Before we walk through the woods and enter the cabin, I’d like to take a moment and recognize Sam Raimi. Today is his birthday. Born this day in 1959, Sam has held a distinguished career. He’s directed numerous horror pictures adored by many twisted people and non-twisted people alike, worldwide. He’s got a fan base reaching from the dark Necronomicon fueled world of Evil Dead (1981) all the way past Darkman (1990) into the comic book world of Spider-man (which is still considered by many as the best film adaption to date). He’s even directed a little known western called, The Quick and the Dead (1995). He’s dabbled in television, and I’m not just talking about the highly anticipated return of everyone’s favorite chainsaw welding sassy hero in Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (2015), but also the short lived 90s shows, M.A.N.T.I.S and Legend of the Seeker. And he has also produced some amazing and totally underrated horror flicks, including both 30 Days of Night (2007) and The Possession (2012). And this is just a tip of the iceberg. Sam Raimi, in my humble opinion, is an amazing storyteller, not without his faults. His vision has a unique blend of terror and comedy that is often precarious to mix. Many couldn’t quite jive with his return to form with Drag Me to Hell (2009) with its strange formula of laughs and jolts of absolute fear…well, all but the true die hard fans. I actually loved Drag Me to Hell. It was wonderfully sadistic! In celebrating the macabre directors birthday, I thought it was high-time I reviewed his most legendary and longest lasting cult film, The Evil Dead (1981).
Longest lasting cult classic…? What does even mean? More to point, longest lasting, as in a franchise property in which is still being watched, talked about, and continued, to date. Sam’s Spider-man days are over. There are no more westerns. No more trips to hell. No more over the top 90s television action. No more blown apart scientists with one heck of an anger management problem. His one true lasting cult creation, is Ash and those demon bastards in The Evil Dead. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What a sec? Wasn’t there a remake of Evil Dead?” And though this as nothing to do with our discussion, I do have this to say, there was and there wasn’t. Confused? Good!
We can debate this all day long, and I’ve been in a few conversations on social media about this subject, but in my opinion, Evil Dead (2013) was not a remake or reboot. It was simply another “cabin in the woods, kids find Necronomicon” movie. The 2013 misadventure kept to the familiar themes of the original while maintaining its own story arch and more gritty vibe. To me, that spells continuity, the continuation of the “Evil Dead” mythology through a new cast of characters. Hell, it was even rumored (and still is) that Ash will team up with Mia in some future (probably never going to happen) film. How could they team up if Mia’s story was a reboot of the original? They couldn’t, simple enough. Thus, Evil Dead (2013) was not a reboot of The Evil Dead (1981). It would be easier to argue The Evil Dead 2 as a reboot of the first film then it would the 2013 film. Just saying…stop arguing with me!!!
Again…I’m getting really far off topic here. Can we talk about just The Evil Dead (1981) for a moment?
The Evil Dead first released to theaters in October 1981. It was a low budget film with a no name cast of teenaged-twenty-somethings, shot on 16mm film in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000. Though not the first “cabin in the woods” horror movie, you could probably give that credit to either Equinox (1970) or The Red House (1947), but you could make a strong argument that The Evil Dead solidified “the cabin” as a pop trope in horror stories. The plot is easy to follow. A group of friends head out to a lonely cabin in the woods for a little R&R. The place is dilapidated, albeit cozy. Its a celebration of friendship and perhaps even a little romance, despite the third wheel. But there’s a eerie presence in the cabin. Strange sounds in the cellar. The boys investigate and discover a nasty looking book and a tape recorder, among other things (including a poster of The Hills Have Eyes on the wall). They play the recording and the archaeologist on the tape recites some of the words he’d translated from the Necronomicon. His incantation awakens something dark and demonic in the forest surrounding the cabin. One by one, Ash (Bruce Campbell) watches his friends get possessed. Before daybreak, he must find a way to survive…or meet the same fate as his friends.
