There have been several times when I have seen the sequel to a film before I’ve seen the original. Most notably, I saw Return of the Jedi at the cinema (three times) before I’d seen The Empire Strikes Back (and don’t give me any shit about the first Star Wars movie, Empire and Jedi travel as a pair). In that case I was fortunate when I did get to see Empire as it’s a great movie, and quickly became my favourite of the Star Wars flicks. I saw Exorcist 3 before I saw the original too, but again that was OK as The Exorcist is a masterpiece. It’s proper disappointing when you end up watching a sequel first and then the original turns out to be dung, but the fact that most follow-ups are weaker than their predecessor normally saves you from this happening.
Directed by Sam Raimi, The Evil Dead (1981) tells of a group of five college kids, Cheryl, Shelly, Linda, Scotty, and Ash (Bruce Campbell – there’s a reason I’m not naming the other actors, but we’ll get to that) heading off to a remote cabin for a quiet weekend. The cabin is way off out in the woods and is a bit of a dump, having been closed up for some time. Once in the cabin, the kids settle down to dinner but are disturbed by the cellar door flying open of its own accord.
Scotty and Ash go to investigate and discover some of the belongings of the previous occupants, notably a tape recorder and a creepy book. Taking them back upstairs the gang listen to the tape in the recorder and discover that it contains the notes of a researcher who was working on the contents of the book. The book, bound with human skin and written in blood, is filled with incantations and spells and as the recorded voice on the tape reads them out, demons are summoned to woods around the cabin.
One by one, the kids are possessed by demons and terrible, violent things happen to them. But even when the terrible things kill them that isn’t the end as they rise as “deadites” who try to ensure that everyone in the group suffers the same fate.
Evil Dead is a film that’s hard to categorise. To most it’s an obvious horror, to others a cult comedy. I can’t help but think that it was meant to be a serious horror film but audiences find Sam Raimi’s directing style unintentionally funny. Raimi’s films are easy to spot in the way certain effects are always used and certain characters styled; they often feel like film adaptations of comics, even the ones that aren’t (unlike Spider-Man, obviously), just think of his TV work including Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
I didn’t find Evil Dead to be all that funny, but then I’m not a huge fan of Raimi’s other big horror film, so I wasn’t going to be especially kind to this effort, but while watching it I couldn’t find anything to be kind about anyway, so no harm done. Evil Dead, despite its cult following, is a crap-fest. The story is reasonable though borderline silly but the script is woeful dirt and the performances are appalling, though not without good reason.
For such a small movie, Evil Dead took a good long while to make, with a production schedule that went on for over a year. This had an unusual effect on the film in that all of the actors were at some point missing from the production, so there’s a high use of stand-ins and body doubles, some of which are really obvious. There was one actor, however, who managed to appear in all their scenes without the use of an understudy, so it’s no wonder that only one actor from Evil Dead made something of a career for themselves – Bruce Campbell! But let’s not get carried away with praise for Bruce, his best work was very much ahead of him when he was making Evil Dead and his acting in this film was really just the best of a bad bunch (for anyone who’s interested, Campbell’s best work is Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness)
The effects, which became a bit of a trademark for Raimi, are probably the best thing in Evil Dead and when it was first released the film suffered at the hands of censors due to the gory violence portrayed. Scenes of bodies getting hacked up or trees coming to life in the woods were well done for the time, but the make-up effects of the deadites were shamefully bad, looking like something children would do for Halloween as opposed to something from a movie.
Evil Dead did become a cult success and thankfully spawned a better sequel and propelled Bruce Campbell to mediocre success (though he should have been a bigger star as his acting did improve greatly). Evil Dead is a bad film that’s worth seeing as it serves as a warning to us all – just because something gets “cult status” doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Two Thumbs Down for The Evil Dead.