A weekend retreat at a cabin in the woods takes a dark turn when demons are summoned.
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Bruce Campbell, Becky Baker, and Ellen Sandweiss
Review by Jon Kissel
Absurd behavior meant to reward the audience with the action and gore the film exists to deliver wouldn’t be the worst thing, except that a movie can split the difference between making its characters into recognizable people while also putting them through the meat grinder. I think Raimi extends this courtesy to his lifelong chum Bruce Campbell as Ash, even when he’s dousing him in blood and blood-like substances. I certainly don’t think it extends to Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), the victim of the infamous molesting tree. The scene of her being stripped naked, with a close-up on her exposed breast, is sick, both in what it is here and in how it’ll probably inspire so many other exploitation directors to mix some titillation in with their horror. This sours the whole movie and makes whatever comes after less fun that it’s intended to be, a shame because Sandweiss, stuck in the cellar as the first possessed, is otherwise giving a strong physical performance while saddled with prosthetic makeup and thick contacts.
With some tasteful editing and a little consideration of human responses, what shines in the Evil Dead would come through all the more. Raimi does cast a spell, where the obvious fakeness of the makeup and special effects doesn’t prevent it from being visceral and unnerving and gross, this time in a good way. The sounds generated by the effects team and the actors themselves are creepy and memorable, in particular the incessant giggling of Ash’s girlfriend Linda (Becky Baker). The body horror fan in me appreciated the quivering pieces of the deadites, and the big time-lapse disintegration of them after the Book is burned is a lot of fun with its progressive stages and cheesy effects. Raimi’s big innovation is the sprinting first-person camera through the woods, a technique that conveys the inevitability of defeat up to the final frame.
The Evil Dead seems a little quaint now that Campbell has become such a camp icon incapable of being taken seriously, but it was taken at face value at the time of its release as one of the nastiest and most violent films of the era. What holds up is its low-budget nature and the fact that Raimi made all this happen before his 23rd birthday, making himself into an inspiration for film school nerds everywhere. Scrounge up a budget and head out to the wilderness to make your dreams come true. If your dreams involve disintegrating bodies and pencils jabbed into prosthetic ankles, so much the better. C+