Procrastrospection: The Evil Dead

Every once in a while, I find myself wanting to put together a review of something. The trick is, I don’t want to be burdened by the need to avoid spoilers. That’s where Procrastrospection fits in; I can review things that are old enough that the spoiler window has closed.

The Evil Dead (1979)

While I was pondering exactly what I should do my first overly-belated review about, I stumbled on a couple of simple truths.

The first truth? It’s October, and that means that the time is ripe to talk about one of my favorite genres of film: horror. It’s often closely tied to comedy, just with a bit more of the grotesque added to it.

The second truth? Bruce Campbell is pretty damned awesome. There is no arguing with this point. In fact, the last person who thought about arguing with this point is still wandering around the Pacific Northwest somewhere with a giant chin print in their forehead.

So I decided to combine those two things together, and talk about one of my favorite horror films of all time, The Evil Dead. And yes, I’m talking about the 1979 version. Or, for those of you who go by theatrical release date, the 1981 version. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the update to this classic, as well, but there’s a large part of me who feels that, without The Evil Dead (original recipe), there is a large swath of horror movies that simply never would have been made.

For those that don’t know, this was a movie made on a shoestring budget by a few people who thought that they’d just go ahead and make a horror movie. Along the way, Sam Raimi had to develop new methods of filming certain shots, largely due to budgetary needs. Oh, and, according to many reports, Raimi enjoyed putting his actors (in most cases, his friends) through misery, just to get exactly the right emotion for the shot. So, basically, it wasn’t really all that different from most college film projects. The difference was that Raimi and crew happened to catch a little lightning in a bottle.

The film opens with a group of college kids going on spring break. And, like college kids were inclined to do in the late 70’s/early 80’s, they decide that Florida has nothing that interests them, and they instead head to a remote cabin. Totally understandable line of thinking. I mean, why on earth would you want to spend a week out in the sun, with people wearing tiny little bathing suits (if they’re wearing anything at all), frolicking along the beach, and getting wasted on whatever cheap beer was available at the time (was Schlitz still a thing then?) when you can instead wander off into the woods to a dirty, rundown cabin?

Oh, right. College kids. Clearly they were from one of the Big Ten colleges.

Anyway, the kids get to the cottage, and all hell breaks loose. Literally. In scenes that have since been directly ripped off, paid homage to, and parodied, the kids do exactly what people should never do in a horror film, ranging from reading the creepy ancient book that has warnings against reading it, to splitting the party, to just not getting the hell out of Dodge after things start to go badly.

And, because this is a horror movie, things do go badly. In fact, once the dust settles, and our intrepid “hero” has seen the dawn, that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear.

Of course not. He’s got at least two sequels to go.

The Evil Dead is the start of a trilogy, and is probably the most standard “horror” of them all. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its comedic moments, but that the comedy is much less broadly painted. In fact, if anything, it dances much closer to black comedy, since so much of the violence of the film is created with a firm basis in Raimi and Campbell’s love of The Three Stooges. The scares, while they may seem tame to a generation raised on torture porn, still stand up if you’re in the right mood for it. And, well, you can’t watch this film and then look at trees quite the same way immediately thereafter.

This film was not only the first feature film for a number of people involved, but it spawned a character who, over time, became synonymous with the term “bad ass”. Ashley Williams, portrayed by Bruce Campbell, is, to most people’s understandings, a chain saw-wielding, smack-talking, lady-getting bonafide hero. People have shrines to Ash. Campbell himself parodied the character (and the insane following that it’s gotten) in My Name is Bruce. However, in this film, Ash is not the hero that most fans know him as. Sure, the basis of the later heroism is there. But, for the most part, throughout the entirety of The Evil Dead, Ash is just a guy who happens to have been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, while he does survive (he has to, the sequels tell us this), he does so after having overcome his own terror. This Ash is, in many ways, an audience surrogate, in contrast with the later Ash shown throughout the series, who is the surrogate the audience wants to be.

The Evil Dead is a film that still stands up. Sure, the scares may not be quite as powerful as they once were, and the acting might be a little wooden (like no actor has ever survived with wooden acting, right, Keanu Reeves?), but the film, which was really just a crazy idea thrown together by a couple of friends, still stands the test of time. It has definitely shown itself to be an influence, and it isn’t a coincidence that Cabin in the Woods (a more recent favorite from the genre) shares a lot of similarity with The Evil Dead.

Besides, without The Evil Dead, we might never have gotten to experience the glory that is Bruce Campbell, our knowledge of Ted Raimi might have been relegated to nothing but seaQuest DSV, and Spider-Man might never have had the opportunity to get a dance break.

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