Thursday, April 4, 2013

THURSDAY THROWBACK: The Evil Dead (1981)

The first thing I always remember is the thumping.  It sticks out in my head, that repetitive thump of the front porch swing against the side of the cabin.  It is a simple yet effective scene welcoming ominous dread, something that is well forgotten by the time all hell breaks loose in Sam Raimi's cult classic, The Evil Dead.  Banned in several countries and condemned for its gruesome nature upon its release, the film has since grown quaint - as most films of this type tend to do - but there is still something wonderfully charming and macabre about this legendary horror classic.  It stands the test of time for the very reason its effects are anything but special, because the acting is pure camp, and because the style and the elements of the film have been done and redone over the years in several ripoffs and clones.

Sam Raimi and his crew knew the budget they were working on with The Evil Dead, so they knew they must keep it simple.  Work with what you have and keep the blood flowing and the geek show elements coming.  Keeping it simple was a necessity more than a choice, but had it been anything else it would not be so revered by the swarms of horror geeks and fanboys around the world.  Even the cabin itself, which has since mysteriously burned down leaving nothing but a brick chimney, is a thing of legend.

The actors in The Evil Dead are perhaps the least important portions of the film, which is all plot as it should be.  Of course, the star Bruce Campbell has since become a cult legend among certain horror circles, building a fun and eclectic career after The Evil Dead and its two sequels.  But the rest of the cast is fairly obscure.  They are five friends, two guys and three girls, traveling to an abandoned cabin for the weekend.  You know the story.  When they arrive at the cabin, that dreadful thumping of the swing indicates a threat we have yet to see.  The fivesome do want all the teens in these films do, have dinner, drink, fornicate a little, and uncover a deadly secret in the basement involving burial grounds and demonic possession.  They discover a "Book of the Dead" and a foreboding tape recording from the cabin's previous inhabitants.  One by one the members of the group become possessed by these demonic forces and begin attacking one another.

It is not only the spirits or demons at play here; the forest around this cabin comes alive to try and kill these poor souls.
One infamous scene involves one of the girls, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is assaulted and raped by the roots and weeds of the forest.  Things escalate into bloody carnage and the Campbell character, Ash, is left to defend himself against the possessive forces.  Unfortunately, the only way to kill the demons once they have taken over a body is to dismember them.  You can imagine the tough choice Ash has to make as he holds a chainsaw over his white-eyed, demonic girlfriend.

The Evil Dead was filmed on a budget of $350,000 after a great number of donations, loans, and mortgages were put in place.  Raimi knew what he had working for him here.  Despite the lack of funds and the infamously difficult shoot (temperatures were below freezing the entire time), Raimi uses smoke and mirrors to get some wonderful effects.  Many shots early on, before the demons take center stage, are low angle POV shots that add a nervous tension.  There are a great number of Easter eggs throughout the film, including a poster for The Hills Have Eyes and a t shirt from Raimi's childhood summer camp.  Ever since its release, The Evil Dead has inspired countless ripoffs and homages, but there is no blame to be passed around to these films; Raimi did plenty of borrowing and winking here.  Despite the fact the actors (aside from Campbell) may have not done much beyond The Evil Dead, they can still take solace in the fact they were involved with one of the earliest and most charming, most cult, horror classics of all time.