Few horror movie genres have amassed the kind of cult following the Evil Dead trilogy has, and even fewer have done it unintentionally. Obviously, over time we're going to hit up all the movies on the site, but having seen them so many times now, I don't think I could cram a review of all three flicks into one article. We'll save the 'best', Army of Darkness, for last, and today start with the movie that kicked off this unforgettable trilogy...The Evil Dead.
It's hard to explain exactly how the trilogy has gained such timeless success. Part of it's obviously the fact that it's been regarded as a 'cool' movie among the younger generation...basically every young generation. I didn't see it for the first time until I was well in high school, and that wasn't all that long ago. The movie came out in 1982. That should give you a clue as to it's staying power. Of course, Army of Darkness, which really cemented the trilogy's place in movie history, didn't come out until over a decade later, but that's another post entirely. :)
Director Sam Raimi's approach to this movie involved a whole lot of fake blood and surprise shocks. It's definitely a pretty direct, classic horror movie. To be perfectly honest about it, I've seen many better horror movies, and a ton that were three times scarier. Especially now that so much time has gone by for movies to evolve and people to improve on past plot devices. Still, it's not without it's horrific charms. Aside from the vicarious feeling of impending doom and helplessness for main character Ash, the movie has got a ton of that old time classic gore. Fake blood and twisted body parts all around. In more recent horror flicks, that's something that's pretty rare. Sometimes it's fun to just kick back and watch some demons get axed or explode into piles of green stuff.
Those who haven't seen the movie might be a little letdown after hearing all the stories about it for all these years. I don't personally feel Raimi was out to create a masterpiece as much as he was out to create just a good, unique downright horror flick, so if you go into it just expecting that, you won't be disappointed. Just remember that when you hear people talk about 'Evil Dead' or quote Ash, they're almost always talking about the sequels, which, especially in the case of Army of Darkness, do a complete 180 on the approach.
The story: Ash and friends are going for a little vacation at a eerie log cabin in the woods. As we all know by now, nothing good will ever come from log cabins in the woods. They should be avoided entirely, especially in cinema, cuz it's usually a telltale sign that someone's going to get royally screwed. The cabin doesn't seem quite right even from the beginning, but then again, they're all still alive. And that brings us to another cardinal rule of horror -- the windows can break, the roof can fly off your house, or your car can suspiciously explode...you simply deny anything weird's going on until someone gets raped by a tree. We'll get to that in a bit.
Sure enough, they find some weird artifacts and an old tape recording machine down in the cellar. After playing it, they realize that the person who had been here before was doing a little occult experimenting, which is always a movie no-no, especially in the woods. That Exorcist girl messed with a Quija board and ended up vomiting for 90 minutes. Greg Brady started wearing strange Tiki regalia, and couldn't surf well anymore. It's just common knowledge, leave the occult stuff alone. They play his tapes, which include the guy reciting some weird shit that ultimately ends up waking the demon spirits of the forest, and we're off to horrorland.
After some time, Ash's friends, consisting of his girlfriend, another couple, and a lowly single girl with a big nose, start getting corrupted by the hauntings and turned into demons. It's a curse that can't be reversed...the only way Ash can survive is by physically mutilating them. And even when he does that, they keep on coming! When his friends get 'demonized', there's a few things that happen to them besides just looking odd. They like to sing little songs, giggle, and stab your ankles with sharp pencils. If Ash isn't turned into one of them outright, it's definitely looking like he'll be ripped to shreds anyway. Can he escape?!
That's your basic plot, sans spoilers. This isn't a spoiler-proof article, because I'm going to ruin all the good part of the movie in just a few minutes. Now when I reviewed Cool As Ice, I'm sure nobody was upset over that, but if you've got some grand Halloween plan to watch the Evil Dead trilogy for the first time, be warned!
Back then, and let's face it, even today, Raimi wasn't considered one of Hollywood's premiere directors. He wasn't granted a huge budget and endless resources to work on this film. I've heard the budget was 50,000 dollars. I've also read that it was 300,000, but even then, that's a small amount to work with. Considering that, he put together a fantastic movie with a then-undone storyline, great footage, cheesy yet admirable performances, and a whole lotta gore. The movie was actually filmed in an abandoned log cabin. Bruce Campbell (Ash) was Raimi's lifelong friend. This wasn't a huge, big budget spectacular. It was just a horror movie, and a pretty good one that lets you leave your thinking caps off. You're watching the flick to get scared and see blood. Enjoy it for that.
Army of Darkness, and to a lesser extent, Evil Dead 2, had a ton of famous scenes and catch-phrases which are still remembered today. While Evil Dead might be guilty of cult popularity through association, it's not without some pretty killer scenes and imagery.
There was one scene in particular that really grabbed me while watching it, not really because it's all that scary, but because it's way fucked up. Yep, the infamous tree rape scene of doom!
This girl was the classic horror idiot. Assume you're in a log cabin, out in the woods in the middle of nowhere. You're already under the impression that death awaits. It's black outside. You hear a noise. What do you do? Go jump in bed with Ash and his girlfriend? Hide under the covers? Kill yourself? All three would be much, much better decisions than going outside. Fucking fool.
So yes, she goes outside. Not only does she go outside - she walks so far away from the house that nobody could hear her no matter how loud she screamed. To top this brilliant move, she starts making requests for whatever is out there to show itself. Cheryl , what were you gonna do if it did? 'A ha! I knew you were some devil spawn from Hell! GO ME!' C'mon! Sometimes it's more important to be alive than it is to be right. For Christ's sake, they just listened to the god damned audio book version of the fucking Necronomicon! You don't listen to that and then go out for a stroll in the obviously haunted woods.
