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The Evil Dead

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Evil Dead

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss
Director: Sam Raimi
Rated: NR
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: October 1982
Genres: Cult, Comedy, Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Betsy Baker, Hal Delrich, Sarah York

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

In 1982, Sam Raimi's first tongue-in-cheek horror film, "The Evil Dead", was released in theatres, and proved notable in receiving a rave review from Stephen King after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The concept behind it was that a hidden force was unleashed in the woods, ready to devour anything in its path, including a group of young people staying in a remote cabin. The film was successful enough as a low-budget sleeper to spawn two sequels, each with a bigger budget than the next and all directed by Sam Raimi. What we have is a trilogy of horror, growing more tongue-in-cheek and goofy with each sequel. Below is a brief look at each film.

The Evil Dead - I will not say that "The Evil Dead" is one of the best horror films ever made - it is not - but it is often repulsive, humorous and full of major shocks to the system to make any true horror fan happy.

Bruce Campbell plays Ash, one of the group of college students who travel on an Oldsmobile to some remote cabin in the desolate woods of Michigan. In the opening sequence, a whirlwind force travels through lakes, swamps, and trees ready to attack the Oldsmobile. Things careen out of control briefly, yet the students manage to make it to the cabin, even going through a decrepit bridge. But nightfall comes, and one of them makes the mistake of reading from an old copy of the Book of the Dead (entitled "Necronomicon," a nod to H.P. Lovecraft) and before you know it, evil spirits are unleashed and zombies are made. The only way to kill these things is by dismembering and decapitating these ugly, evil spirits that possess everyone in the group. Naturally, Ash is the one that makes it out alive.

There is plenty of blood and gore, and there is an inventive use of a pencil as a weapon. The film certainly is cheap-looking and barely audible in certain scenes, and some of the makeup and special-effects are practically garden variety. The strength of "The Evil Dead" is in the straightforward directing by Raimi and the astoundingly good cinematography by Tom Philo - the latter makes every shot eerie and menacing. There is a sense of claustrophobia to the film, a sort of latter-day "Night of the Living Dead" where hiding in an isolated cabin can prevent one from dealing with unseen forces. Naturally, these forces find their way in the cabin.

"The Evil Dead" also has some superb moments of horror and humor, particularly the scene where one girl stares into a window (we only see the back of her head) as she is able to read all the cards that her group is playing before turning around and screaming...well, you get the idea. I also like the vines attacking one girl in the forest and being dragged across thousands of twigs, while one of the "shemps" inserts itself in an area...well, you know the scene, need I repeat it? Some of the sexual connotations I could have lived without but still there is enough going on here to make anyone squeamish about going into the woods again. "The Evil Dead" is goofy horror to be sure, but fun nonetheless.

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn - Here is an example of not so much a sequel, but a remake of the original. With a bigger budget and even better special-effects, Raimi continues where the original left off, and brings us even more gore and humor.

At the end of the original, Ash was pursued by that evil force in the woods. Now he is back in the cabin enduring more torture by these unseen forces. There is a moment where his right hand takes on a life of its own, and Ash chops it off with a chainsaw. Needless to say, the hand scurries, hides and makes fun of Ash in ways that are so funny that the film's haunting momentum pauses and becomes more of a horror-comedy than a pure horror film. We see Ash's reflection in a mirror having a life of its own, dancing skeletons by the pale moonlight, giggling deer heads, heads being squashed in vises, lots of blood spilling into the screen from every direction (though nothing like the distasteful "Dead-Alive" by Peter Jackson from 1993), and ghouls and zombies yelling things like "I am going to take your soul!"

Though relentlessly inventive and often inspired, "Evil Dead 2" begins to slack off a bit towards the end, especially with the inclusion of an archaelogist's daughter searching for her father who happened to live in the very cabin that is possessed. She thinks Ash may have killed her father, I mean, what would you think if you saw a man draped with blood and holding a chainsaw? But Raimi continues to make us feel the claustrophobia of being isolated and facing demonic forces beyond our own control. The humor and horror pays off, and the final sequence is certainly a doozy.

Army of Darkness - Ash is back again, now he is stuck in the 13th century fighting Deadites and more ghouls and zombies! Huh? Well, you see at the end of "Evil Dead 2," Ash was transported back into time before being able to finish an incantation that would have ended the evil spell. He and his beloved Oldsmobile landed in some foreign land in the 13th century, and now he is subject to the physical torture of some medieval lords. Ash does so well battling Deadites to the death that he is considered by the people to be their savior against the armies of darkness. Ash's goal, however, is to retrieve the Book of the Dead and get back home to his S-mart job where they "shop Smart!" There is also a love interest, a medieval damsel-in-distress, Sheila (Embeth Davidtz, who later appeared in "Schindler's List"), who convinces him to help her people.

"Army of Darkness" is hardly horror, it is an out-and-out campy comedy with plenty of thrills per second, and less blood and gore than the previous entries. It is practically a new version of Ray Harryhausen's "Jason and the Argonauts," albeit less sophisticated in its content if not its form. Ash is like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future," saying such anachronistic lines as "Groovy!" or "Give me some sugar baby." There are still some moments to treasure such as the Evil Ash sequence, the evil Ash Liliputians formed by reflective shards of glass, and Ash screwing up the simple line from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" ("Klattu Barada Nikto") while trying to choose the real Book of the Dead in a scene that echoes Indiana Jones.

It is a fun-filled 82 minutes, but some of the gags are desperate and repetitive, and we start to get the feeling that Ash has had enough of battling demons, ghosts, and the vast army of skeletons. Probably Raimi has had enough as well, considering the ending has been changed radically from its more downbeat finish. Still, if nothing else, "Army of Darkness" led the way to more anachronistic, self-aware medieval stories, especially the recent TV series "Hercules" and "Xena," both winking at the audience in its complete absurdity and anachronisms.

Copyright 1982 Jerry Saravia

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