The Test of Time: The Evil Dead (1981)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, and Betsy Baker

With the a) potentially dreadful b) potentially fantastic or c) possibly sacrilegious remake/re-imagining/re-envisioned coming out this weekend, what a better time to explore perhaps the greatest independent horror film ever released upon the human race.

Under the examination: The Evil Dead.

Few horror movies in existence have impacted me the way Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead has. I remember the first time I saw at a friend’s house as a kid. We were in his basement, drinking diabetic levels of Dr. Pepper, and his mom rented it for us (you know, before streaming). And even though the thing scared the hell out of me, I kept coming back for more abuse and more dark, dark laughs. Years passed and I ended up one of those dummies who kept buying all the Anchor Bay releases even though 99.9% of ‘em contained nothing new (I spent enough cash that they should have given me Anchor Bay stock for my contributions.)

Looking all young, Bruce.

So what kept me coming back? Was it the gore? Maybe, there’s gallons of bloodletting here, but other films have that too and far more effective special effects.

Was it the acting? Perhaps. Even though camp has never been my thing, the original film attempted to play it straight (the best they could), but let’s face it, the acting is mediocre at best terrible.

Was it the overall production? I think above all else, Raimi’s style, the lunacy of it, made the Evil Dead. That’s not to stay Campbell and everyone else didn’t, but rewatching Evil Dead today, its the independent nature of Raimi’s visuals that make the thing. The swooping cameras, the oddball angles, the damn bizarre sound effects allows the movie to float to the top of the genre blood bath. Oh sure, hundreds of indie flicks have come and gone since 1981, but Evil Dead is the type of movie that felt like something that anyone with an ounce of creativity and passion could create. And that’s the film’s true power.

THE STORY: A group of young folks decide to take a break from their busy lives for a little R&R at a cabin in the woods. While there, they find the Book of the Dead and decide to have a little fun by reading from it even though the book if perhaps the creepiest damn thing that anyone could find in a mysterious cabin hidden deep among Mother Nature. Obviously a poor decision. Bad things happen as the woods come alive and everyone gets dead minus everyone’s favorite B movie star – Bruce Campbell.

My, what a pretty smile you have.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Clearly, this is one of those movies where it’s tough as balls to remain objective. However, this column is about whether something stands the test of time or not, so objective is my temporary middle name. And thankfully, I’ve taken a long hiatus from all three film...so when I watched it again I had to keep that frame of mind.

Something that The Evil Dead does that most horror flicks fail to do is to start the thing off with a massive bitch slap (well, tension). Raimi gives us that quiet sweep across the swamp, building to the moment where Ash puts his finger to the map and the wheel of their car suddenly swerves into an oncoming truck. It’s cheap, but it sets the mood that this flick isn't another cheap. After a few quick jokes, we’re at the cabin within five minutes where we hear a swinging bench slamming against the house (its so naturally simple and effective yet most films opt for a cheap rock track). Again, it sets a tone that doesn’t let up until the folks are dead by dawn (had to say it once). Of course, by moving so fast to the cabin we skip silly things like character development, but since we know Ash will be around for two, maybe three more movies, who the hell cares.

Overall, the practical effects still work. As long as a virgin viewer understands the context of the film (the time, the budget, the indie nature), I think he/she will be impressed (minus a few things listed below). If anything truly holds up, it’s the gore. While the special effects look woefully cheap, the consistently extreme violence is downright horrifically perfect. Raimi and company never had a problem with letting the blood flow, but that’s became this series' trademark. Nothing is off limits, and it’s one of few flicks that could combine horror, touture, demon possession, and the Three Stoogies without having the universe implode. For example, is there anything scarier than the first demon appearance, where poor Cheryl starts dropping card game answers and then goes all possessed on everyone? Hell, that scene alone made me fear the number two penci. It’s brutal, but at the same time it's all so over-the-top that it's damn amusing too.

More than anything, Raimi’s nutty style perhaps works best. It’s amazing that dude was around 22-years-old when he not only made the flick, but defined his own style. Sure, he has altered things here and there, but overall his definitive and inventive camera work from this flick.

Nobody is safe from the power of the Necronomicon.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Again reminding myself of my blood oath to the column for objectivity, while I praised the movie earlier on not wasting time with silly things like character development, it could be viewed as a fault. After all, if characters don’t get the round treatment, why the hell should we care about them? Oh sure, we love Ash and all, but even the worst B-movies usually attempt to fill time by padding with character moments so we'll want them to survive, and their stuggle to do that will create the kind of tension that results in premature balding.

Another element that blows a big one is the pacing. Even though I like the quiet moodiness, it also has a few moments that drag -- especially since there's little filler as we don't learn much about these soon-to-be-departed folks. Even worse, there’s no denying the amateur shit special effects. While the gore looks great and even the deadite makeup remains quality, those tricky shots look pathetically dated and cheap. The hair-eating shemp always looked awful. Or when Cheryl gets tossed in the basement and Scotty gives her a few axe handle shots to the forehead. That’s just laughable. Then again, if this had been a slick piece of production, I doubt many of us would give two shits about it. 

THE VERDICT: The Evil Dead is one of those perfect time and place kinda movies. Sure, it isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always even that good, but it’s a hell of a horror movie. It had the kind of balls that all filmmakers wish they had. How many ever included a scene where a gang of vines rape a lady? Or force a dude to chop up his own girlfriend? That’s the type of brutally and raw carnage that ensures the Evil Dead will never go out of style. It better not. I own 77 copies of each freaking movie.



This is the poster. You should own one.



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