In 1978, Sam Raimi released his short film Within the Woods in tandem with The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater. After sparking minor interest and being received well by test audiences, Raimi got the funding to produce a feature length adaptation of this short, and thus the 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead was born. After screening at the Cannes Film Festival, this low-budget supernatural horror film became a global phenomenon, making about six times its budget and spawning a franchise of films to follow. The Evil Dead is a cult classic. Its charm, splash of black comedy, and gore gave it the legs to become one of the most original and entertaining horror films of its generation and possibly all time. When it was announced that this film would be getting remade and taken in a different direction, I was pretty skeptical because it’s very hard to live up to the brilliance of the original trilogy. However, after hearing that original star Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi would be producing the film and after seeing the red-band trailer, my skepticism slowly began to diminish. While it doesn’t live up to the original, Evil Dead succeeds in delivering a fun and terrifying ride filled to the brim with blood.
Evil Dead follows five twenty-something friends as they hole up in a cabin to help one of their friends recover from a drug addiction. When they stumble upon the Book of the Dead, an ancient book wrapped in human flesh and written in blood, they summon up a dormant demon living nearby. One by one, this evil presence possesses them until only one stands to fight for survival.
One of the greatest aspects of this film is the fact that the effects are practical. According to director Fede Alvarez in an interview we had with him, his idea behind using practical effects was that it would cause the actors to react as they would in real life and that definitely shows. By not using CGI and green screens to generate the effects, not only does it make it more realistic for the actors but it also makes it more gross-out horrifying for the audience. In all honesty, it’s very easy for me to pick out when a film is relying on CGI for their effects, and it takes me right out of the immersed experience because I know that the actors aren’t really seeing what’s on the screen and because of that it’s easier to see the flaws in their performances. The use of practical effects and makeup here, which is top-notch and deserves more recognition then it’s currently getting, sucked me right into this experience, and even though I knew these gruesome things weren’t happening in real life, it was happening to these characters in real time and that was terrifying enough.
Another aspect of this film that was done so well was its ability to induce terror without focusing on “jump scares.” More often in horror films nowadays, filmmakers attempt to scare audiences through tactics like increasing the volume of certain noises, having a character pop right in front of the camera, and other methods that make us jump, but don’t necessarily resonate with us as we walk out of the theater. While Evil Dead does have aspects of “jump scares” sprinkled in certain areas, the filmmakers focus way more on the gruesome imagery and how they are going to get it stuck in the heads of audiences and, for the most, part they are successful. Even hours after seeing the film, there are moments that I recall that cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up and even have me quivering at the thought of them (tongue scene, that’s all I’ll say). While the gore tactic has been unsuccessful in producing terror in some instances (any Saw film after Saw II), the fact that they kept the pace roaring along, constantly bombarding the screen with these grisly images, gave it a genuine shock factor that has been missing from horror films today.
However, not every aspect of this film works. Although this was Alvarez’s directorial debut and I’m sure he will improve with experience, the direction in terms of shot selection was fairly underwhelming. There were no real chances taken and every shot seemed to be by the books, which in a film like this can be excused. On top of this, while I realize that none of the actors were going for Oscar-award nominated performances, some of the acting, more specifically the two supporting females, was pretty bad. However, these are minor complaints and nitpicks in an otherwise lighting-fast paced and grisly entertaining thrill ride.
Evil Dead is a fiendishly gory and entertaining thrill ride that grips you from the beginning and never lets you go. The nods to the original are clever, the tone is dark but comic at times, and the content is the definition of lurid. This film is the reason the phrase “leave your kids at home” was invented, and honestly fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Review by Nick Franco