Darkness, boomsticks and chainsaws and all. When I did a little digging and research into The Evil Dead, I became intrigued about how it was Raimi’s first real attempt at a film and what he was able to accomplish. This also being October and an utterly easy excuse to review a horror film and get readers made a viewing of The Evil Dead an easy choice.
I rather enjoyed what I saw from this initial watch of The Evil Dead. Right from the star, Raimi’s skill and ambitions are on display. The opening shot of the evil force latching on to the approaching group and following them to the cabin is a striking way to set the mood of the film. The shot helps to establish a palpable tension and ominous mood that doesn’t relent in the film’s first act.
Raimi hits all the notes to keep the audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of something bad happening. There’s the rickety bridge giving out and establishing that escape will be impossible, the swing that seemingly swings on its own, and many other touches for the audience to catch. They all combine to let us know that these five individuals are about to experience something really bad.
When something bad happens, The Evil Dead progresses into a full on gore fest. The visual and make-up effects will, naturally, look dated in 2019, but one must appreciate what they were in 1981. Raimi and his team do some fantastic work with the look of the possessed along with some of the more gruesome injuries and kills.
The shift in style and approach ran the risk of losing me, but I do understand what Raimi was attempting. While I’ll always prefer a horror film with way more tension and less reliance on gore, Raimi does a wonderful job of showing how the world keeps closing in on Ash. He’s confined in this cabin with people who were his friends and are now possessed hell-beasts. If that isn’t a source of tension, I don’t know what is.
I’ll admit I don’t know the whole story behind the production of The Evil Dead, and I’m sure a fan of this film can correct me… but I’m going to subscribe to the headcanon that Raimi had a REALLY HORRIBLE experience vacationing with some friends back in his youth. I mean I’m all about vacationing alone, but The Evil Dead is just a straight up endorsement of that lifestyle.
The Evil Dead is a horror film that I can fully endorse, and it is one I should have watched a long time ago. It was nice to see elements in the film that have inspired other horror films (I don’t even have to bring up Cabin in the Woods, do I?). This is a movie and franchise that has dedicated fans, and now I have a better understanding of why that’s the case.
Sam Raimi created an incredibly effective and incredibly captivating horror film right at the beginning of his career. With just the right combination of tension and gore, The Evil Dead will be required viewing for horror fans for years and years to come.