The Evil Dead: Review
The Evil Dead is one of those films where its reputation precedes it. At first glance, looking past the rabid cult following it has gained over the years; the film looks like a cheesy, so-bad-it's-good experiment of a freshly graduated film student. However, all it takes is one watch of this low-budget masterpiece to realize that it deserves all of the praise and obsession it has received.
The film follows a young man named Ash and his four friends as they venture out into an old cabin in the woods for a getaway. However, as the sun sets on the first night and they find a mysterious book and old tape recordings in the basement, an ancient evil awakens and begins to plague the group with grisly, bloody horror. With such a simple premise and a screenplay that almost entirely takes place within a closed-room environment, it's absolutely incredible to see what Sam Raimi and his crew accomplished with $90,000 (!!!). Raimi is a master of creating tension.
Knowing full well of his budgetary constraints, the camerawork takes center stage in the entirety of the first half of the film. Utilizing lighting, off-putting angles, the surprisingly solid score, and plenty of fog machines, Raimi is able to set the stage despite the hammy acting and dialogue of the characters on it. Many of the shots are unavoidably bone chilling, and many others as foreboding as they are beautiful.
It doesn't take long before the focus on tension is broken in the second half of the film. Here is where I truly felt awe at what Raimi accomplished. Not just with the camerawork (which still remained consistently solid with some visual callbacks to the more peaceful first half), but with the prosthetics. Budget aside, The Evil Dead has some of the most fascinating gore and blood prosthetics of this era. Many of the moments are truly sickening, casting aside any editing or camera tricks, capturing the full brunt of the grisly action.
With the fast pacing and obvious focus on the explosive, bloody ending set pieces, one thing that really surprised me was the characterizations. Sure, most of the group was flat and very mediocre in terms of their acting chops, but Bruce Campbell's character of Ash had a shocking amount of depth that garnered a strong emotional response. This is in part due to, again, Raimi's excellent direction of the camerawork that told much of this character's emotional distress purely through visual storytelling. I personally didn't expect it at all, but Ash's vulnerable humanity and his relationship with his significant other made his descent into madness that much more poignant.
The film even takes time to hint at a larger mythos around it. There's obvious a “Lovecraftian” influence here, similar to Carpenter's The Thing that was released a year prior and also heavily featured a gore fest of maddening proportions. The Evil Dead truly is a horror masterpiece on its own caliber of low-budget filmmaking. It subverts all expectations and has just enough heart to transcend its status as pure schlock. It's horrifying, thrilling, visually sumptuous, and, without trying too hard to be as such, charming.