Friday, August 19, 2016

THE EVIL DEAD (1981) - ***


Rated NC-17 substantial graphic horror violence and gore
Running time: 85 min.
Release date: October 15, 1981



The Evil Dead is an exhibition of relentless craziness and gore, but if you're able to stomach the contents of the film, and if you're able to pay attention to how everything is conveyed on the screen, you can see the skill that went into the making of the movie. There are more than just glimpses of a craftsman who confidently takes chances with the camera. Sam Raimi is the director and he showcases a steady hand over the mania. However, if you can't sit through the action on-screen, no one would blame you. The Evil Dead is unapologetically disgusting while simultaneously having fun with the blood and guts.

The movie opens with five college students driving through the hills of Tennessee, looking for a cabin they have rented for spring break. We have Ash (Bruce Campbell), Scott (Richard DeManincor), Ash's girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), Scott's girlfriend Shelly (Sarah York) and Ash's sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss). They seem like your average everyday college-age kids, but there isn't really any room for characterization in this film. Before we even learn their names, they narrowly avoid driving headlong into an oncoming truck, and a bridge threatens to collapse while driving over it. The kids find the cabin, as we're treated to a porch swing that suddenly stops swinging. That night while sketching, Cheryl's hand is overcome by some unseen force and the cellar door rattles but for some reason this is not mentioned to the others.

While sitting down for dinner, the same cellar door flies open and first Scott then Ash head down to investigate. In this scene, Sam Raimi shows some restraint in the jump scares, as Ash and the girls call down to Scott in the cellar, and they do so just...a.....little.....longer.....than.....normal. It's almost as if you're waiting for the jump scare but Raimi pulls it back and has nothing happen. Ash finds Scott in the cellar as they find a tape machine and a strange-looking book that they bring back upstairs. They play the tape and hear the voice of the cabin's previous tenant explaining that the book is the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Incantations uttered on the tape then unleash evil spirits from outside in the woods, unbeknownst to the kids. Later on, Cheryl, for some strange reason, goes outside to investigate some noises she heard. At this point, this character has been the most frightened by the proceedings, and she is the one that goes outside to check things out. This is the fault of the bare bones plot, as it requires her to go outside. She is attacked by the forest and seemingly raped by a tree in a strange twist. She manages to escape, and Ash agrees to take her back to town. However, their way is blocked by the bridge, which has unsurprisingly collapsed. 

At this point, the movie goes nuts. Cheryl becomes possessed and gruesomely stabs Linda in the ankle with a pencil. They lock her in the cellar, where she proceeds to taunt the group for the rest of the film. Then we get more possessions, more gore, dismemberments and irritatingly cackling evil spirits. Through it all, however, Raimi gives us interesting camera angles, intense close-ups and a dark humor that underlies the proceedings. More so than the rest of the cast, Bruce Campbell stands out as a solid performer. He is a strong hero standing tall through this craziness, but at the same time, he takes the time out to act afraid of everything that is going on around him. 

Raimi's dark humor finds a willing participant in Campbell, who takes it like a champ when all sorts of bodily fluids and blood squirt, pour and splatter his face. Although, the movie lacks characterizations, Campbell is able to convey the emotions that we ourselves would convey if faced with a similar situation. Hopefully, however, none of us will ever be stuck in a cabin with evil demonic spirits any time soon. To go along with the lack of character development, and the semblance of any plot other than "here are some kids, so let's throw them in a cabin and have stuff happen", Raimi probably allows the zaniness to go on a little too long. The action gets a little repetitive and drags the movie's 85 minute running time slightly. The editing is a little choppy in the beginning, but Raimi tightens it up once the action starts. 

The Evil Dead contains a lot of graphic violence, so this film is not for the squeamish. However, Raimi has littered enough humor inside the picture to make it all palatable for the rest of us. There is talent on display here, as Raimi is a director not satisfied with just your standard framing. With his unique camera angles and close-ups, The Evil Dead sustains itself just long enough to work. 

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