$2.50 Reviews: The Evil Dead (1981)

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$2.50 Reviews

The Evil Dead


A short time before The Evil Dead was created, director Sam Reimi along with star Bruce Campbell shot the short film Within the Woods, which convinced investors that the pair had the ability to create a low budget horror film. Given less than $400,000, they created The Evil Dead, and probably became best friends on the process, although reports on that one are unconfirmed. Regardless, Campbell is front and center in this film, and with Reimi at the helm, you can be in for anything.


"Anything" is just about an apt description of the events that unfold over the course of the film. The basic plot line is something you're going to be familiar with. Five young adults are going to a run-down cabin in the woods, across a creaky bridge, and isolated from absolutely everyone. They rented it for cheap, so their expectations aren't that high, but apart from things moving on their own and then suddenly stopping, it doesn't seem too bad. That is, until they find an odd book and a recording which recites some incantation that sounds kind of funny. Maybe it was Latin; I honestly don't care enough to look it up.

They're told that the book is called "The Book of the Dead," which would be reason enough for me to turn off the recording and head home. Curious, they play the recording even after it tells them that the incantations can resurrect spirits -- because who honestly believes that? -- and soon enough, the spirits of the dead are coming for them. One of the women is possessed, other nastiness occurs, and it's all kind of scary and kind of funny at the same time.

It's also very bloody, and if you don't like seeing copious amounts of fake blood being thrown at the characters, then you'll want to avoid The Evil Dead. This isn't a film for everyone, and if you really hate cartoonish violence and gore, then there are better films for you to see. You'll also probably want to put aside this one if you're hoping to be scared, as there are only a few genuinely scary moments, with most of the film being too silly to actually frighten. Sure, there are a couple of parts that might make you jump, but when the tone is so light, it's hard to take it seriously.


That's not to say that I think the intent of the filmmakers was to make a serious horror film, as if it was, they went about it all the wrong ways. The extreme camera angles, the aforementioned blood, the laughable dialogue -- it's clear that the film was aimed to be more of a comedy than a horror film. I mean, even the story is ridiculous when you get right down to it. You could argue that about many horror films, but they play it straight, whereas The Evil Dead winks at you while it's playing.

It does take a long time to get to this point, however, which is a problem. The first thirty minutes or so involve cheap fake-scares like the bridge kind of falling apart while they're driving over it, or a swing set that is having a little too much fun swinging by itself without any wind, and while build-up like this can work in some horror films, it doesn't work here. I was already tired of the film before anything major happened, and it was hard to get into it after the real horror starts. The film eventually won me over, but it took way longer than it realistically should have.

The characters are all underdeveloped, and apart from Bruce Campell's character, Ash, they could all be the same person. He only stands out because he's quite clearly the lead, and gets the camera pointed at his face the most frequently. They're all there to either die or be covered in blood from another person's death, and while they all serve that function, I can't help but wish that another character or two would have stood out. I can't even remember their names, as it's impossible to care about them once you realize their purpose.


The special effects are also terrible, although do you expect more from a film made in 1981 with a budget of under $400,000? I'm not saying that necessarily as a negative, as it helps with the whole cheesy aesthetic, but if terrible effects take you out of a film, then they might bother you a lot in The Evil Dead. Setting most of the film in the dark helps hide them, but there are certain parts that look so terrible that you can't help but laugh.

Perhaps the most impressive part about The Evil Dead is the camerawork, which is used in an unconventional way. Frequently it'll go into a POV tracking shot of some unseen force, or an extreme angle that's rarely used in most films. It actually draws attention to itself because of the way that cinematographer Tim Philo moves the camera around. But just watching the different shots is something that I could do for an hour and a half, and in the slower first third, that's what I focused the most on.

The Evil Dead is a good film that mixes scares and laughs fairly well. I don't think it's great, largely due to a lack of interesting characters and a very slow build-up before the excrement hits the fan, but once it gets rolling, it doesn't stop, and becomes very enjoyable. It's a cheap horror-comedy, but that helps it sell itself to us. If it's not taking itself too seriously, why should we? There's no answer apart from "we shouldn't" that I can give you.


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i was actually kinda disappointed when i watched this film way back because i watched army of darkness first and that one doesn't even try to be scary, so watching the this one was really not what i expected

The one scene in the movie that really made my skin crawl (And kind of turned my stomach a bit, no lie), was the scene with the body decomposing. That was incredibly freaky (to me).

It isn't bad, although compared to Evil Dead 2, It's not the best, but it did start the ball on Evil Dead franchising (and compared to Army of Darkness, it's leaps and bounds better, honestly).

Not bad.

I actually find the first Evil Dead to be a legitimately scary movie. Sure there are some pretty hammy performances, and that really cheesy horror organ dramatic music, but those are the only things that detract from the movie for me. I actually thought the effects were great, especially considering the budget, lots of great practical effects, and fantastic make-up. I consider the possessed girl poking it's head up from the cellar door to be one of the most iconic shots in horror movie history, it's been many years since I've seen this, but that's something that really stayed with me and I can instantly picture it exactly.

I do generally enjoy Evil Dead 2 more, because it took that bit of camp from this and ran with it in some pretty awesome directions, but I wouldn't consider it a serious horror movie for exactly that reason. But with the original I get the sense that they were actually trying to do horror, and I'd say it's pretty effective if you are just able to look passed a few small things.


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