Ever-present, ever-listening, the Evil Dead lie in wait for the one ancient incantation that will give them license to possess the living. Watch in horror as five vacationing college students unwittingly resurrect these slumbering demons, and are forced into battle with the supernatural forces that occupy the forests and dark bowers of man’s domain. The innocent must suffer. The guilty must be punished. One-by-one, the students are possessed by these demons whose thirst for revenge is insatiable. As the night wanes, only one man remains…Ash. He must now defend himself while trying to uncover the horrible secret of The Evil Dead.
The Evil Dead 7.5
eyelights: its incredibly creative direction. its blend of gory horror and campy humour. its DIY quality.
eyesores: the rape scene.
“You will die! Like the others before you, one by one, we will take you.”
Sam Raimi’s ‘The Evil Dead’ is a cult classic. The 1981 low budget horror film has become such an iconic genre movie that it’s been spun off into multiple comic books and video games. A musical adaptation of it has also successfully been brought to the stage.
And it started a few careers: Sam Raimi has since gone on to become one of Hollywood’s most bankable directors (his ‘Spider-Man’ effectively helped start the superhero movie boom), and its star, Bruce Campbell has been on the big and small screen ever since.
It’s so adored by its countless fans that two sequels and a reboot have been released since, and the title is constantly being repackaged and re-released on home video, creating an exasperating stream of different editions for them to collect – as though one weren’t enough.
To think that this picture was a first time feature made on borrowed cash and elbow grease. And ingenuity. Lots and lots of ingenuity.
It’s not the plot that makes the movie what it is: Five young adults go to a rented cabin for the weekend. There, they inadvertently awaken some evil spirits that proceed to take them over one by one, causing all sorts of mischief and terror. It ends bloody. Oh so very bloody.
Aside for all the viscera, it’s the ingenuity that makes ‘The Evil Dead’ so much fun to watch: it’s seeing all the elaborate shots and effects that Raimi successfully put on the screen, given that he didn’t have the means to do it properly – a Hollywood picture would have cost ten times as much.
Just from the onset, we get a taste of what’s to come: There’s a POV shot that starts in a bog and then goes through a forest and up a hill – it’s all done in one take. It immediately makes one wonder how they pulled it off, and what other amazing tricks the picture will have up its sleeve.
The list is endless. For example:
- While the group of youth are driving up to the cabin, there is a shot of the driver from below crotch level. Given that they couldn’t afford a mock-up car, one has to wonder how they got the shot. Was the cameraperson awkwardly propped upside down in the passenger seat? Did they just prop the camera at the actor’s feet and hope for the best?
- After the group gets past the derelict bridge, they slowly drive through the woods to the shack. The shot is from behind them, at least ten feet above the car. Since they didn’t have a crane, how did they pull that off? It was amusing to watch, because you can see branches whip into camera as they follow the car – that’s how high the camera was above the car.
- At one point, there is a clock cam. Honest. A clock cam. We actually get a POV shot from behind the pendulum on this aging clock. That’s just nuts. The fact that someone thought about it is already impressive (and ridiculous, adding to the fun), but that they actually made the shot happen is quite something.
- When Ash goes out to the bridge, when he comes out of the car it looks as though he’s walking on an angle. What they did was to park the car on an angle, match the camera’s angle to it, and then he walked normally, giving the illusion that he was walking on an angle. It’s simple, really, but that they thought of it to enhance the scene and pulled it off is amazing to see.
- At the end, when our lead descends into madness, there are Dutch angles, the camera swings over him, and it follows him from above the boards in the ceiling – it’s not just a ceiling cam, it’s an above-the-ceiling cam. And it’s enhanced by sound effects each time the camera passes a board. So awesome.
I was really impressed with the film’s soundtrack: it features a wealth of different styles and atmospheres, all enhancing the picture. Pure genius. I wonder who put this together – it’s quite something for a first picture, both for the skill involved and also the fact that they could afford it. Perhaps it was all public domain?
Anyway, Raimi sure knew how to create a mood with this picture. After giving us the eerie thumping of the porch swing, we went into the cabin to find massive amounts of dust collected in the air, with the sunlight shining through to give it a murky look. It was nothing new, but it was so well put together.
The way that he built the mood was a bit nutty at times, slightly exaggerated, but it was nonetheless effective throughout. And he built it up further as he went along, making the film more and more manic as it barreled towards the end, becoming gradually more insane and injecting more cartoony humour.
It’s all brilliant…but there’s that one scene (if you’ve seen the movie, you know the one I mean):
There’s a moment when one of the girls (two guys, three girls, one shack, lots of evil spirits) hears a sound outside her window and calls out, asking who’s there. Naturally, no one responds. So what does she do? She goes out to check. Stupid, I know, but it gets even stupider in that she finds no one and decides to go wandering out in the woods.
So she’s out in the dark of night, in her nightgown, looking for a potential creep. Alone. Because none of her friend hear her calling out or leave. Noitch. But what she finds is not what we all expect – it’s not a psycho killer. No. It’s a bunch of branches. She gets attacked by the woods themselves – no doubt under the control of EEEEEVIL.
The attack is vicious. The branches tear at her and then wrap around her, seize her and pin her down. It’s an impressive scene to watch because it’s not just a genuinely terrifying scene, it was really well captured by Raimi, when you consider that these were all practical effects – there was no CGI or other trickery involved.
And then she gets raped.
Yes, you read correctly: she is defiled by the !@#$ woods.
This is the scene that tarnishes the whole movie for me. When I think of ‘The Evil Dead’, my first thought is that it’s the movie with the !@#$-ing tree-rape scene. It’s nasty, grotesque and in unbelievably poor taste. Not that rape is ever a good thing, but sometimes it serves the picture. This was entirely gratuitous and unnecessary.
The fact is that the scene would have worked without the rape: it was traumatic enough as is. But somehow, someone thought that it would be funny to include a branch violently tearing through her. And yes, it was intended to be funny, as evidenced by her reaction and the way that it was set up. And I’m sorry, but rape is no laughing matter.
…no matter what the free speech apologist might say.
The worst of it is when you think of how questionable the whole scene is. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever that she would go out in the woods like that. So, basically, it was all just a set up so that she could get attacked by the woods – which in turn means that the rape ended up being the focal point of that sequence.
It was gratuitous. The scene exists only for her to be raped. Rape in cinema shouldn’t exist for any reason other than to inform characters’ behaviour, to provoke reflection, discussion and debate, or to move a story along. It should certainly not exist for titillation or for laughs. That is of utmost disrespect to victims of rape.
Sam Raimi has since expressed much regret to having put that scene in his movie, and it is said that the original script did not include the scene, that it was conceived in the heat of the moment, as they were making the picture. One could write it off as a youthful indiscretion, but it’s the sort of thing none of us should be blind to.
Not even in youth. (Don’t get me started on the rise of the so-called “rape culture” plaguing colleges and universities in recent years!!!)
Look, ‘The Evil Dead’ is not meant to be realistic; if anything, it’s meant to be over-the-top. I get that. This is made abundantly clear by all the nonsensical elements of the picture, from the shifting proportions of the cabin and cellar, all the way to the absurd possession sequences and cartoony violence.
But no one should take rape lightly. Ever. It’s not just traumatic enough that it ruins and reshapes victims’ lives, the consequences of rape often transcend generations, whether it be directly or indirectly. To think that it’s just one of those things we can make light of and/or dismiss is incredibly negligent.
‘The Evil Dead’ is an imperfect film. And anyone expecting a masterpiece is likely going to be disappointed by some of the performances, the dialogues, the production and even some of the direction. But, given its origins and the hurdles that were climbed to make it, it’s clear that there’s some creative genius there.
It’s a simple tale with not much meat on it, but what makes ‘The Evil Dead’ so bloody awesome to watch is the way that it was cobbled together. It may not be a great film from a typical standpoint, but it’s stylistically impressive: it overcomes many of its limitations out of sheer creativity and insane fury.
It’s an amazing DIY film. And for that alone, it deserves at least a modicum of respect.
Date of viewing: October 1, 2014