The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead (1981), directed by Sam Raimi, written by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly, Richard DeManincor

The Evil Dead is one of those bad good movies. Everything about it screams out enthusiasm that only a director doing his first full-length movie can have. It's at times clever and creative but at places, it's clunky and amateurish. It shows a director and cast that has promise, but very little experience in one way or an another. In a word, it is an interesting movie, but not truly a good movie.

When I saw the Evil Dead the first time back in the 90's I do recall being more impressed by it than I was about it now. Then again, I still hadn't seen many other gore movies, so something like the Evil Dead felt fresher to me despite some of its clunkier aspects. As I said, now that I've seen it again, I don't think it's necessarily a good movie, but it is interesting one.

The plot is a pretty standard one. A group of friends go in woods to have an off weekend at a remote cabin. During their stay, Ash finds a book and a record from a cellar, which he plays out only to end up summoning demons, which soon start possessing them until there's only one left.

Some of the special effects and camera work are what works the best really. Even today some of the special effects make my stomach churn a bit, as there's some really well done gore effects here and there. The camera drives through the woods are well executed and the final driving shot, where the monster comes from the woods and through the house to attack Ash is still a brilliant little gem in itself.

The monster effects range from very good to unintentionally comedic, especially closer the end movie gets. There's actually a bit of a tonal shift towards the end, though a bit uneven one, as some of the kills feel more like attempts at darker comedy the later movies in the series embraced more wholeheartedly instead of the more serious type of a horror movie this first entry to the series is.

The best thing about the acting I can say is, that it looks like the actors really seem to have a good time. None of the actors, not even the mighty Bruce Campbell, manage to give out a stand out performance. All the relationships and interactions feel a bit forced and unnatural, but that might also be accredited to the script as much as inexperienced actors. Still, everyone gives out enthusiastic performances in screaming and trying to be creepy. Sadly Campbell doesn't really shine on his part.

The script is the weakest link of the Evil Dead. It starts out presenting some loose "almost died" scenes before the group even manages to get to the cabin. These scenes seem like they were shot just to make the movie a bit longer and don't really feel necessary for the final movie. Characters themselves are relative flat. Even the most famous character of the series, Bruce Campbell's Ash, is a far cry of the boorish, wisecracking rube he turned later on. Here he's a bit timid dude, who seems unlikely to survive to the end, where as his friend Scott seem more like a hero type before he turns out to be a bit of an asshole. The women of the group have very little personality and get interesting only after they're possessed.

Still, the Evil Dead is an amusing movie. It's not good, but at the same time, it's pretty evident why Sam Raimi did turn out a successful director. There are some clever bits and pieces all over the movie and as such it is an interesting directorial debut.

But as far small budget gore horror goes, I do prefer Peter Jackson's Braindead. It is, at least, tonally coherent horror schlock from start to finish, where as the tone of the Evil Dead is all over the place.