At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Evil Dead “81”

MPAA Rating: R /Genre: Horror/ Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly/ Runtime: 85 minutes

Before he became part of the Hollywood mainstream with his Spider-Man trilogy, and before this whole thing ever became a bona fide cult franchise and its main star a horror film icon, Sam Raimi was just an ordinary guy who got together with some friends and decided to make an extremely low budget horror flick about the undead for no other reason than just for the fun of it. Yet somehow and against all odds this little horror film that could not only became a box office success, but in the years since its release has also become known by both critics and fans as a true masterpiece that manages to shock, repulse, and terrify in equal measure. Indeed most likely one of the best-case scenarios, beside Halloween from 1978, on just how to make a truly thrilling and engaging cinematic adventure on a slim to none budget, The Evil Dead manages to do a remarkable job in actually following through on just what exactly it promises movie goers in spite of not only the aforementioned budget, but also some incredibly iffy acting from the cast. Despite those stumbling blocks however, I still feel that The Evil Dead is still a successful exercise in managing in equal measure to both shock and chill its intended audience through a combination of both a chilling to the bone-style atmosphere as well as easily some of the most gruesome effects that a filmmaker ever dared to put in a film before. Suffice it to say then that if you are an individual who is even the tiniest bit squeamish in any way, sort, or fashion then you need not apply to watch this movie. In fact I would go so far as to say run. Run far away and never look back. As for those of you who can stomach it, I promise you this will most certainly be worth your time and energy to sit through time and time again because it is a winner through and through.

The plot is as follows: The Evil Dead tells the story of a group of five friends who decide to take a drive to a small cabin located deep in the woods in order to get away for a little while and enjoy a small vacation of sorts in each other’s company. Yet while exploring the cabin their first night, our intrepid group stumbles upon a mysterious book and with it an old vintage tape recorder that comes equipped with a message from the last owner of the cabin. Being young and stupid our group decides to play the tape only to quickly and horrifically discover that there’s a reason no one has lived in this cabin in the woods in a long, long time and that their relaxing getaway has now turned into a terrifying battle for survival…..

Now in my opinion I feel that there are several key elements that really help elevate this film and help it succeed as much as it does. First and foremost, I feel is the fact that for a, at that time, first-time film director Sam Raimi’s camera work in this film is truly the work of a master filmmaker. Indeed through the utilization of both some truly aggressive shots as well as some blisteringly paced work with the camera, Raimi has managed to construct a creepy setting that is simultaneously difficult to really want to look at yet is also way too intriguing to fully turn your back on completely. Indeed this unmistakable style and class behind the camera is brilliantly showcased right off the bat when through camerawork alone, Raimi manages to construct such a strong sense of atmosphere that it will literally have you on the edge of your seat with fear and anticipation as to what is going to happen in this film. Indeed it almost feels like at any moment someone is about to get attacked by a member of the undead that is just slightly obscured from our sight. Yet as wonderful both in regards towards its pacing as well as the atmosphere that it instantly sets for the rest of the film as the opening it is, the film just simply gets even better once things quickly start going downhill. This is because you will most definitely find yourself torn due to the fact that although a chunk of who you are will want the practically unrestrained and seemingly free-flowing gore and violence to halt let alone stop there will be another section to yourself that is actually, in some sick, twisted, demented way, enjoying it through and through. Indeed this is not just classic human nature on display, but also a true glimpse into just how truly majestic it can be when it comes to what the right director can bring to the table when presented with the right material.

Now I feel that another reason that The Evil Dead is able to succeed as much as it does is due to the fact that this film possesses an extraordinary self-awareness of its identity as no more and no less than a simple horror film about the undead. As such, the film then elects to never take itself seriously and also makes the audience aware that they don’t have to anymore than the filmmakers did. Suffice it to say then that this movie is purposely designed to be campy, cheesy, revolting and chilling all at once. Indeed I can honestly say that there are a few instances within the film where it definitely makes fun not only of what’s going on in the film, but also of the horror genre as a whole. Thus I feel it is safe to say that because of this, you most certainly can’t really utilize aspects such as unusual acting from this film’s supporting cast as well as just how unlikely specific events that occur in the film when the film is choosing to do this on purpose. Now if you are the kind of audience member who can find it within their heart to accept that this coupled with extreme and over-the-top gore is what you are getting into then you will most likely love this movie. Now to be fair I have heard and read some detractor reviews for this film, and I think that the main reason that these people aren’t on board with this is because despite the film meaning to be as ridiculous and over-the-top as possible in certain moments, some people can’t quite gel with that particular concept. Yet regardless of the cheese and camp factor, it should also be said that there are some instances in this film that will actually send a shiver down your spine. Indeed it doesn’t matter if it’s the card-guessing scene, the undead’s screams from the cellar, the undead’s laughter and howls, or even the infamous tree gone wild scene these are all instances that are both potent and quite effectively utilized within the film.

Now the acting in this film, for the most part, is nothing to really write home about yet I feel that this really helps the movie out. I say this because the performances feel more like how real people would act, both the good and the bad, if faced with such a crisis. That and since the people aren’t exactly movie stars it definitely makes it easier for an audience to relate to these characters due to seeing either their friends or even themselves going through this living nightmare. Now I said for the most part at the top of this section because there is one performance above all others which deserves all the attention and hype that it has gotten since the film’s initial release. I am of course talking about Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. Indeed make no mistake; this is already a gripping movie, but when paired with this kind of engaging performance it becomes something else entirely. Indeed it may not be the heroically stoic yet also quippy performance that the later installments showcase, but that’s because this is the beginning of Ash’s journey towards becoming that hero. A journey that, due to not really wanting any part in this fight whatsoever, begins with him actually being prone to the very real human emotions of fear, cowardice, and even doubt. Yet I think that relatability is exactly why people not only love the character, but also appreciate with a passion the performer who brought him so vividly to life. Indeed much in the same way that Tony Todd IS Candyman, I feel the same can be said for Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. There is no other, there can be no other, and to try would be absolutely insane.

All in all The Evil Dead is truly both a miracle and also one hell of a terrifying ride. Indeed here is a film that was made on a rock bottom budget yet is leaps and bounds both scarier and more creative and engaging than a lot of these so-called Hollywood “horror” films that are made every year for 10-20 million dollars could ever in their most frightening nightmares ever truly hope or aspire to be. Indeed make no mistake: if what you as a movie lover want is have a terrifying and unique horror experience unlike any other then you should definitely check this movie out. Indeed unlike a lot of other horror films this one not only knows what it wants, but it also knows how to make you terrified beyond belief. So go ahead movie goer watch this film and be afraid. Be very afraid. Who knows? You may never look at a forest the same way again, but then again I think the same will also be said about what a horror film can and can’t possibly hope to accomplish and that, in a word, is quite….groovy. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Evil Dead “81” a solid 4 out of 5.