Friday, March 29, 2013

The Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981)

Well, I just came out of watching two movies I absolutely enjoyed - though one you're going to have to wait until a little after the movie comes out for me to release the kind of spoiler containing review on....

I had watched a horror movie that called out to my 'growing up' when my cousin gave me an early VHS of it (which I later had stolen from me) on a big screen and then I saw an advanced screening of its much-anticipated remake.

That's right. Hail to the king, baby! I saw the very groovy double tales to The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi's very first feature film and a landmark in horror cinema, present and to come...

I could pull a hack move and review the entire trilogy at once, but I love these movies too much to subject it to that. Instead, I want to do it one by one. They earned it. They really did. So, let's give The Evil Dead a good shot.

The story is simple enough - now cliched, but original at first instance. Five friends take a trip to a cabin in the middle of the woods. The cabin has a cellar which holds some items you don't particularly see in a cabin - among them a fully working tape player with a creepy recording of a professor and book bound of human flesh and written in blood. The friends mess around with it and unknowingly unleash the wrath of trapped demon souls. One by one the demons begin torturing and mutilating the friends and possessing their bodies. Eventually they realize they will have to fight and possibly kill each other if they wish to survive the night.

Nothing hugely fantastic in the story department. No instance of character really. But who cares? Instead, it's simple enough to allow for a good long set-up of atmosphere and impressive establishing of the supernatural elements of the film in an effective manner. Literature and audio, the naivete of the teenagers... Come on, that's the stuff exposition feeds on.

Then the real scares begin. I mean, they're kind of there from the beginning, but very cheap and silly. Bridge is rickety, almost hit a truck, car is wonky. Creepy stuff, but nothing absolutely scary. The real scares are when the conflict between the demons and the helpless teens begin.

I will have to address a pet peeve at this point. The Evil Dead trilogy has been largely both praised and criticized for its hefty amount of camp. That weight is on the latter two films of the trilogy - the first movie is almost entirely devoid of camp. Anybody who tells you it's campy has not seen it, only the second or third movie and has thought that it extended to the entirety of the series.
The film is marketed as 'The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror'. It delivers with that.

It needs to be said: This is a rarity in bloody, gore cinema.... In fact, unless I'm mistaken, this is the ONLY horror film that uses gore for more than just shock value. It uses it for emotion.
Bruce Campbell's unforgettable protagonist performance as Ashley J. Williams is forever known as the insane, wise-crackin' everyman in the series, but you don't get that here. Instead, you get a very scared, very confused Ash who has to kill his friends one by one to bring their souls peace as they are completely possessed by the beings from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis.
He is forced to do unbearable things to them. Dismember and hack and chainsaw them all in the hope of bringing their souls peace. Put in Ash's place, these are our friends and we have to watch them suffer. That's the real horror of The Evil Dead.
Made worse is the fact that every successful kill of a demon in the film is a fluke until the end. Ash is just trying to survive and doing whatever he can.

The editing by Joel Coen is outstanding, it really brings out the kinetic style in which Sam Raimi shot and the never-ending fear Bruce Campbell's performance has to elicit. The atmosphere is brilliant and there are things in the movie, little slits of light or fog, that just look like the happiest of accidents. The makeup calls back to the styles of Tom Savini and look right at home at Dario Argento's place and its creepy.

Most of all, whoever mixed the sound for the movie is an absolute genius. The noises the possessed makes, the voice morphing, the room tone, the score, it's just a masterpiece of horror atmosphere.

You can claim it's corny, maybe if you're soulless or feel like you've outgrown these types of movies. But you cannot call this campy in the slightest. This is a real terror and we only hope to see Ash make it through the night. I don't feel like I have to mention the already notorious Cheryl/Tree scene, but hey, it's hard to watch so a fair warning. The rest of the movie is just as hard to watch, but it's worth the struggle. You will feel a reprieve at the end.

There is more to it than its scares and childhood nostalgia that have made fall completely in love with this movie, though.
The movie's existence and legacy is a diehard testament to the ability of many things I love championing in cinema. Originality, independent filmmaking, creativity, practical effects...
Sam Raimi was able to create an absolutely horrific tale using only what he and his friends had. Who knows how grueling the production was and how much dedication the cast and the crew had to put into what was essentially a sleeper hit, with the gracious help of legendary horror novelist Stephen King.
It's an underdog movie and you don't cheer for it because it shouldn't have been a success, but because it was a great movie anyway.

If you have not seen The Evil Dead yet, treat yourself, I implore, I guarantee you will find yourself enjoying it, whether scared or not. Especially see it before you see the remake.
I insist.
Join us.

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