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The Filmaholic RetroReviews: The Evil Dead (1981)

Posted on the 04 April 2013 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews

The Filmaholic RetroReviews: The Evil Dead (1981)
The Lowdown: Any fan of horror films knows of The Evil Dead. It is an essential cult horror classic in every sense, from the super low budget to the cheesy acting and effects. The Evil Dead was the first large-scale feature film by Sam Raimi, who would later make the Spider-Man trilogy and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). But before he went the CGI route, he was limited to practical effects and creative camerawork, both of which hold up very well even today. The Evil Dead is about as campy and cheesy as they come, but it is also surprisingly frightening and gruesome. They really don’t make them like they used to.

The Filmaholic RetroReviews: The Evil Dead (1981)


1. The Plot: See if you’ve heard this one before. A group of young friends rent a creepy cabin in the woods for a getaway, but there are evil spirits in this cabin. The evil spirits get released and begin to possess each person, one by one, and it is up to Ash (Bruce Campbell) to survive. Obviously, this script is the pinnacle of originality.    Actually, it isn’t but whatever. This was 1981, a simpler time. Simple actually works better here because the film doesn’t need much of a story anyways. It just needs an excuse for disturbing, nasty stuff to happen, and boy, does it.
2. The Characters:The acting in this film is about the same quality as you would find in most B-movies: cheesy, overdone, and hilarious. For a low-budget film such as this however, one would not and should not expect Oscar-worthy delivery. The poor acting really adds a new level of camp to the proceedings however, with Bruce Campbell delivering one of the best worst performances I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Bruce Campbell, who would later appear in the cult horror classics Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1991), demonstrates that he is the master of campy B-movie acting. Occasionally he can pull off a convincing bout of terror, but usually he either underacts, like when delivering dialogue, or overacts, like when he’s being attacked by a possessed friend. Bruce, you’re a professional.
The Filmaholic RetroReviews: The Evil Dead (1981)

3. Cult Horror Trends:a) Low Budget: Films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Blair Witch Project (1996), and Paranormal Activity (2007) were made with the money that Michael Bay would probably blow on 20 seconds of a Transformers film. The Evil Dead is no exception. The budget was only about $375,000, which doesn’t seem like much, but making a film is expensive. Filming equipment, location shooting, and cast and crew salaries add up. Part of the reason why it took so long to complete The Evil Dead(production ran from 1979 to 1981) is because Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell had to scramble around to get funding.

b) An Arduous Filming Experience: No film project is complete without hardships, and production of The Evil Dead was plagued with problems. Aside from the difficulty finding funding for the film, there was also the issue of filming on location. The cabin in the woods was apparently a real cabin, but it first had to be extensively remodeled. Filming ended up taking place in freezing cold temperatures, such so that equipment would freeze and have to be thawed. This is analogous to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which was filmed in Texas in scorching hot temperatures. The famous dinner table scene in the film took up a large portion of filming, but the set had no air conditioning, so the actors, some of whom were in heavy makeup and costumes, had no choice but to sweat it out. The food on the table was real, but began to rot in the hot temperatures, adding to the stench.
4. Overall Quality:For a film that was made on only $375,000, it is surprising how well made it is. The creative camera angles and multiple tracking shots present in the film seem to be a result of a combination of innovation and improvisation. By that, I mean that there is a clear “old-school” style of filmmaking that was used to make the film. Camera placement, framing, and lighting are actually used effectively here, but in the old-fashioned way. It lends a more organic, natural, gritty feel to the film, and that adds to the film’s scariness.    I can’t forget the practical effects. While fake and cheesy-looking by today’s standards, there is still an element of quality to the special effects. The blood and guts are overexaggerated, but still incredibly graphic and disgusting. For instance, there is a scene where Ash gouges out the eyes of one of his possessed friends, and the sheer amount of blood is enough to make you cringe. It also looks like a heavy amount of stop-motion animation was used for certain scenes, such as when Ash’s possessed friends are disintegrating into green mush. The fact that this was all done back before the innovation of CGI just makes The Evil Dead that much greater of an accomplishment.    That said, it is clear that Sam Raimi worked his ass off to make this film. Dedication is important for a film project, and it is clear from watching the film that Sam Raimi gave it his all. Nothing motivates a person more than when he or she has limited options and has to use his or her intelligence and creativity to make the best of the situation. I have respect for Sam Raimi for all the crap he had to endure to make this film, which would end up kicking off his career as a successful commercial director. Hard work does pay off, in this case for both the director and fans of the film.
The Bottom Line: The Evil Dead is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in horror films or filmmaking. The film is a cult classic because it has the perfect blend of horror and comedy, with Bruce Campbell being the most hilarious part of the film. It also happens to be surprisingly gruesome and violent; in fact, it earned an NC-17 rating back when it was released. Though it is “tame” by today’s standards, imagine the impact it had back when it was first released. When viewed as a film project, The Evil Dead is more impactful knowing of all the hardships that the cast and crew faced while making the film, and how these hardships motivated them to work their hardest to make the best film that they could with what they had. I am happy to say that it paid off. The Evil Dead comes highly recommended, but probably not for the kids.
The Evil Deadis property of Renaissance Pictures. This review was written by me.
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