The Evil Dead

USA, 1981
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor

The release of The Evil Dead on Blu-ray seems like a good excuse to revisit this iconic horror film. Ordinarily I'd hesitate to review such a well-known movie - for the simple reason that most horror fans will have already seen it.

But the film is now 30 years old, and I'm sure there's a whole new generation of horror fans yet to discover it, and others who may be wondering how the bluray holds up. If either of these sounds like you, read on ... for there's no doubt that it belongs on this site.

When the film was made, it was highly controversial - either being banned or given an X certificate in many countries. Unfairly referred to as a 'video nasty', it's far better than that description might suggest, and deserves a more educated assessment. This is a highly accomplished genre film that pushed the creative envelope in many directions, despite its low-budget origins.

The story has a ring of familiarity that horror fans will instantly recognise - a bunch of friends head to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway, and thereafter die gruesome deaths one by one. I'm not giving anything away by saying this ... from the first few minutes there's no doubting what territory you're in. But don't let this synopsis put you off, because this is no Hollywood-sanitized, by-the-numbers horror film. For one it is genuinely scary, secondly it has a sly humour about it, and thirdly there is no pandering to conservative ideals of good taste. All of which sets it apart from the vast majority of U.S. horror films made in the 30 years since.

On arriving at the cabin, an old book is discovered along with a tape recording made by the previous occupants. The book is none other than The Book of the Dead, containing the necessary incantations to bring demonic entities back from the underworld. Unfortunately for the group, this is exactly what happens and mayhem ensues. And when I say mayhem, I mean utter ... fucking ... pandemonium. It's gory, twisted and taken to the extreme. Which is my way of saying its an incredibly good time.


Where the film saved on budget was obviously with the cast, who were all unknowns at the time, and for the most-part still are. The obvious exception is chisel-jawed Bruce Campbell who went on to carve himself into cult history with this role and the subsequent sequels.

Technically, the film's accomplishments are astonishing given that it was independently produced on a very limited budget. The camera-work is inventive (especially love the POV shots), and the effects are varied and effective. But what really stands out for me is the sound design - this is a movie that aurally envelopes you in the experience, the sounds being at least as disturbing as the visuals and ensuring that psychological tension is applied and maintained at all the right times. This is where the bluray really shines - I doubt the original mono sound mix could ever have sounded as good as this new DTS HD Master Audio surround-sound presentation. Play it loud!


As for the bluray transfer - I wasn't holding my hopes too high, given that the film was only shot on 16mm to begin with. And while the picture quality can't compete with new release studio films, it was still better than expected. The picture is clean and probably the best it could be ... and besides, the grainy low-budget look to the film adds an extra level of creepiness that suits the film.

For any horror fan this is a must-watch. It has an over-the-top level of creative gore, and is a genuine horror experience. Much more horror than comedy, it straddles the divide between traditional horror and the horror-comedy of its sequel, The Evil Dead II.The Blu-ray has many extra features and is worth picking up for the awesome sound quality alone.

Rating: 8.5/10. Highly recommended.


Ventilation Shaft said...

Bruce Campbell is one of my favorite actors of all times. I can literally watch him in anything. And the "Evil Dead" series definitely ranks amongst my favorite film of all time.

But! Only ED II and III. The original, I never quite got into it. I get the historic value and all, but precisely because it's more horror than comedy like the later installments, in this day and age I see it as nothing more than an out-dated horror. It's still fun, no doubt. But I rarely get the urge to re-watch it, like I do with the 2nd and 3rd parts.

That aside, it was very interesting reading BC autobiography, where he talks about the making of this film at length - filming in the middle of the night in winter, cameras and actors freezing, stumbling about literally blinded by the contact lenses, equipment breaking down... it was a true adventure even behind the camera.


Hiya Shaft ... Part II was always my favorite of the series too. But revisiting part 1 on bluray gave me a new appreciation for it. I think the improvement in sound quality had a lot to do with that.

If you get a chance to rewatch it on bluray, hook it into a decent sound system and crank it up! You may be surprised.

By the way, love the improvements to your blog - looking great!

Ventilation Shaft said...

A blu-ray in my current situation would be useless, because I don't have a HD TV, nor the room to set up a proper sound system. But some day...

Anyway, thanks for the kind words about the 'new and improved' site. There are still some formatting issues to deal with in the old posts, but we'll get to it eventually.

Systematicer said...

A lot of good things that you said there. Genuinely scary, hell yes. Inventive camera-work, yes, from start to finish. And the great sound design and score. Maybe it's just that I realized it way after the fact, but I think to me sound in film generally became as important as the image, if not even more so. This is especially true for horror films, of course. And what would a David Lynch film be without sound?

I love 'The Evil Dead' because it's one of the few films I actually ever found scary (which is even more remarkable given how over the top and humorous it is) and I think the filmmaking is extremely inventive and technically accomplished, that it obviously had an ultra-low budget just makes it even more amazing.

'Evil Dead II' always was my least favorite of the trilogy. It's actually also very stylish but it never worked for me nearly as well as the others, it's too comedic to ever be scary and eventually I don't find it all that funny either, probably because it still tries to be scary. I also never really got around the fact that it feels quite a bit like a bigger budgeted rehash of the first film and at the same time also wants to be some sort of a sequel. I prefer 'Army of Darkness' which takes a very different route to the previous films and although it's still some sort of horror film it actually plays mostly for laughs.

I was very much against another sequel let alone a remake but the trailer to the upcoming remake got me interested. Fittingly enough it's mostly the trailer score that piqued my interest. I tend to really like electronic industrial-sounding movie scores and if this was any indication of the score in the final film I'm definitely on board for this aspect of the production alone.


Yeah I'm totally with you on the sound aspect, and Lynch is the perfect example.

I haven't checked out the remake trailer yet - likely I'll be staying far far away from it. ED1 is a sacred cow as far as I'm concerned and a lame retread is just not necessary. Except for someone's bank account of course!

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