There are countless cult classics, but none as acclaimed as “The Evil Dead.” Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror comedy, despite its low budget, has amassed an unbelievable following. With a mildly predictable plot, “The Evil Dead” relies on execution, Bruce Campbell’s utterly captivating performance, and a hearty dose of claymation special effects to create a ridiculously amusing flick.
“The Evil Dead” follows a group of five college students on a vacation in the Tennessee mountains. Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker) are joined by Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), and their friends Scott (Richard DeManincor) and Shelly (Theresa Tilly). In true horror film style, the adventure begins with an ominous sequence of events. First there’s almost a car wreck on a narrow dirt road, followed by more car trouble as the kids cross a rickety bridge.
Upon arriving at the cabin, a foreboding abode, a series of strange events occur. Cheryl, while sketching a clock, loses control of her hand and draws a grotesque face. The situation truly becomes wacky when the kids venture into the cellar, discovering the Nautron Demonto, the Sumerian Book of the Dead. There’s also a recording of sections from the book, which the group naturally play, unwittingly releasing evil demons.
While “The Evil Dead” had a $350,000 budget, it doesn’t feel cheap. On the contrary, it’s a work of art. The minimalist approach feels more genuine, and actually contributes to the charm. The special effects aren’t terribly realistic. Essentially, they’re makeup and Claymation, but they’re nonetheless gruesome. The finale, where blood erupts from each crevice in the cabin, is particularly well done. There are some legitimately cringe-worthy moments, doused in a plentiful serving of blood.
Cinematography is remarkably inventive as well. Raimi employs some lovely and unusual camera angles. While the kids drive up to the house, the camera follows knocking branches out of the way. There’s a great scene with the porch swing banging against the house, and Raimi purposely aims the camera so that some malevolent force seems to peer unseen from the shadows. The demons are never actually shown, and when they attack Raimi uses a shaky camera whizzing through the woods. It’s shot in a first person perspective, as if the audience sees through the eyes of the spirits.
Acting is carried almost entirely by Bruce Campbell. That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t great, but they simply aren’t afforded as much screen time. Campbell lends a campy atmosphere to the film as the wild-eyed Ash. Ash is battered and beaten relentlessly, and puts up a great fight armed with his trusty chainsaw and shotgun (or boomstick if you will). He kicks ass, while also getting his ass constantly kicked. Campbell uses body facial expressions wonderfully, conveying the notion that Ash doesn’t quite believe the surrealist nightmare he’s stumbled into.
“The Evil Dead” truly has no equals, and as cheesy as it is could have very easily been an utter abomination. Instead, it’s one of the most celebrated cult classics. There’s a great mix of dark comedy, unique special effects, and fantastic camera work. Bruce Campbell’s unforgettable performance further makes “The Evil Dead” a stroke of brilliance, and helped establish Campbell as the legendary icon he’s become. The 1981 film was followed by two sequels and a remake, and as recently as 2014 there were talks of a TV series. A bloody enjoyable flick, “The Evil Dead” serves up the laughs and grimaces with equal gusto.