Review #862 - The Evil Dead (1981)
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly
Plot: Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons.
Rating: Banned in Singapore for substantial graphic horror violence and gore.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“You bastards, why are you torturing me like this? Why?”
A contemporary remake of Evil Dead (with backing by Sam Raimi no less) is coming out soon in May 2013. I fear that audiences will see it as derivative and inferior to those 'cabin in the woods' movies, including the self-referential The Cabin in the Woods (2012).
While it remains to be seen if the remake is itself a good film, the new Evil Dead should be viewed in context, and that context is best provided by the original The Evil Dead, Raimi's breakthrough first feature (well, unless you regard It’s Murder! (1977) as a feature). Ironically, Raimi's The Evil Dead is banned here in Singapore, and as far as I know, it is still banned in numerous countries around the globe.
Raimi's film had been marketed as a "grueling horror experience" back in the 1980s. Back then, it was one of the most frightening films ever made, a high-concept gorefest with truckloads of blood and guts.
It was also lauded as one of the most inventive horror films of its time, raising Raimi's profile as an accomplished wunderkind filmmaker oozing creativity amid facing severe budgetary constraints. It is now recognized as a horror cult classic, and an inspiration to independent filmmakers. That's the brief context.
Now the plot: Five young adults go on a trip into the woods. They have rented an old cabin, but they find their curiosities piqued when they discover something called the 'Book of the Dead' in the creepy basement. Slowly, each one of them starts to become possessed and turns into a demon.
Bruce Campbell, the star of the series, plays the insecure Ash, whose comic contributions to the 'Evil Dead' films have been revered by die-hard fans. Now, it's hard to see Raimi's film as anything but hilarious. And this is a strong reason the ban should be lifted - times have changed the film's context.
The Evil Dead may be funny now, but it remains effectively scary, pushing suspense filmmaking to its limits. Raimi's freewheeling camera is unpredictable, capturing the uneasiness that comes with uncertainty. Sound effects build up the terror considerably. You can never tell when you are actually gonna shit in your pants. I call it the toilet paper movie.
In other words, and I am quoting the famous line in Cronenberg's The Fly (1986), "Be afraid. Be very afraid." Raimi does not pull any punches when it comes to delivering scene after scene of great tension that culminates in either manipulative misdirection or effective jump scares.
The use of practical effects is astounding, be it makeup effects on the actors, or the more grotesque and bloody aftermath of bodily dismemberment, realized via the use of fluids such as syrup and milk. The film ushered in a decade of horror films with practical (and makeup) effects, including the Carpenter's classic The Thing (1982), somewhat reaching its peak when the before-mentioned The Fly won an Oscar for Best Makeup.
The Evil Dead, as controversial as it may be, in particular with reference to the infamous misogynistic 'tree rape' scene, continues to find new fans, and cult followers continue to have a renewed appreciation for this fantastic horror film that was simply ahead of its time.
Verdict: This Sam Raimi cult classic is scary, gory, funny, and remains to be one of the most inventive and original horror films to come out in the 1980s.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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