October Extras #1 - The Evil Dead

OCTOBER 1, 2007


It’s amazing how revered Sam Raimi is in the horror community when you consider that he’s really only made one true horror movie: The Evil Dead. The first sequel was half comedy, the 3rd film wasn’t horror at all, and all of his other films fall more into the action/fantasy realm. The closest he’s ever gotten to a straight up horror movie (in a directing role anyway – let’s ignore his Ghost House productions) in the past 25 years is The Gift, and even that was more of a mystery anyway. Still, it contained the most terrifying image in horror history: I knew the film had a nude Katie Holmes (back when it meant something), so when they pulled her nude, rotted corpse out of the lake, I was terrified. “That was it?!?!” I yelled. Luckily, a true frontal shot came along near the end of the film. Anyway, back on subject, while he may never make another legit horror movie again, the goodwill he earned from this one has yet to expire.

The DVD of The Evil Dead (any of the 7,000 or so that Anchor Bay has released will do) should be given to budding filmmakers in their first year at film school, if they didn’t have it already. From the very first frame, Raimi and his crew’s inspired (and infectious) delivery of their otherwise simple little tale is 100% evident; you never feel like they were going through the motions or anything like that. When I saw the film for the first time as a 14 year old (I watched the entire franchise backwards, which is cool because I got to see it get “better” instead of worse, since I think Army of Darkness is not only the weakest in the series but possibly Raimi’s weakest ever), I was borderline aroused by how cool it was, despite not having any of the perks I was accustomed to from a horror film (this was in the early/mid 90s, when most “Horror” movies I was seeing were things like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Village of the Damned remake – big budget, glossy studio pictures).

I should note that I chose this film to kick off my "October Extras” at Horror Movie A Day because it was recommended in one of the comments by someone who couldn’t think of the title. All they remembered was “kids in the woods with a tape recorder”, which was all I needed to identify the film. Because, like Halloween (which, it shouldn’t surprise anyone, will be the “closing night” film for October), it’s a film that exceeds in taking an almost non-existent story and getting as much as possible out of it. Raimi and Carpenter got what so many other horror directors didn’t (and still don’t) – it’s almost impossible to be scared if your brain is too busy trying to work the plot out. Keep it simple, and you keep it scary.

Is it a perfect film? Heavens no. Bruce Campbell is barely competent at times; there are continuity errors and the like, etc. But it doesn’t matter in the slightest. This is a film for people who genuinely love film and more importantly, filmmaking. It’s obvious right from the start that they had no money and little crew (and even the actors sometimes disappear out of scenes), which makes the effects and camerawork all the more impressive once all hell breaks loose. If you’ve ever had even the slightest interest in “how to make movie magic”, then you can’t tell me that you watched the film and didn’t wonder how they did the tree rape scene (and if you’re a would-be Raimi, wonder if you could pull it off yourself).

Also, the film is just fucking FUN. Although Bruce is the recognized hero of the film, Scotty is a hoot as well (I still laugh out loud when he yells at the hitchhikers early on: “Aw go to hell I’m not honking at you!”). And the girls are pretty cute. Basically, none of them are annoying fodder that you want to die. While it barely ever slows down, it does inject some decent characterization. I might tear apart something like The Roost for some of the same things Evil Dead is guilty of (continuity errors, mismatched editing), but the difference is, Raimi and his buddies didn’t stop the film cold over and over to pad the film into feature length territory (even more impressive when Dead started off as a short film). I assume both films had roughly the same amount of money (with inflation), so a miserly budget can’t be used effectively as an excuse for a boring film.

There’s a book that covers the franchise, though the first one gets the most attention. Along with the commentaries, and perhaps Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, there’s a wealth of information and anecdotes about the shoot that are every bit as entertaining as the film itself. The limitations the crew faced, and Raimi’s borderline insane dedication to seeing the project through, are the stuff of legend. It’s an ironic shame that Raimi’s most recent film, Spider-Man 3, had literally a blank check for a budget (reported to be the most expensive film ever made) and yet wasn’t half as fun or exciting as this, possibly one the most literally “independent” movies ever made.

What say you?


  1. I also saw this film when I was 14...I think everyone I know did. Maybe it's a rite of passage for modern kids, or was in the early days of VCRs and unsupervised movie nights.

    Anyway, despite the shoestring effects and other flaws you mention, I'm always amazed at this movie's continued ability to legit SCARE me. No matter how many times I watch it, when the chick is naming off the cards and turns to reveal her Evil Dead face (I hate the term "Deadite"), I can feel the old bladder tightening. Even the claymation climax works, b/c you're so into it by that point you don't mind the low-tech fx--a viewer will forgive a lot if his imagination is engaged. CGI wankers, take note.

    Incidentally, if you haven't got a copy of this yet, you should: Evil Dead: The Musical (Original Cast Recording). It's creative and hilarious, and everything you love about Scotty's character is magnified tenfold. Seriously, do yourself a favor.

  2. Ive always wanted to check out the show... there's also been ones for Nightmare on Elm St and Halloween (!) but i dont think they were as successful.

  3. I don't remember much of The Gift because I was so thrilled to be clutching my brand new copy of The Curious Dr. Humpp.

  4. I'm glad I was there for such a pivotal moment in your life... all I remember is going to KFC and buying the mac n cheese for some reason.

  5. I also saw this one when I was about 14, just before the whole video nasty thing hit in the UK. My friends and I loved this, and I think it was one of the movies that sealed our love for the genre!

  6. I thought you just got the 'add cheese' that time.

  7. Its got a great Campbell commentary.In fact mostly I don't watch commentaries on general films,only on horror pictures since they are more fun.TCM,The Thing,Phantasm and best of all Return of the Living Dead part 2.
    Are any of the ROTLD films in your October list?The first one is actually good whereas the 2nd one is quite crap,but watched with the commentary its way different.The director is almost in tears because he hates everything about making it and beyond,whilst one of the actors is laughing all the way through at his one time claim to fame and all the exitement of the project..and they both have opposing views as to whether its a depressing failure or a semi-kitsch horror comedy.
    I just got out Hell Night and I'll watch that with the commentary after.

  8. I saw ROTLD 1 and 3 as a kid, don't recall much about either. I'll get to all 5 (!) of them eventually...

  9. Great punk-goth soundtrack on Return of the Living Dead - 45 Grave, The Damned...... Yeah! Great film too.

  10. I just recently watched Evil Dead, and the thing that really stood out to me about it, other than the amazing makeup, and neat effects (Some of which haven't aged well but are nonetheless charming), was the sound design. That constant demonic wailing you hear in the background throughout many scenes really resonated with me.

    Also, I disagree about Campbell's competency. I think he did a pretty good job conveying the apprehension and sadness Ash felt about what he had to do, but also got the point across that he still HAD to fight for his life. We got to see him transform, albeit reluctantly, over the course of the second half of the film, and it was very adequately done with minimal dialogue.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget