Today we celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Evil Dead’s release in the United States. This film was easily the first of its kind, which paved way for so many gory splatter films to come. The Evil Dead was the film that jump started Sam Raimi’s (Spider-man 2 2004) career and helped Bruce Campbell (Ash vs Evil Dead TV series) become a horror icon. With its success and fan following, sequels were released and merchandise and memorabilia hit the shelves. The Evil Dead became a cult classic and, because of the story line, special effects and humor, it is still relevant today.
Before we dig deeper into all that, let me give you a quick history of the movie. Writer and director Sam Raimi made a name for himself by creating ordinary characters who experience extraordinary events. His debut film, The Evil Dead, set the tone for what extraordinary looks like. The film follows a small group of college students who take a trip to a cabin out in a remote wooded location. The group is made up of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker), Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), their friend, Scotty (Richard DeManincor), and his girlfriend, Shelly (Theresa Tilly). During their first night in the cabin, Cheryl is the first to encounter what secrets the cabin possesses.
Later that night, a trapdoor is swung open that leads to the cellar. Ash and Scotty decide to take a look and come across a strange, creepy-looking book, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, along with a tape recorder. The playing of the tape recording brings a demonic entity back to life. This causes Cheryl to become physically upset, and she isolates herself from the rest of the group. While outside Cheryl is attacked and raped by possessed trees. Returning to the cabin, she tries to explain what happened to her and wants to go back to town. Of course, like in any horror movie, there is no easy escape.
After listening to more of the voice on the recorder, Ash learns that the only way to defeat this entity is to dismember it when it latches on to its host. Ash is now faced with an overflow of supernatural occurrences that he must fight off in order to survive. The events that follow showcase great storytelling and cinematography methods that broaden the audience’s imagination.
Raimi and his production crew had a very small budget for The Evil Dead. The fact that they were filming on location became an inspiration to the way scenes were captured. The set designs were artfully exposed to help amplify character emotions and capture a visual theme. The decision to film certain scenes on oblique angles created a perfect portrayal of psychological uneasiness and tension between the characters. This ultimately helped the atmosphere evolve throughout the film. Raimi was able to capture a realness of pain and anger from the actors by skillfully pushing their limits. He was correct in saying that being in extreme pain and misery translates into a horror. It provides that connection between viewer and character that triggers the terror of experiencing what is unfolding right before your eyes.
Tom Sullivan (The Fly II 1989) took on the role of special effects artist for The Evil Dead. With the limited resources and budget, Sullivan was able to give the film a homemade but horrifying feel through his techniques. Stop-motion animation, special effects makeup, claymation and puppets were all used during filming. He is single handedly responsible for many of the memorable scares and imagery from this film. Iconic and notable scenes include showing the Necronomicon, the possessed teens, and the different point of views, which were all made possible through the visions of Tom Sullivan.
The Evil Dead and its sequels have become one of the most favorable cult film trilogies. It was the breakout film that started Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s careers. They would eventually continue with other collaborations in the following years. The Evil Dead started a media frenzy with sequels, video games, comics, and a plethora of memorabilia. In 2013, it was revitalized with a reboot that pulled a new generation of horror fans into the story. The most recent continuation of the films is the television series Ash vs Evil Dead, following an older Ash Williams as he is confronted with more demons from the Necronomicon. Even after all these years, The Evil Dead has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Hail to the king, baby!