Horror Movie Review: The Evil Dead (1981)
There are two types of Evil Dead fans…those who prefer the non-comedic, brutally dark original & those who prefer the lighter-toned, slapstick effort from the sequel. There is a third type that claims the remake is superior to both but we keep them locked in the cellar as they’re clearly possessed by a demon.
While it is possible to love both of course, everyone at some point in their life will be asked this question…which one do you prefer?
Growing up I much preferred the sequel. The horror elements, over the top gore & exceedingly good performances resonated with me. However with age came a different perspective. I found that the darker tone of the original, the hopelessness of it all & finality of the ending was something I had grown to love. It felt more like an adult horror. Which isn’t to say the sequel is aimed at kids or anything…it’s just easier to digest.
It’s a similar to how my preference of which George A Romero ‘of the dead’ I considered the best changed. At a younger age the hopelessness of Day of the Dead didn’t appeal so Dawn of the Dead was always my favourite. That’s not the case anymore.
So the answer to the question of which type of Evil Dead fan I am? I prefer the original & this is why.
Ash (Bruce Campbell) alongside his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), his sister Cheryl, (Ellen Sandweiss), their friend Scotty (Hal Delrich) & his girlfriend Shelly (Sarah York) are heading off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of drinking & relaxation. The cabin is an ugly looking thing that holds very little appeal. Especially when the swing-chair outside is banging heavily on the wall with very little wind about.
The approach to the cabin is one filled with tension as the woods just feel wrong. You can see it on the faces of the characters too. They are clearly uncomfortable but don’t quite understand why.
Once inside they relax a bit. That is until nightfall & the oppressive woods seem to take on a life of their own. Cheryl draws a picture of a twisted looking book which is found later by Ash & Scotty in the cellar alongside a recording. They play the recording & hear the voice of an archaeologist who found ‘the book of the dead’. As they play the recording the voice reads a passage taken from the book that wakes something evil. Something that wants their souls & begins by possessing the girls, turning them into demonic creatures.
Creatures that are violent but sickeningly playful in their nature. Their behaviour makes for some of the best scenes not just in this movie but in horror overall. The sight of a possessed Linda sitting cross-legged laughing at Ash before softly singing ‘we’re gonna get you, we’re gonna get you’ will stick with you forever.
It’s a fantastic story, one that doesn’t need to explain the origins of this evil & why it exists in the woods at all. This is the tale of Ash & his friends. The tale of how they came under attack from an ancient evil.
It’s a pretty hopeless movie as things just go from bad to worse. Every calm scene is just there to heighten the tension as you prepare for the next demonic assault. No character is safe & transformations come out of nowhere. Such as Cheryl’s terrifying change that involves her accurately predicating what cards will be drawn next.
The make-up & effects are very impressive for such a low-budget horror. You’ll have to be looking hard to really notice issues. The blood flows, not as cartoonishly as it does in the sequel though. Here we get a more visceral type of gore with a pencil jammed into an ankle being a particularly memorable moment!
The cast do great for the most part. Some of the dialogue is cheesy & a few scenes are awkwardly unconvincing but once they are possessed no-one fails to entertain. Whereas Bruce Campbell’s Ash would be come a legend in the sequel here his character is more of a frightened & confused man. There are no quips, no one-liners, no moments of badass-ness…he is just in a fight to survive. His character doesn’t even feel like the lead.
Ash is one thing that the sequel definitely improves on but the unrelenting horror, great use of musical cues & tension filled scenes makes The Evil Dead one of the best horror movies ever made.
The Evil Dead
The Final Score - 9/10