Ah, now we’re getting into the elites. Numbers 13-11 on this list could have all easily made it into my Top 10, and it is only by the slimmest of margins that they didn’t make it. It pains me to have to do this to them because they are three of my favorites, but they just weren’t favorite enough this time around.
There are good movies, there are bad movies, and there are “So Bad They’re Good” movies. And then, every once in a while, you find a movie that doesn’t really fit into any of those categories. Movies like this might be great but have one tremendous flaw that keeps them from becoming a classic, or they might be movies that are shoddily made, but have a quality script and such enthusiasm behind them that you can ignore most of its glaring flaws. The Evil Dead is one of these movies.
Contrary to popular belief, The Evil Dead franchise actually started out with a horror movie. While Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness are the ones everyone remembers for their campy take on the horror genre, everyone seems to forget the original, classic film, which is the “Stuck in a Cabin in the Woods” film by which all others in its subgenre are compared. Filmed on a budget that would have to be inflated to be called shoestring, genre legend Sam Raimi in his first directorial effort and a bunch of his college friends (including an up and coming Bruce Campbell) tell the simple, classic story of a handful of college kids taking a weekend in a cabin in the country, only for things to fall apart once they find and read a book on demon summoning. It’s simple, it’s to the point, and it will make blood (among many, many, many other fluids) run down the screen.
Now, from a production standpoint, The Evil Dead is a pretty terrible movie. A filming time of almost a year on scattered weekends whenever the crew could scrounge together money makes continuity in this film a joke. Characters and monsters look different from shot to shot. The gore effects are ugly, and often involve them shooting a shotgun at dummies and seeing what would come out. Blood is often made of a mix of rotten milk, paint and dog food. The dialogue is iffy, and there’s even a great point in the movie where one character even blows a line and drops his head in embarrassment, and they kept it in the movie!
All that being said… there is so much to love about this film it’s silly. First and foremost, it is a solid horror movie, and damn creepy if you give it half a chance. Many of the possession scenes are downright terrifying, and I defy you to not feel uncomfortable when Shelly gets a little too up-close-and-personal with the trees in the forest. As well, in the cheap production values lies a great amount of enthusiasm that’s hard not to love. As much as the filmmaking experience was a hellish one (listen to the horror stories Bruce Campbell has to tell on the DVD’s audio commentary some day), the combined efforts of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell make this into something special. Raimi goes completely insane with a lot of the film’s sight gags, camera angles and more over the top grossout moments, while Campbell throws himself (often literally) into whatever insanity Raimi has thought up. It’s unashamedly an exploitation film with gore that’s so over-the-top that after a while it’s almost impossible not to laugh at it. This is, for so many reasons, a bad movie, but it has so much inherent charm that it’s easy to ignore those faults and just go along for the ride.
While its sequels are generally considered funnier and more mainstream, I will always hold a place in my heart for the original Evil Dead. I just hope it doesn’t want to hold my heart back, because it could probably rip it out in about ten seconds flat.
(REMAKE NOTE: Yes, this film was remade recently, and in all respects, it was all right. It was gory, it was over the top, and could not be mistaken for anything but an Evil Dead movie. While it lacked all the original's charm, I had a fun time, but it is fairly forgettable. I am glad it exists, however, for bringing attention back to the franchise for a younger generation, as it seems fairly likely now that it's success will get Raimi and Campbell back together for one more adventure with the Book of the Dead. Fingers crossed!)
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-- Matt Carter
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