What happens next is classic. She starts getting attacked by branches. Evil branches, for those guessing. These aren't like those trees from the Inhumanoids...they've got sour intentions. But their intentions aren't to simply cut up poor Cheryl...they wanna make her baby.
AHH! Now that's pretty fucking disturbing. Cheryl gets pleasured by the evil branches in cinema's first and I presume only case of rough sex between a girl and a tree. It's pretty eerie. I'm sure this was the film's way of making sure we got the titshot we've come to expect from horror flicks of the time, but if there ever was a scene that was an attention grabber - this was it. Nobody's going to get up for popcorn while a girl's getting raped by a tree. Not even with those subliminal popcorn messages they flick on and off.
Surprisingly, Cheryl escapes to the house, almost safe. Of course, now she's completely lost her mind, but that's pretty much a given progression of things after one has unsolicited sex with plantlife.
Cheryl 's a victim in the truest sense of the word, telling her friends that there's bad shit going on, but neglecting to mention the steamy details. Hey, I'd be pretty embarrassed too. Could you imagine if this girl was a virgin? It's bad enough to lose it when you don't want to...but to a tree? Well, I guess it has it's good points. There's no way Cheryl 's next boyfriend is going to feel inadequate about her past sexual experiences. Unless we're going by length...then I'm pretty sure the tree would win out. Unless her next boyfriend was Ahmed Johnson. So many questions, so little time, but it doesn't really make a hell of a difference, because after what Cheryl goes through next, her future sex life is gonna be the absolute last thing on her mind.
Cheryl turned into one of those demons! JEEZ talk about a bad day. You kick it off with a bad outfit. You get raped by a tree. And then, on top of that, you turn into a satanic demonspawn from Hell! On the bright side - in demon form, Cheryl was a lot better at guessing what cards her friends were holding up. She could also fly. On the downside, she was even uglier and all his exploits only resulted in her getting locked in the basement.
Poor Cheryl. Eventually she'd die, again. But we'll never forget what she brought to Evil Dead. If Cheryl wasn't in this movie, Evil Dead could never claim to be part of that club of 80s horror flicks that had an entirely unnecessary sex scene and nude scene. Without Cheryl...Evil Dead would be nothing.
Of course, Ash's girlfriend isn't much better. At first, she seems like a sweetheart. She agreed to marry Ash before he had any cool catchphrases. But, alas, once she gets demonized, she turns into a real bitch. And it's even worse for Ash now, since he's reluctant to just shoot the girl he loves, even though she's dead and possessed by demons. It wouldn't be so bad if Evil Girlfriend was just trying to kill Ash, but it's not that simple. She's not just trying to maim, she's trying to annoy...
She's quite possibly the most annoying satan spawn I've ever seen. She's like that idiot girl at your birthday party who smokes pot for the first time and ends up writhing in unstoppable and unwarranted giggling for seven hours straight. I'm surprised Ash didn't blow her head off sooner.
Here's a semi-little known fact. There was a big lapse in filming for this movie...essentially, the better part of the last half of the movie only stars Ash and a bunch of extras/stunt people. In other words, at most points, the demons aren't the original actors in hideous makeup. They're other actors in hideous makeup. To make things more confusing, Ash's girlfriend is played by someone else entirely in Evil Dead 2, and by then, she's learned to dance. By the time Army of Darkness rolled around, Ash was so sick of the bullshit that he entirely forgot she ever existed and started having sex with busty medieval girls who also managed to get possessed and turned into a deadite. Got all that?
Out of the trilogy, this movie was the only one really meant to be taken as a serious horror movie. There's still a lot of blood and guts in Evil Dead 2, but it's way more lighthearted. And Army of Darkness is a comedy/satire in a horror setting. Definitely different types of movies. While most prefer the later flicks, some horror purists will always say the first is the best. I disagree for the most part...I can watch AOD 100 times in a row, but Evil Dead? Five times a year at best. Still, a great horror flick, fully endorsed by Stephen King!
Did you know: The Evil Dead is actually an inspired version of Raimi's 1978 short, Within the Woods? The rumor is it was shot mainly to raise money for Evil Dead's filming, and features Ash turning into a fucked up monster who tries to kill his girlfriend. Don't try looking for it - it's 30 minutes long, extremely rare. During interviews, Campbell has said that there's bootlegs going around, but your chances at locating it or even any sort of really in-depth info on it are slim. After endless searching though, I was able to locate a few pics...
Within The Woods Plot: Four college students, two couples, decide to vacation at a farmhouse in the woods. So far, same story. :) While on a picnic outside with his girl, Campbell takes off and stumbles across an ancient Indian burial ground and unearths a cross, a broken bowl and a hunting knife buried in a shallow grave. Of course, in doing so, Campbell disturbs the grave and arouses the evil spirit. The spirit murders Campbell and takes control of his body to kill his friends. A twist on the final results of Evil Dead, but it's nice to know that Ash got to wear all that fun makeup at one point, too.
It was shot on a budget less than 2000 dollars, and it shows. Some have remarked that the thing looks like it was shot in Raimi's closet. But it's definitely interesting to see how much heart Raimi and Campbell have put into this project right from the very beginning and to this day. Usually, actors will try to downplay their famous 'past' roles in favor of their acting future. Not Campbell - if you've seen an interview with the guy, he's amazingly enthusiastic about the Evil Dead phenomenon and loves the fact that it's still such a big thing today.
If you haven't seen it, it's *definitely* worth your time. And again, like a lot of the movies we're reviewing this month, this is certainly the season to check it out again.
Coming soon...a review of Evil Dead 2!