Archive Review: The Evil Dead (1981)

I feel like everything I’ve posted for my horror archive reviews this month has been a film that received or will receive a remake! This “Evil Dead” review comes from July 25, 2011.

You might never suspect a relationship between horror and comedy — which means you’ve never seen a Sam Raimi horror film. Although some of us have drawn a line in the sand between the two genres, those who haven’t will appreciate if not love “The Evil Dead.” Raimi recognizes that horror is kind of an absurd genre in itself and that our capacity to fear and to laugh exist on the same spectrum. If you let yourself experience both on the wacky 85-minute ride that is “Evil Dead,” you’re bound to appreciate the way he plays with both.

Undoubtedly inspired by “Night of the Living Dead,” the film centers on five young adults who decide to stay at a cabin (arguably a shack) for a weekend in the middle of nowhere Tennessee. After experiencing some strange activity they come upon a book and a recording of a man reading incantations from it. These incantations awaken flesh-possessing spirits that live in the woods.

Rather than an “us against them” horror film where a group of people have to avoid getting picked off one by one at the hands of something(s), the film takes more of the zombie angle with characters “turning” into evil undead creatures. The cast is also small, so the events are character-focused and more intense.

Bruce Campbell leads the way as Ash. There’s no real way to describe Ash, except he’s more of a softie for a leading character.

Part of the great/annoying part about “Evil Dead” is how the main characters never act like you want them to. You want to scream at them to hurry up and grab something that can be used as a weapon and pound the crap out of the possessed undead people. Because the characters are a bit hollow and we’ve been exposed to films like this before, we have no sympathy when a good character turns. They need to die and die fast, but the characters remain hesitant because technically these possessed gnarly creatures are their friends. Consequently, Ash is a dumb sucker that probably deserves to die with everyone else in the cabin.

That said, there’s an odd pleasure in that kind of psychological toying with our minds. Raimi executes horror with strong build up and off-the-wall payoff. We writhe until the last second and then the zombie guts hit the fan time and time again. And he never completely lets go of the leash; everything goes back down to an eerie calm and builds back up again until the climactic scene. Although for all intents and purpose “Evil Dead” is a camp-fest, that technique suggests Raimi’s interest lies in keeping us spooked.

All things considered, any film that can depict a woman being “raped by the woods” (yes, the collective entity of “the woods”) that still manages to leave a good lasting impression deserves its cult-classic status.


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