Reviews In The Machine : The Evil Dead (1981)
I decided to take a trip down amnesia lane and revisit an old classic with the Evil Dead, the movie that would launch both a franchise as well as (arguably) the career of Bruce Campbell.
I’ve always loved the punk rock, cult atmosphere around these films, for as much more attention as they have gotten in recent years with first the remake and then Ash vs Evil Dead. These films exuded what I have argued is crucial to the heart of great horror movies.
Practical special effects.
The thing that I consistently love the most about this movie is how it feels like it’s occupying an actual physical space. And despite the fact that the budget was so low, they did a phenomenal job making that practical space seem terrifying. Despite having very little backstory, preamble, prologue or exposition, I immediately felt the unease and discomfort around this cabin. Everything has an aged, worn- down look to it, as if the thing is rejecting life itself.
The people who were responsible for dressing the set were geniuses. Everything from the groaning and creaking of the wood, to the look and feel of the faded book which our heroes find, to the sound of rain dripping down through the ceiling and onto the floors. The basement was incredible, with buckets and tools clanking against each other, the sound of it all really brought you into this frightening place, more so than many other movies I’ve ever watched.
I think another area where the film excels is in that it proves that you don’t need make the development of a concept overly complicated. These aren’t difficult machines that we are putting together. It is entirely possible to scare people and engage with the viewer while at the same time laying down some fairly basic brushstrokes. We know nothing about this cabin or how this group of friends came to renting it. We don’t know what’s going on in those words or what the history of that location is. But with a few simple and basic scenes, the film manages to infuse a huge level of dread and foreboding in every set piece that comes onto screen.
All it takes is for our heroes to find a creepy looking book along with some tape recordings from who I assume used to live at the cabin. We have all the basics we need to figure out pretty much exactly what ends up going on for the rest of the film. And while we have an intellectual understanding of what’s happening, the fact that we don’t really have any clue what the hell is going on makes the story that much more captivating and scary.
This is certainly not without its flaws. I’m not going to stand here and try and trumpet some ridiculous song about how this is the pinnacle of modern cinema. The acting isn’t great, pretty much all around. And I realize that Bruce Campbell has achieved a certain level of adoration from his fans. Hell, I’m a fan of his as well, but it’s not like his acting is that dynamic. He plays a character and he’s great at it. His reputation and popularity is well deserved. But I don’t think anyone would mistake this movie for high-level craft. And I don’t think that was what they were going for. This is not meant to be a deep or insightful film. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to gross you out and scare you.
This is about the ride.
Evil Dead is the epitome of fun horror. The premise and the atmosphere are scary. The monster is implacable and disturbing and there are some beautifully cringe-worthy moments. It’s the kind of film that can stand on its own or can function as a part of a series. It’s not the peak of cinema but it’s the perfect movie to order a pizza and include as a part of a horror flick marathon.
For as low budget as this was, the film still works surprisingly well, even after all these years. It’s a movie of heart and soul and writhing guts that I often find to be a defining product of this time period, the likes of which I have rarely seen again, before or after.