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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 John Beachem
3½ stars out of 4

Five college students - Ash, Scotty, Cheryl, Linda, and Shelly (Bruce Campbell, Hal Delrich, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Sarah York respectively), are out for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods. They've rented it cheap, and are looking forward to a great time. However, things aren't looking too good when Ash's car nearly crashes, and the bridge to the cabin almost collapses under them. Still, they decide to press on. Things seem normal at first, but soon Cheryl is hearing voices coming from the woods, and while drawing her hand takes on a life of its own and draws what appears to be a book with a face. The other four shake the occurrence off, and think Cheryl is making it all up. Then one night at dinner, the cellar door opens of its own accord. Ash and Scotty venture below and find the very book Cheryl drew as well as a tape recorder. They play the tape recorder, which contains a recording by a professor who translated the pages of the book (called The Necronomicon). The recording awakens a demonic force in the woods, and it soon comes calling on our five brave (though eternally stupid) friends.

The real question you have to ask yourself before renting Sam Raimi's ("A Simple Plan") "The Evil Dead" is this: how cheesy do you like your horror movies? If, like me, you like a thick layer of cheese smothered on top of your horror flicks, you should have an absolute blast watching "The Evil Dead". This is the sort of fun, campy movie you don't see in Hollywood anymore. If, on the other hand, you like your horror films deadly serious and without campy humor, run from "The Evil Dead" as quickly as possible. This movie will be Satan come to earth for you, so run fast and run far. If you fall somewhere in the middle, well, here's a way to figure out if you'll enjoy the film or not. In one scene, a character is possessed by a demon and attacks two other characters. The possessed character is thrown into the fire and begins screaming as her face is charred. One of the two she was attacking pulls her out of the fire and she courteously thanks him for rescuing her before attacking once more. Sounds way too goofy and cheesy for your taste? Well avoid the film, because it's chock full of moments like that. Sounds hilarious? Go rent "The Evil Dead" right now and call up a couple of friends (the film is funniest when watched with a group of friends).

Let's face it, only one actor matters in the "Evil Dead" movies, and that's Bruce Campbell. Campbell is, and probably always will be, a sadly under-appreciated actor in Hollywood. Now bear in mind, his appearance here is one of his first, and his lack of experience shows in a lot of his line delivery. However, the little hints at a grand comic talent are already showing through in several scenes. The man has a range of facial expressions that only Jim Carrey can compete with, and his talents behind the camera are equally impressive. He was actually the executive producer for "The Evil Dead" and co-producer for its two sequels. It's a good thing Campbell is so good, because the rest of the cast... well... isn't. The remaining actors range from laughably bad to just plain awful in their talents, and it's no wonder that none of them rose to anything resembling fame in Hollywood. Ellen Sandweiss lands firmly in the laughably bad category, playing Cheryl as a little off kilter even before being possessed for reasons that will forever remain a mystery. Hal Delrich is just plain awful as the hot-headed Scotty; Betsy Baker has her moments, but generally remains laughable as Linda; and Sarah York is absolutely terrible in the film's (thankfully) smallest part. So why the high rating for a film with acting this bad? Because the acting in a movie like "The Evil Dead" doesn't matter one bit.

So if the acting doesn't matter, what does? There are two things that raise "The Evil Dead" above nearly every other horror flick out there, and they're both reasons the film has maintained a cult following for nearly twenty years. The first reason is because the film is packed with all sorts of gore effects. I mean once you hit about the twenty minute mark, you're not going to spend more than five minutes without seeing something designed to disgust the audience. Even today the amount of blood and gore in "The Evil Dead" is impressive. Just imagine how audiences reacted back in '82. The other reason, and the much more important one in my book, is Sam Raimi's remarkable camera work. Raimi has actually made quite a name for himself with his kinetic camera movements. As far as I know he was the first to use the technique utilized when the main demonic force moves through the forest. He keeps the camera low and moving relentlessly forward, knocking over everything in its path. The only sound that accompanies it is a low roar that increases in intensity till the force reaches its target. Raimi's use of low camera angles is quite effective when used to highlight what were once scary scenes. Take a scene where the cellar door blasts open and all the characters hover around, looking down into the blackness. Raimi aims the camera up at each character's face in turn from below, like something watching them from inside the cellar. There is one other thing that has made "The Evil Dead" famous (or possibly infamous), and that is the scene in which one character is raped by the forest. I give the scene points for originality, but did we really need to see that?

I'm sure when this film was released back in 1982 it scared audiences half to death. There are a few scenes that remain somewhat eerie even now, like Cheryl's hand becoming possessed and drawing a picture of the Necronomicon. When viewed these days, "The Evil Dead" is best viewed as a comedy/horror. In other words, you'll have a more fun if you don't take it too seriously; and you'll have a lot more fun if you don't take it at all seriously. Yes the dialogue is horrible (Scotty: "An animal! That's the stupidest thing I ever heard."), the characters have no personality (Ash doesn't even develop one till the sequel), and if placed alongside modern horror films, this one appears to have no budget (It actually was made on a shoestring). Yet none of that really matters, and if you're looking for great acting and character development you've obviously gotten the wrong movie. As an example of classic '80s horror films, "The Evil Dead" stands head and shoulders above the rest. I'd recommend the movie to anyone who enjoys cheesy "B" horror movies. If you don't like it, you'll not have wasted much time since the film only runs 85 minutes. I give it four and a half out of five stars.

Copyright 2001 John Beachem

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