It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a movie that isn’t a new release, but I’d like to shake that up a bit with a new segment I like to call Movies I Should Have Seen By Now. Needless to say, there are a lot, so this should be going for a while. I’m going to try to keep it between cult classics and other must-see movies at first, but then I’ll get into IMDb Top 250 material as time goes on. Without further ado, here’s my review for The Evil Dead.
This might seem like a strange place to start this list, but a couple days ago some friends of mine were discussing this movie and I realized that I’d heard the series talked about quite a bit without actually having seen it. From what I had heard, I expected The Evil Dead to be a fun mix of horror and comedy good enough to kick off the careers of both Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Actually watching the movie, however, yielded a very different yet similarly satisfying experience. The Evil Dead is incredibly gruesome, terribly acted, and not really funny at all, but inventive cinematography and an acute awareness of what kind of film it’s trying to be are more than enough to make it a classic B-Horror-Movie.
Five friends head up to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. What could possibly go wrong? Well, turns out if you have to ask “Why is it so cheap?” you’re probably not going to like the answer. In this case, the answer is found in the cellar of the apartment, which contains a set of recordings form the cabin’s previous owners along with an ancient looking book. In classic horror fashion, our hapless vacationers decide to give the recordings a listen, and are met the information that the book is actually an ancient Sumerian manuscript called “The Book of the Dead” which has the power to wake evil demonic spirits with a set of incantations. So of course you can’t hear that and not listen to the incantations, right? Apparently so, because the rest of the film proceeds with each member of the group gradually turning into demonic, zombie-like creatures until only our hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) is left to defeat the ancient evil that has been awoken.
I don’t even know if this section applies for a movie like this. For all intents and purposes there is only one character, Ash, who has any sort of development beyond murder-bait. Ash is still pre-chainsaw-hand here and is nothing close to the bad-ass I’m told he is to become over the next two movies, but it makes sense that we should get to see him before that transition. His relationship with Linda (Ellen Sandweiss) to give someone whom Ash has a moral dilemma of To Kill or Not To Kill (though he seems to have no such qualms when it comes to dispatching the zombie version of his sister, Cheryl (Betsy Baker). Fellow Sweethearts Scott (Richard DeManicor) and Shelly (Theresa Tilly) are also simply asking for the ax the entire time, but once again this is more or less to be expected of the genre.
Honestly, this is where the film really shines and without a doubt, the credit for that should go to Sam Raimi. Raimi takes a well-trodden horror formula and manages to make it feel fresh, and it’s scarcely any wonder why last year’s Cabin in the Woods borrows so heavily from it. Raimi’s cinematography is incredibly inventive and does wonders in increasing the suspenseful atmosphere of the film beyond any point you’d expect a low budget film like this to reach. I loved the alternations between Point-of-View shots from the unseen presence in the woods, as well as the great use of close-up shots of Ash’s eyes. As far as the gore aspect goes, I could have used a little less as some scenes approach the level of gross-out for gross-out’s sake, but for those of you with strong stomachs this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Finally, one minor annoyance I had with the film is an issue a lot of movies from that era share; the unbalance of sound. The film rapidly shifts between soft-voiced conversations between characters, silent moments of suspense, and extended sequences of bloodcurdling shrieks and demonic sounds which will make you raise and lower the volume constantly throughout the film.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Superior
The Evil Dead is certainly not for everyone. If you’re turned off by elaborate gore effects, horror cliches and flat characters, this is probably one you can afford to miss. If you’re looking for a great showcase of inventive direction in a surprisingly scary film though, The Evil Dead is definitely one to check out. I for one eagerly look forward to see what sort of turns The Evil Dead II has in store, as I know that many of my fellow reviewers regard that as a superior film.
Check back soon for my review of the rest of the trilogy, as well as this week’s new releases Lincoln and Breaking Dawn: Part 2. I would love to get suggestions from all of you for the next movie(s) I should check out for this series, let me know in the comments below! Also, this week I’m trying out a new logo and format, I’d love feedback on that as well