Cinophile: THE EVIL DEAD

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Is The Evil Dead the original ‘cabin in the woods’ movie? That is a matter of debate. You could make that argument for earlier works like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th, though neither centred their horror around a particular structure.

But even if it didn’t invent isolated, dilapidated cabins that contain unspeakable evil, The Evil Dead definitely popularised it. There have been countless horrors that tap into cabin fever and almost all of them pay homage to The Evil Dead. Cabin In The Woods used a practically identical cabin as one of its many hat tips towards the 1981 classic.

That is not to mention that The Evil Dead has been a very successful franchise. Yet the first movie is an outlier. Evil Dead II was by all measures an elaborate remake of the first film, but it turned the series towards comedy, something reinforced by Army of Darkness. Pretty much all the comics, games and everything else labelled ‘Evil Dead’ has followed that mould. Only the 2013 remake, Evil Dead, returned the series to its bloody, nasty roots.

The Evil Dead was a game changer. Even though the early eighties could offer some really edgy horrors (the most notorious being the still-shocking Cannibal Holocaust). Mainstream scary movies didn’t really push the envelope. But then this low-budget shocker came along, proving that horror fans have an appetite for some truly outrageous ideas. ‘Bloody’ barely covers the description for The Evil Dead, which was so soaked in the red stuff that legend has it the main actor’s shirt started simply cracking due to all the dried fake haemoglobin covering him.

It’s a familiar story: a group of friends go to an isolated cabin for a weekend getaway, but end up unleashing an ancient evil. In this case it’s through the series’ staple book, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, and soon both people and objects become possessed. These ancient spirits are not to be appeased, but they aren’t in a rush either, constantly teasing and manipulating the people until their sanity gives in or they simply get possessed.

There is not a lot of plot to go with The Evil Dead. But it makes up for that with the claustrophobic environment, many shocking and ridiculous scenes, and lots of gore. But the real star is Bruce Campbell’s Ash. His manic acting and totally OTT responses to the evil attacks not only made The Evil Dead, but forged the series.

A bit like Alien is often pushed aside for its sequel Aliens, The Evil Dead is overshadowed by Evil Dead II. The latter routinely frequents lists about the best horrors or best movies. Many of the one-line gags and such are associated with The Evil Dead‘s two sequels. It’s a sad demotion, because The Evil Dead is the best of the series. Yes, the sequel did improve it, but also lost something with its slightly more PG approach.

The Evil Dead doesn’t care about creating laughs or punchy dialogue. It was made with a passion and fury that movies with tight budgets and great vision tend to resonate.

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The iconic first person shots of the evil spirits moving through the forest were shot by trapping the camera to a plank. Two people would carry the rig on either side and run to create the eerie floating effect.
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In the basement of the cabin is a torn poster of The Hills Have Eyes. This was director Sam Raimi poking fun at Wes Craven, who had placed a torn poster of Jaws in the caravan of his horror movie. Craven returned the favour: you can briefly see Evil Dead play on a tv on A Nightmare On Elm Street.
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Originally called Book of the Dead, the film’s producer changes it to The Evil Dead, fearing the literary reference would put teenage audiences off. Other names included Blood Flood and Fe-Monsters.
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Steven King was a champion of the film. He penned a very flattering review of it after seeing The Evil Dead at Cannes and his quotes were used as part of the film’s marketing. King would later criticise Germany’s banning of the film and subsequently convince backers to create the now-legendary sequel.

  Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: June 29, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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