The Evil Dead captures, for me, the potential for horror. I’m talking more in film probably then storytelling, though in storytelling itself you cannot find a more perfect and basic trope to work with than the “cabin in the woods.” As for film, though, The Evil Dead demonstrates the power of low-budget horror with a list of no-name actors but over-the-top effects. I guess today we’d call these indie films, or independent to be frank. Horror, in its long life, seems to have thrived better as independent and low-budgeted. Directors and cast members and producers have to rely on cost effective means, focusing on mood and tension, and maximizing production budgets as much as humanly, sanely possible. And when it comes to horror, such as this film, at a glance they’d need to used more of the budget on practical effects than anything else. The effects for me are what count. Good storytelling, that’s a given. But you’re trying to sale me on horror, you gotta bring the practical gore.
Some might say the effects in The Evil Dead look cheesy, and maybe some parts do nowadays. But in my book, given the budget restraints, The Evil Dead looked and still looks amazingly graphic. Shaky steady-cam and all the buckets of blood. A fantastic wonderland of dark imagery and terror and perhaps even a little humor.
The story isn’t complicated and that’s a good thing. It is friendship and love pitted against the fear of the unknown, the evil taking possession of those closest to us. Not every horror story needs to have some complex AHS plot. Add the practical gore with the simple story, and that’ll give you one hell of an entertaining need to watch movie.
My Rating: 5/5
In the spirit of transparency, as a struggling budding author myself, it is terrifyingly easy to become caught up in the humdrum of marketing when the truest pursuit is in the writing. I’m not here to toot my own horn as a storytelling, for in many ways I too fall short. And I’m not here to harp on other writers and their niche or style or goals or any of that crap. I’m here to talk about the lost of honor of storytelling…or if that honor IS lost? The question mark is kind of ambiguous, but when one looks to the flood of new books we see a sort of dilutional hyponatremiahe in the market place. On the other hand, has storytelling kept its honor in the face of saturation? Has storytelling lost its shine, its purpose? Or has it redefined itself? Maybe the answer is obviously both. However, I wonder, even in the evolutionary process, if storytelling has lost sight of depth and meaning and clout to ask uncomfortable questions about society, about ourselves.
Storytelling is an important part in the marketplace of ideas, engaging people emotionally and imaginatively. And the best storytellers are those unabashed to shred some skin, to get up-close and personal to how they feel about the world. This brings me to the origins of horror and camp-fire tales of monsters in the woods and the ole witch on Juniper Hill and so on. I think telling stories is an ingrained attribute in humanity. We have an expressive desire, from paintings of buffalo and deer on cave walls to Otto Dix’s harsh war torn landscape, these are stories come alive, taken from what we see around us. And I’m concerned we’re forgetting how to communicate in that way. And the books that ARE coming out are not being held to that standard. Are we selling products or are we telling stories?
Everyone is on social media nowadays, and I’m not going to rag on that like some old man on a rocking chair sipping whiskey rye and talking about the good ole days. I’m on social media as much as the next nerd. I think its a great way to stay connected while the Information Age flourishes into new generations and new horizons. We have instant access to news around the world and opinions of every shape and form and size. And that’s not the problem. Information; data is good. I think the problem is that we’ve forgotten or never learned how to process all that information, to humanize it, to bring it down a relatable level. And probably even more scary, we’ve forgotten how to listen because we’ve forgotten how to communicate in a way people will WANT to listen. In America alone, within the past several years, we’ve turned politics (our governing systems) into a caricature. The pendulum stances of our two powerhouse political parties have carved a canyon between society, filled with the bones of mutual understanding. Who is to blame? WE ARE! We allow the division to continue, not because we’re not willing to communicate, lots of communication is going on, no, its because we’re not communicating properly, in a way in which both sides would be willing to understand, to be engaged emotionally, spirituality, and humanly. We have sarcastic meme wars instead of emotionally raw book wars.
I honestly believe that the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin did more for the emancipation of slaves than the 600,000 lives lost during the Civil War. And in fact, isn’t that what war boils from, no longer being able to communicate?
Before I clammier down from my soap box, allow we to suggest one of the more important qualities of storytelling: imagination. Without imagination, we’ll lose motivation in forward thinking. What future is there without imagination to see it? Where is passion without imagination? Without imagination, we’ll lose our ability to create hope. And where there is hope there is ultimately an opportunity for transformation and change. Two things that are necessary for us to create a better world for generations to come.
Just some food for thought…