Cringe! Cringe away at the cheesy amateur acting of the opening scenes. All will be forgiven if you end up sticking with it, because it pays off!
Pure love of film and horror, blood, sweat and tears of three aspiring filmmakers and a handful of friends and actors. Evil Dead (1981) is by far the king of the video nasties. Born of a cult following, the film spawned two sequels that to this day have reached generations of horror fanatics alike, becoming immortalised within film history.
Bruce ‘The Chin’ Campbell, Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert came to know one another in their college years. They had worked on various shorts, paying particular interest to their comic creativeness. It wasn’t until they had finalised the comedy its Murder! and In the Woods, their first real crack at the Horror genre that they realised, going back to their everyday lives was no longer an option. They had found their calling and no lack of money, equipment or vast crew was going stand in their way. How grateful we all are for that decision, soon after Raimi began work on scripting for ‘The Book of The Dead’, later to be changed by executives to the commercially more profitable sounding ‘Evil Dead’.
The film follows five twenty somethings off to a deserted cabin in the woods, nothing out of the ordinary here then. Wait for it though, once the cloud from the fog machine clears we can get stuck into the good old fashioned blood and guts. I am a fan of CGI, when needed, but for me the old school effects win hands down every time. A tape recording, harmless bit of fun, turns out to be the reciting to wake the Necronimnon – The Evil Dead. One by one they are picked off by spirits that turn them into zombies. It becomes a fantastic combination of slap stick, or splat stick as some may prefer, and mass frenzied chopping of body parts.
The protagonist of this epic journey is Ash (Campbell), becoming the sole survivor and our chain saw wielding hero. The sequel, Evil Dead 2 (1987) became even more laugh-out-loud with its fragmented opening that relates in no way to the ending of the first film. By the third, Evil Dead 3 Army of Darkness (1992), we had cinematic gold created in one-liners such as ‘hail to the King Baby’ and not forgetting Bruce’s iconic ‘Boom Stick!’.
Their ‘rookie’ mash-up of classics such as ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Night of The Living Dead’ with their own rough camera and sound techniques made for shock factor viewing. So unapologetically gruesome and full on that the majority of US Distributors would not touch it. Headlines hit around the world, covering tabloids in London, with Raimi even being summoned to an English court to defend it.
Rather than holding them back, this only fuelled interest into the movie further, with people desperate to see anything that had been branded a nasty. The future success of the trilogy was with the hands of Europe. Despite receiving mixed reviews the film grew by the power of a cult following armed with VHS copies. Evil Dead premiere to an American audience on October 15 1981, grossing $2,400,000 against a $400,000 budget.
For me what really makes me appreciate this trilogy is the knowledge that cast and crew endured for their art. The turn round for the cast was incredible, Campbell himself had to stand in many times as a fake ‘Shemp’ (Zombie) but who could blame them. Enduring cold, sleepless nights in a real abandoned cabin, and not even being payed for it!
I love each instalment equally, but for different reasons, here is a rundown of each;
It’s the little things that count, from using creamed corn that they had dyed Green for the Zombies Intestines, to the holes cut into the floor for the actors to place their real body parts against mutilated ones. The dialogue may lack imagination and the characters laughable, but it is essentially a good old laugh riot and a welcoming contrast from the films we know today. How many actors would endure the intense pain of wearing opaque contact lenses 24/7, just so their Shemps would look awesome.
Evil Dead 2
Knowing how a magic trick was done never did spoil it for me, just made me probe further, and that’s exactly how I feel about this. Evil Dead 2 made way for Campbell to take his crown as the king of reverse acting. One scene in particular always sticks in my mind in which Bruce is locked in an epic battle with his own possessed hand, applauded by Raimi for making it so believable . This technique was used throughout the whole franchise. The additional characters such as the local hick couple and the historian searching for her father and his book are killed off by the end, leaving Ash sucked into a vortex of evil.
Evil Dead 3 – Army of Darkness
Although still a good ride, what may bother many fans is the clear evidence of studio intervention. For funding purposes the pressure to tone down and hold back the essence of what makes Evil Dead just so good quite clearly got the better of Raimi. So much so that there were two separate endings shot. The first an apocalyptic final with Ash transported to a war torn future, the second a family friendly boy kills zombie and gets the girl finish.
The Evil Dead films are one of the most enjoyable cult franchises of the last 30 years. If you haven’t seen it I suggest you do so immediately.