Aggressively disturbing as a cult/splatter genre piece stoking paranoia in thrilling fog-set low-budget indie ways, The Evil Dead is a striking exposition of talent-over-resources with starmaking macabre_by_Raimi_&_Bruce_Cambell’s_Ash._8.7/10
Ash Williams, his girlfriend, and three pals hike into the woods to a cabin for a fun night away. There they find an old book, the Necronomicon, whose text reawakens the dead when it’s read aloud. The friends inadvertently release a flood of evil and must fight for their lives or become one of the evil dead. Ash watches his friends become possessed, and must make a difficult decision before daybreak to save his own life in this, the first of Sam Raimi’s trilogy.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: TN, 1982. A group of college students go away for a weekend in the woods, only to find themselves pawns in the sadistic games of an ancient curse. Sam Raimi shocked the world and made a name for himself with this bludgeoning tour-de-force, while he was still in high school nonetheless, and the flick still stands the test of time as one of the most innovative horror landmarks of All-Time. Aggressively disturbing as a cult/splatter genre piece stoking paranoia and fear of nature in thrilling fog-set low-budget indie ways, The Evil Dead is a striking exposition of talent-over-resources with starmaking macabre by Raimi and the inimitable efforts of Bruce Cambell as series-icon Ash.
The camerawork and score. From its first frame above the swampy waters of Tennesseean fall-set wilderness, what’s most noticeable about Raimi’s Evil Dead is the intriguing camerawork. Skimming just above the surface with camera movements actually convincing it’s some mysterious force’s POV, the film deserves mad props for intricacy and invention back in the comparatively-archaic ’80’s technologically. Tracking shots, overheads, quick cuts, pans, long takes, POV’s, and juxtapositions of subjects in every style in the book is utilized and flipped for a visual array of early brilliance foreshadowing great things for its filmmakers and Raimi. Their innovative fervor convalesces throughout the the film like in its decision to dive head first into the action seconds-in without build-up or foreplay. Equally as infectious is its soundscape of eerie synthy cascades, Victorian tones, primal chants/voices, and ominous feel admittedly fan-filmish in parts but refreshingly low budget & effectively serves its purpose in setting the stage for horror to be cranked out of the park by its locational scares.
The setting and horror. Easily the trademark and iconic part of The Evil Dead franchise is the horror, brought to life through its phenomenal cabin-in-the-woods locational setting reminiscent of the zombie-originator George A. Romero’s 1968 Night Of The Living Dead while also rife with dusky foggy woods and creepy atmospherics perfect for its pitch-back Necromonicon premise. The scares here are perhaps the most sadistic in the entire franchise’s history with enough ghastly macabre and supernatural to objectively certify its status as an iconic genre piece. Turning nature – a previously sacred/benevolent/godly/beautiful force into a horror force so scary it doesn’t just kill you but sends you to hell while possessing your body to be used as a makeshift zombie to ensure others get similar fates is genius in the most terrifying way. The woods even bludgeon and have their way with a girl as one of the most brilliant twistings of a previously-comforting or non-scary subject since Hitchcock’s The Birds and the classic Jaws. The scares are also powerful and brutal like in the hand grab from underground as the fright that’d make its way onto the cover and become franchise-defining, headless corpses gnawing away at Ash’s flesh, and squeezing eyes to burst once the zombies come to play. The zombies are absolutely sensational in CGI/make-up design looking DECADES ahead of their time in scarring white-eyed deep-growling smack-talking glory and power *sprinting* after you and turning your closest loved ones and friends into instruments of torture. Besides boosting classical zombie tropes, ED sneaks in some nice new abilities too like being able to guise as normal as well when desired for even more effective psychosis-heavy mind games or letting down your guard so they can get in close, and the only way to stop them being dismemberment by an axe or chainsaw in case the premise couldn’t possibly get any more twisted having to become a slasher and tear apart the people closest to you (while they beg for mercy sometimes too) in such a brutal manner to save them from permanent torture. Fiendishly inventive in premise.
Bruce Campbell’s Ash and legacy. The other separating factor between The Evil Dead that started it all and the rest of the series and other zombies, besides the quality of scares, is the character cast. We are introduced to Bruce Campbell’s career and series-defining Ash for the first time, and it’s easy to see why he became so famous for the role as the young, nimble, innocent kid whose life and destiny was changed forever by that one fateful night in the woods. He is meticulously developed across the film even leaving a lion’s share of the development for the rest of the series in one well-timed and brisk 1 hr 20 min time slot, and by film’s end well on his way to becoming the indescribably-badass macho-hero we know him as while also perfectly-able to rattle off jokes and comedic gags too for the series’ characteristic horror/comedy tonal balance only shown in glimpses here. The rest of the cast is great too – especially Richard DeManincor’s frat bro-turned-introspective Scott – as characters we surprisingly even grow to care about and definitely far above what any low-budget indie should offer, but none compare to Ash who – with Raimi – built an empire through this trend-setting, unbelievably-impressive reinvention of the zombie genre made astonishingly on a shoestring-budget as a beautiful exposition of the power of talent-over-resources for making timeless movie products.
Flaws include Linda, some zombie inconsistency in parts, and an extremely wonky CGI ending. Linda gets a little too shrill and goofy at times becoming kind of a nuisance by film’s end, some zombies are forces of nature unstoppable by even stronger adversaries while some just sit there and cackle hitting you with a.. stick, and the final book destruction scene is *way* too cartoonish and wonkily-CGI’d to take seriously overdoing even the rest of the film’s wild booming shenanigans bordering on just silliness.
Overall, The Evil Dead is an aggressively disturbing cult/splatter genre piece stoking paranoia and fear of nature in thrilling fog-set low-budget indie ways. A striking exposition of talent-over-resources with starmaking macabre by Raimi and the inimitable efforts of Bruce Cambell as series-icon Ash, the movie exemplifies all the best things – and what I love so much – of the artform of film as one of the best zombie products ever made.
Overall Rating: 8.7/10