My Favorite Scary Movie: The Evil Dead (1981)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

For the month of October, staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.


What’s it about? Five Michigan college kids head down to Tennessee for a relaxing getaway at a rented cabin in the woods, but when they play the tape recorder left behind by the previous tenant their vacation goes to hell. The tape was used to record translations of passages from the ancient Book of the Dead, and the reading of those passages allows demonic forces to enter our world and lay siege to the cabin. The only way to stop someone who's possessed by this evil force: bodily dismemberment.

Who’s in it? THE EVIL DEAD was a very low budget independent film, so the cast consisted of a bunch of unknowns, and some of them even used pseudonyms, as they were wary of the project's quality. There's Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Richard DeManincor (as Hal Delrich), Theresa Tilly (as Sarah York)… and oh yeah, future genre icon Bruce Campbell.

Who made it? This marked the feature debut of writer/director Sam Raimi, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. Just 20 when production began at the end of 1979, Raimi packed the film with such energetic and innovative camera work that it was already very clear this kid would be going places.

Why it’s my favorite scary movie: Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD meets the criteria of being my favorite scary movie because it's the film that scared me more than any other ever has – in fact, it's the only movie to have ever truly scared me after I started watching horror at a very young age. Now that I've been a fan of the film for over twenty years, I'm very familiar with the story of the making of the film, the fact that it was made by a bunch of young kids who scraped together a miniscule budget and managed to complete the film even though they found themselves in way over their heads once production had begun. The behind the scenes stories make me love the film even more, but when I first watched THE EVIL DEAD it was its gritty, low budget feel that put me on edge as soon as the movie began. This wasn't some glossy Hollywood flick, this was different, it felt raw and dangerous.

Watching the film by myself that dark night in 1993, I became convinced that it had the ability to stir up some kind of real evil. When the words of the Book of the Dead were read and summoned the evil in the woods within the film, I feared those words could have also summoned evil to my house – evil that would rise up out of the basement I never liked to go into. Give me a break, I was a kid who had been taught to believe in supernatural forces, and I didn't know the passage that was read from the Book of the Dead was just gibberish that Raimi had made up (it even contains a goofy in-joke). I was taking this very seriously, and I was terrified… But I couldn't stop watching. I had to see where all of this was going.

This movie gave me the scariest viewing experience of my life, so of course it became a favorite that I have watched many times over the years. The fear I felt during that initial viewing has been replaced by an admiration for what Raimi and his collaborators were able to accomplish with this low budget production, but I still hold THE EVIL DEAD up as one of the best horror films ever made. It gains even more points from the fact that this is where we were introduced to the great Bruce Campbell, whose character Ash has very humble beginnings but would go on to become one of horror's greatest heroes.

Some fans prefer the films that followed in the series, but for me the scrappy, scary original remains the best.

"THE EVIL DEAD is a rock 'em, sock 'em rollercoaster ride of screaming horror … Robert Tapert, the producer, and myself, and Bruce Campbell wanted to make a film that would definitely entertain the horror crowd. We had sat in on a lot of drive-in movies and cheap horror theatres in Detroit, and most of the time we would watch films and they didn't deliver enough, that's what we felt. So we wanted to make one that would really knock 'em with a punch." – Sam Raimi, The Director's Series

Scariest Part: For me, the demon-possessed characters in this film are the most frightening characters ever put on film, because their behavior truly makes them seem like the inhabitants of Hell. These aren't chill zombies or a little girl spewing pea soup from the comfort of her bed, these are manic, cackling lunatics who are clearly deriving great pleasure from tormenting their victims physically and mentally. They are hyped up to maim and murder, and creatures like that are truly ones to fear. So the scariest part is any time these hideous monsters are relentlessly attacking potential victims.

Best Lines: "It is entitled Naturon Demonto, roughly translated, Book of the Dead. The book is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. It deals with demons, demon resurrection, and those forces which roam the forest and dark bowers of man's domain." "The only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the book is through the act of… bodily dismemberment." "We can't bury Shelly, she's a friend of ours." "It was the woods themselves. They've alive, Ashley, the trees. They're alive!" "We're gonna get you, we're gonna get you, not another peep, time to go to sleep." "I don't care what happens to her. She's your girlfriend, you take care of her." "I have seen the dark shadows moving in the woods and I have no doubt that whatever I have resurrected through this book is sure to come calling for me." "Why have you disturbed our sleep? Awakened us from our ancient slumber? You will die! Like the others before you. One by one we will take you." "For God's sake, what happened to her eyes?" "Join us!"

Gore and Nudity: THE EVIL DEAD was slapped with an X rating and deemed a "video nasty", banned in some countries – and it wasn't because of the nudity, although Sandweiss and Tilly/York did both provide brief glimpses of their breasts. The film truly delivers in the gore department, featuring disgusting sequences in which demon-possessed characters are hacked to pieces, spewing multiple colors of fluids as they sustain damage. At one point, claymation is even employed to show the breakdown of the demons. Somehow the DIY quality of the effects make them all the more disturbing and nauseating.

Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow Ups: A pair of increasingly comedic sequels, 1987's EVIL DEAD II and 1993's ARMY OF DARKNESS, weren't box office hits, but did prove to be quite popular with horror fans. The franchise went missing from cinema screens for a long time after the monetary failure of ARMY, but it was kept alive with video games, comic books, and a whole lot of home video re-releases. After New Line Cinema tried and failed to get the rights to use Ash in a sequel to 2003's FREDDY VS. JASON, Raimi and Campbell produced an EVIL DEAD remake in 2013. Two years later (and twenty-two years after ARMY OF DARKNESS), Campbell finally returned to the role of Ash in the Starz television series Ash vs. Evil Dead, which ran for three seasons and a total of 30 episodes.

"When we were raising money in Detroit, an old distributor told us, 'I'm gonna give you guys a piece of advice. If it's a horror movie, you've gotta keep the blood running down the screen. You've gotta have blood, if it's a horror movie, and a lot of it.'" – Bruce Campbell, Collider

Scare-O-Meter Score: While THE EVIL DEAD's dirt cheap aesthetic enhanced its effectiveness for me, that may be something other viewers will have to adjust to. If you can overlook the film's budgetary shortcomings and let yourself become enveloped in its dark, nightmarish atmosphere – while also pushing out any thoughts of how silly the franchise would become, and anything you know about Bruce Campbell – I think it still has the ability to scare and disturb. If you're not a young kid watching it by yourself in the middle of the night, it might not rank as the scariest movie you've ever seen like it does for me, but I think it ranks a solid 8/10 on the scare-o-meter.


My Favorite Scary Movie – THE CHANGELING (1980)

My Favorite Scary Movie – JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)

My Favorite Scary Movie – THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

Source: JoBlo

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.