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
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