Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part II: The Evil Dead (1981)

Brandon Peters has returned!  Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series.  He continues with a look at The Evil Dead. As only a casual Evil Dead fan, this was an extra-special treat as this isn't a film series that I've memorized by heart.  This was as informative for me as I hope it will be for you.  So without further ado...

The Evil Dead
Director: Sam Raimi
Assistant Editor: Joel Coen
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Rated R

Now the sun will be up in an hour or so, and we can all get out of here together. You, me, Linda, Shelly. Hmm... Well... not Shelly.

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is one of the kings of cult classics and one of the best horror films to grace the screen.  A super low-budget feature with the drive and ambition of one many times its budget, The Evil Dead holds its own and is able to keep hold, not fall apart and stand the test of time.  The film flies by with genuine scares, gore effects and camera techniques truly feeling like a master learning his craft.

Sam Raimi was able to muster up $90,000 of his desired $150,000 (insert Veronica Mars Kickstarter joke here) to go out and shoot his horror film, Book of the Dead (the original title).  A native of Michigan, Raimi and crew headed south to Tennessee to shoot the film.  It was a grudging and sometimes brutal shoot for the cast and crew being out in the middle of nowhere.  Injuries went untreated, people crammed up in rooms in the cabin you see in the film to sleep and actors has to stuff massive contacts into their eyes to get the demon eye effect to work right. 

Little did they know, all their work would turn into a franchise that has spawned sequels, a remake, an INSANE amount of home video releases, multiple video games, figures and comic books.  I don’t think the film hit its massive following or big time cult popularity until the 90's.  For some reason, it feels that as soon as the internet became more public, people started discovering that there were more people than just them that liked The Evil Dead.  Personally, I was the kid that was showing it to my classmates and such in school growing up, but only knew like 2 other people who’d heard of and liked it.  I just feel that with the internet came the mass influx of Evil Dead love and tie-ins.  Like it was a big shock that one was not alone in their love of this franchise.

While the film has its share of continuity errors (who doesn’t notice Hal Delrich’s haircut changing back and forth) and some blurred shots, there’s some really impressive and effective work being done that makes you not care at all about it.  The Evil Dead is one of those movies that make you yell ouch and feel pain that isn’t happening to you.  The scene in which Linda gets stabbed with a pencil STILL makes my ankle hurt to this day.  This movie is still pretty gory by today’s standards too.  There’s a LOT of blood in it. A lot of blood. But unlike some other gore-fests, it all works for laughs and terror.  It feels a part of the story at hand and not an exploitation (which I’m sure was the intent anyway).

Compared to the following to films of the series, Ash is a bit of a different character in the original.  He’s a complete ‘fraidy cat pacifist who is stunned by all the deadites and such.  He cowers at the thought of being heroic.  It isn’t until he’s pushed to the very limit and completely endangered that he steps up to the plate.  And even then he’s not the hard-assed B-movie hero we quote so often.  As a matter of fact, there’s nothing here to quote from him.  I still enjoy this Ash.  But it’s the following 2 films that give us the iconic Ash that graces t-shirts, video games and dialogue in our pop culture.

The females in this film get all the fun parts.  Well, I’m not sure if it was fun to go through them.  There was a rigorous and brutal makeup process involving massive contact lenses going into their eyes to give the effect.  They could only be worn for 10 minutes at a time and the eyes couldn’t breathe while they were in.  However, in the finished products, all of them get to shine and nasty demon baddies.  They’re all portraying evil insanity in many different was.  Each is a memorable deadite and brings the creeps, some dark humor/laughs and plenty of menace.  They are honestly more of a highlight than Ash is in the film.  They quite frankly steal the show.  While we root for Ash to survive the night, one can’t help but enjoy being terrorized by these demon women.

Of the films in the series, this is the only one truly dedicated to being a straight faced horror film.  This one truly holds a special place for me as it truly scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw this as a kid (and many viewings after).  I had to tape it off of late night television (we’ll touch on that in a sec) and I watched it on a weekend night, after my parents had gone to sleep, in a darkened living room sitting super close to the TV.  This movie terrified me.  It was dark, had great jumps, scary ass demons and had those sheer moments of insanity (that at a young age were scary, uncomfortable, unnerving and not enjoyable in a humors/devious sort of way that it is now).  Growing up in Indiana, maybe it was the fact that it genuinely looked Midwest, that I knew places nearby that looked and felt exactly like this setting added to its terror.  Also, the fact that the film ends with the evil announcing that its still ever present leaves you with that “oh shit, its still out there!” hook akin to a John Carpenter film.  My next thought would be, oh crap, now I have to travel across this dark room to turn the lights back on and then go to bed and sleep in the dark.  This is just the thrill I loved putting myself through, growing up a horror film junkie.  If the film did this to me, it was a success.  And The Evil Dead was a pretty big success at that.

I mentioned taping it off TV.  Aside from Army of Darkness, the first two films in this series were challenges to find growing up in the Midwest (Fort Wayne, IN).  Video stores didn’t have them, Suncoast (where most of us movie collectors got our fix back in the 90's) wouldn’t be able to order them because it was out of print, or the video rental store would charge you an astronomical price to order it.  There was no eBay or anything like it to find a used copy.  Because of that, I didn’t get to see the 2nd film until the Anchor Bay VHS release in 1998.  Now, I may have had the opportunity before that, but after exhaustive searches and letdowns, young Brandon may have given up.  Nowadays these films are EVERYWHERE and have a multitude of releases.  Feel grateful, young ones.  I’m not going to be that modern geek hater that acts like I’m better than you because I had to go on elaborate searches or try hard to find VHS tapes…no…I’m the guy that says we (and you younger ones especially) are lucky today.  It’s awesome that these titles are available on Amazon or a click away for us.  Why is that a bad thing?  Films were meant to be seen by all and by whoever wants to see them, not selfishly kept away.  Call me “fake” or not true to my geek heritage for saying that, but I’m happy with who I am and am happy to share this movie and my love for it with whomever also enjoys it, regardless of looks, weight, hygiene, dress code or background knowledge.

The Evil Dead is one of my favorite horror films and films in general of all time.  Watching it can always give me that nostalgic feeling of the film that terrified me many moons ago.  It’s still a very enjoyable, fun and scary watch today.  I can only hope that somewhere out there a young boy/girl up late at night is popping this in for the first time, unaware of what’s to come and has the same experience I did when I watched it for the first time.

“Join us” next time:  EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN

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