And here’s The Evil Dead.
My history with The Evil Dead goes back (I think) to the original cinema release. I definitely saw it in a cinema, and I’m assuming that was the original release.
It was one of those films that got branded as a ‘video nasty’ and was taken to court on obscenity charges, more than once, I think. So for a long time it was unavailable on video in the UK.
I did get a chance to see it again on video when I went on a family holiday to Ireland to stay at my Uncle and Aunt’s house while they were away. They had a VHS VCR, something we didn’t have at home yet, so almost the first thing I did was go into town and take a membership at the local video rental shop, which had quite a large selection (and, I remember, fully a third of their shelf space was Betamax).
Because Ireland hadn’t yet succumbed to the Video Nasty panic, you could still get all the films that were banned in the UK, so I spent a fortnight watching things like The Evil Dead and The Burning. Lots of old-school gory makeup effects in otherwise quite bad films, but at the time it was quite exciting to be seeing these ‘banned’ items.
The Evil Dead is a film of its time. It looks like the low budget film it is, but it succeeds by throwing almost everything into a big, bloody pot and stirring with massive enthusiasm.
I love the occasional wacky shot in some of the sequences. Early on, when the doomed teens are still travelling to the cabin in the woods, they have a near miss with a truck, a stunt which is pulled off almost entirely in the editing. As they are swerving past the truck, there’s a brief shot of one of the passengers at the car window where she was obviously told ‘Look terrified’ as the camera jiggles around to suggest movement.
This tape looks like it might be a dub from a rental tape. I don’t think it would have been shown on TV in 1993, so I must have been copying it. There’s a severe problem with the sound synchronisation, and I can’t tell if that’s from the original source, added by the dubbing, or an artefact of the digitisation process. But there’s something at the end of the tape that’s perfectly synced so I suspect it’s the source or my tape to tape dubbing that introduced the problem.
This is a film that doesn’t even try to pretend that everything’s normal. It starts with the near miss on the road, which is intercut with a lot of shots of the camera prowling over the forest floor, point of view shots of something evil. And when they reach the cabin, it’s scored with spooky, tense music as the driver looks for the key to the door. From the point of view of the characters, they’ve got no reason to be nervous, but the film is making sure we, the viewers, are.
But it doesn’t take any time for strange things to happen. A girl is sketching a clock, the pendulum stops ,oving, there’s a voice from outside intoning ‘Join Us’ and her hand involuntarily draws something.
There’s a cellar under the cabin, and it’s chained up, but it suddenly opens when they’re having dinner. Cue one character (Scotty) going to investigate and not coming back, followed by another (Ash, played by Bruce Campbell) going to look for him.
Of course, he’s OK, and scares Ash. He’s found a bunch of stuff including a tape recorder, a knife with a carved handle, and a strange book with a face on it.
Check out the cool lightning effect.
One of the girls hears voices outside, so she goes out to investigate. We have to forgive this behaviour here because the horror movie rules were really being drafted at this point. But really, in the middle of a forest, I wouldn’t go outside on my own to investigate possible lurking intruders. Especially not in a dressing gown.
This is probably the most infamous sequence in the movie, as she’s attacked by tree branches, her clothes are ripped off, and she’s raped by a tree. This is the sequence which director Sam Raimi has said, in interviews since, that he probably wouldn’t include that sequence if he were making the film now. It’s very crude and raw, and still pretty shocking.
Incidentally, this sequence looks uncut to me, so I wonder which video release it was. This tape is numbered along with other tapes that date to 1993 so I’m presuming that’s when I recorded it.
The BBFC site shows a 1990 video release that was cut by 1m6s, but nothing else until a Film Four release in 2001. I think I had the VHS release from 1990, and it was very choppy, with tiny bits cut from a lot of the most gory sequences, which made it quite annoying to watch, as the whole rhythm of the film was disrupted.
Back to the horror, and the girl who was attacked insists Ash drive her to safety, but the rickety bridge they crossed at the start has been destroyed. “They’re not going to let us leave” she says.
Back at the cabin, there’s a nice reveal, as two other girls are playing cards, and trying to predict the next card, when the girl who was attacked starts getting the cards right every time, and turns from the window to reveal her stunning new look.
The makeup effects for this film are mostly excellent, considering the micro budget and relative inexperience of the filmmakers.
The writing isn’t quite as smart. After one of them has become possessed and had to be locked in the cellar, another girl is attacked by something unseen, screams from her room, and one of the men takes no notice, the other slowly walks to take a look. This is not normal behaviour by any measure.
Bruce Campbell also gets trapped under collapsing bookcases a lot.
Towards the end there’s even some claymation as the evil dead start decomposing.
I think the film still stands up, if you accept it for what it is – a horror movie made for next to no money, delivering plenty of scares and buckets of blood. If you like that sort of thing (and I certainly used to) it’s great. Plus, it made Bruce Campbell a star (sort of) and we should all be grateful for that.
It’s rough around the edges, though, and the really interesting thing is that we got to see what a slightly older, more confident Sam Raimi would do with a bigger budget and the same material, when he practically remade the film as Evil Dead II. That one is an unequivocal masterpiece.
I still wonder if this was the original 1980s Palace Video release, as the film is followed by a ‘Palace Video’ trailer for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless.
After this, there’s 20 minutes of black, presumably the end of the tape, before the source tape stops and begins rewinding, leaving us with BBC1 and a news bulletin, abaout protests against the BNP.
The recording stops a couple of minutes later.