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The Evil Dead movies

Part 1: The Evil Dead — join us!

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2013-01-31


Over the last few years Hollywood has become remake crazy, and it seems as if one of the more popular types of movies to be remade are horror films. One of the movies that's in the process of being remade, for good or ill, is The Evil Dead.

What would become a trilogy of movies began with The Evil Dead in 1981, continued with Evil Dead II in 1987 and was completed with Army of Darkness in 1993. While The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness would introduce varying degrees of slapstick humor and comedy into the Evil Dead mythos, the original The Evil Dead was instead a straight-up horror movie literally billed as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror.”

The story of The Evil Dead is simple and, I hate to say it, not that original. But it's how the creators of The Evil Dead execute this simple story that separates this film from lesser ones and keeps people like me talking about it 30+ years after its release.

In The Evil Dead, a group of teens decide to spend part of their school vacation in a cabin in the woods partying. The cabin is spooky and creepy enough, but what the teens find within is even more scary — a book bound in skin and written in blood; the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the book of the dead. While the teens can't make out what's written in the book they find a tape recording left behind by a professor who was translating the text and reading it aloud. And when the teens listen to the tape they unknowingly release an evil force into the woods around the cabin.

This force terrorizes the group one at a time before turning most into possessed “deadites.” Alone is Ash (Bruce Campell) who can't escape to safety because of the things in the woods and must face his deadite friends who want him dead by dawn.

Shot on just $357,000 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, or a little less than $1 million today, the limited budget of The Evil Dead shows through with every bad monster makeup appliance or mismatched hairstyles between scenes. Yet how the film is shot and the overall creepiness of the real cabin location more than makes up for something that could have come off as cheesy.

While similar horror movies rely on gore and guts for scares, The Evil Dead instead relies on clever editing and dynamic camerawork. In The Evil Dead, the camera swoops and dives through the woods chasing characters and, at one point, literally crashes through a window at someone. In one shot, Ash watches the clock, hoping for morning, and we watch him from behind the clock as the pendulum swings in and out of view.

That's not to say that there isn't gore in The Evil Dead, but it's so over the top that it sometimes verges on humor. The blood here is a vibrant red and is so voluminous that at one point Ash literally falls into a deep pool of it. Humorous or not, some countries outright banned The Evil Dead from their lands for years. In fact, The Evil Dead wasn't legally available for purchase in the UK in an uncensored version until 2001.

Banned or not, The Evil Dead would go onto become one of the most successful independent movies of all time. Ironically enough, it would take another movie about a group of teens who become lost in the woods and are terrorized by an unseen force, The Blair Witch Project (2000), to become an independent movie more successful than The Evil Dead.

I originally saw an edited version of The Evil Dead on cable TV in the mid-1980s during the cable show Commander USA's Groovie Movies that used to air all sorts of genre movies Saturday afternoons. I did not, in no way shape or form, get what The Evil Dead was about back then, and I didn't like it. It would take many years for me to see it again on DVD to really appreciate The Evil Dead for all its over-the-top horror. Grade A.

The Evil Dead is available on home video and digital download. The Evil Dead remake, now simply titled Evil Dead, is due in theaters April 12. Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.

Matt Alexander — horror afficiando and Bert's cousin — remembers The Evil Dead at Matt's Movie Memories online at fortwaynereader.com

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