Imagine a bad horror film crafted by excellent filmmakers, tech savvy set designers on a budget and one handsome hero with a handful of cheesy one liners that’s sure to make any woman’s heart melt, dead or alive. That’s what you get with Sam Raimi’s 1981 and 1986 cult hit The Evil Dead.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t planned long ago to write a fluff piece about my favorite all time Horror film for my first October with this group.Ever since my father introduced me to Monty Python and the Holy Grail when I was twelve, I have retained a love for genre satire. In 1981, Sam Raimi (Spider-Man 2) got together with a group of film school buddies to make a low budget horror film called The Evil Dead. At the time, films such as Amityville Horror, The Hills Have Eyes, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dominated the genre. In an attempt to cash in, Raimi not only created a universe that would be beloved for decades (spawning two sequels, a remake, and a television series), he inadvertently created a sub-genre we all know and love today. A horror satire that attempts at not only comedy, but actual terror….. and a little slapstick.
The original Evil Dead, despite its somewhat dated look, still stands as a pioneer in the horror film genre. Raimi and company used practical effects, claymation, and copious amounts of dyed syrup for blood to tell his story of a group of friend terrorized by demon-zombies in the woods. Also, saying the original film is low budget would be an understatement. In order to created the spirit effect in the woods with a single camera, Ted Raimi would literally push his brother around in an wheelbarrow they found in a shed. Half of the movie was made in a rented cabin in Tennessee, and half was made months later in a gym in their hometown in Michigan (if you wonder why their haircuts change throughout the movie). Despite all this, the movie was released and to the filmmakers surprise, moviegoers were not only terrified, they were amused at the goofiness portrayed by the characters. In an attempt to get around the low production value, Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice) created a character that would be amusing to the audience in an otherwise disgusting and horrifying film. It’s that character, Ashley J. Williams or Ash as he is most commonly known, that would inspire a whole sub-genre of slapstick horror characters. Most horror/comedy at the time leaned more on the comedy such as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Evil Dead gave us a film that was trying to scare us, but instead made us laugh our heads off at the ridiculousness of Ash and the Dead.
After it’s release and popularity, a whole plethora of these films came through Hollywood. Films such as, Creepshow, Fright Night, and of course A Nightmare on Elm St. Wes Craven changed the whole landscape of his most iconic character Freddy Krueger because of the popularity of The Evil Dead. Having an over the top, singing, dancing, and irreverent Krueger in the middle of a serious horror story is the reason we continue to watch those films almost 40 years later. Four years later, it was Stephen King that convenced Raimi to remake his film. The fact that these guys could make so much out of so little, with such precision stood out to King. Therefore, he convinced a major studio company fund the horror film Raimi had always set out to make. However, instead of accidentally making Ash the comic relief in a horror film, they decided to go all in on the possibility of maximum entertainment. Thus, the Evil Dead II was born.
Set out to be a high budget reboot, The Evil Dead II set back out to North Carolina. The film starts out just as the original. A group of Michigan State college students set out on a camping trip, only to find “the book of the dead” in the basement of the cabin, along with with a warning not to read the sacred text from the scientists that left the book there. As any great horror, they decide to party a little too hard and read the passages out loud. Within a few minutes, the film fast forwards and becomes the full blown sequel to the original film. Ash is alone and believes he has defeated the dead. However, his journey to defeat the Necronomicon has just begun.
Rather than sticking with the masculine, sharp tongued hero type from the original, this film had very different ideas for our main character. Similar to slapstick satire of Monty Python, Ash is now a full blown lunatic trapped in the world of the dead. Each scene is written to perfection as our main character chases demons using catchphrases and one liners throughout along with replacing his left hand with a chainsaw and a double-barrel shotgun with endless rounds of ammo. Forgetting the extremely bloody and disgusting nature of the demons and ghouls, we find ourself cheering for the next ridiculous moment while giving a twist ending only Sam can pull off.
Without The Evil Dead, we may not have films such as Dead Alive, Zombieland, or Cabin in the Woods. Raimi not only created the perfect slapstick horror trilogy, he made them in a way that they could all be enjoyed as stand alone films. Each becoming more ridiculous than the next and diving deeper into comedy end of the pool. In a time of the year in which we celebrate the dead we as film lovers spend our time being terrified. With The Evil Dead, we can take a night or two and rather than whimper in fear, we can revel in the actions of one clueless “student” just trying to party in a cabin with his girlfriend and few rednecks found on the side of the road. Many times it’s great to stop analyzing (as many on this site do so well) and finding meaning within our films and just enjoy the gallons of Karo Syrup dyed to look like blood spewing from the basement of a log cabin. So as the Halloween season winds down, go get yourself a bunch of candy from strangers, check for razors, and enjoy the sounds of a possessed deer trophy laugh historically as Ash nails his zombified hand to the floor.