"The Evil Dead" (1981) Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
In this day and age, Sam Raimi is considered a great director. He has helmed films such as the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, "Drag Me to Hell", "Oz: The Great and Powerful", and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness", to name a few. Yet perhaps the film series he is most known for was kicked off by his first film, 1981's "The Evil Dead". His extremely low-budget was combined with an unknown cast to try and create a terrifying horror movie to get his name out there in the film world. Not only did he succeed and start this long-lasting career, but he delivered a terrifying movie that is incredibly impressive in terms of its acting performances and grisly horror.
The film revolves around a group of five friends - Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), his sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), their friend Scott (Richard DeManincor), and Scott's girlfriend Shelly (Teresa Tilly) - as they head up to an abandoned cabin for a little vacation. When they get there however, things start to feel weird and disturbing to the five teens. That is when they go into the basement and find the Necronomicon, an old book who awakens the dead when it is read out loud.
Unbeknownst to them, the book is played out loud, releasing a flood of evil which wants to possess the five friends. Now, they must fight their way out of the cabin or become possessed by the evil, dead spirits. Ash must now watch his friends become possessed by these demonic presences, forcing him to make a decision on how he is going to get out of the cabin alive.
The movie had a budget of around $350,000, and most of the cast and crew are friends of Raimi's that he recruited to be on the film. What they created though is a masterful horror movie. They didn't let the limited budget or their little experience stop them from creating an influential horror movie for years to come. There are many aspects of this movie that are downright terrifying, especially when more of the main characters start to become possessed. Consider the scene where the possessed girls are chanting a song about them coming to kill Ash, laughing maniacally throughout their song. For me, I think it is absolutely terrifying, and I applaud Raimi for being able to create such suspense and horror around characters in makeup.
What I do like a lot about this movie is its use of practical effects. CGI wasn't big around this time for horror films, especially here as Raimi had such a small budget. But they use tons of gory practical effects to make it look like our characters are being gutted or murdered, and it looks really good for what they had to work with. It's grisly, terrifying, disgusting, and it simply works very well. I would say some of their effects present in the movie are better than some effects in horror movies today.
The characters don't have much of a story arc as the movie runs at a quick pace once the dead starts inhabiting the cabin, but they are able to make you root for Ash as he is trying to make it out of the cabin alive. I think the aspect of him being the sole survivor puts a cool twist on the "final girl" trope, making it a man at the very end. However, because of the scarce character story development present in the movie, it makes it hard for the viewer to feel bad for the characters that are possessed or die throughout the movie.
At the same time, I do think the film sort of drags in the first few minutes of the movie, while we watch the characters travel to the abandoned cabin and find the book of the dead. The rest of the movie after the beginning moves at a very nice pace and really pays off on the scares, but for me, it simply just takes a little too long to set up the film.
As a whole, it is incredibly impressive what Raimi and his team of filmmakers and cast of actors was able to create. This movie is a beautiful example of what an up-and-coming filmmaker can create with such a small budget and a group of inexperienced actors and crew. This film put Raimi on the map, allowing him to go and create such huge franchise films and popular films that horror fans love, which I think he rightfully deserves after creating a fantastic cult-classic like this.