Written by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker
A bunch of young folks enter a cabin in the middle of nowhere for some relaxation and things go wrong. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, which is what we see in the very foundational and gory The Evil Dead. Truly an exercise of how much one can stand being stuck in a room with complete madness and while it has so many strong elements to it, the story anchoring it all proved to be unfortunately subpar.
Five students attending Michigan State University decide to spend some time in a cabin, which has its quirks but also came at a very cheap price. Upon their arrival several mysterious events occur and one in particular sets off exactly why they should have never stayed there as a spirit attempts to possess each of them.
Certainly influential with its story structure and gore, The Evil Dead has a legacy of introducing a certain style of horror not seen before its time. You only have to watch The Cabin in the Woods to see exactly how much it has inspired others and it certainly proves to be an experience you cannot forget after watching it. Beginning with a simple premise, it promises to serve up some young folks to be preyed upon for our entertainment. The pieces get set with introducing the major traits of these characters, which will inform their decision-making throughout the story but one of them needs to set things off in motion. We see that poor Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) has the honor of being the first to be demonically possessed. With her uncomfortable possession scene, the film demonstrates just what kind of story it has in store as things kick off in a dramatic fashion.
The demonic possessions in this film have a strangely comedic vibe to them because the behavior of the characters taken over seem silly at times. It shows the amount of fun the script has with the premise involved. We get to see the way these demons like to play with the poor college students and seeing their reactions to it provides its own entertainment value. While this provides several good moments, it begins to show the cracks of the story because it fails to have logic with the possessions and how they occur to the characters. For some characters, it happens with a puncture made by one already possessed but the lack of consistency with this logic hampers the film’s ability to create stakes. Similar to a zombie bite, once it occurs to someone, it is understood they will eventually also turn into a zombie but the film fully lacks the large factor as it does not get equally applied to each character.
Additionally, after a while the story just got tiresome, as it became obvious how everything would play out and it became an effort of how badly the circumstance would impact the characters. In other words, the fun began to run dry because the same cycle continued to occur with nothing interesting truly happening for most of the second half of the feature. The sound design made its impact with it becoming a grueling experience to get through but after not having a substantive story, it felt like a true battle to get towards the end.
The true calling card of this feature comes around with the incessant gore on display. Several moments will leave anyone watching this film wincing at all of the blood spewing and pain inflicted on the characters and the possessed ones as well. From the pencil stab to the poking of the eyes, nothing seemed to be off-limits for what this story wanted to display on this level. Additionally, the make up work shifted to display when one of the characters became possessed by the demons. A grueling look for sure, each of them looked gross, as they appeared to have parts of their skin torn off on certain occasions. Impressive work by the makeup department, especially with the limited budget this feature had.
Going back and watching Sam Raimi’s earlier works makes my initial introduction to him as the Spider-Man movies so misleading. Young Josh watched his web-slinger films thinking this man made wholesome but riveting films only to discover many years later he made a name for himself with this movie and others of its ilk. The camerawork he utilizes for this movie works very well with showing the point of view of the demons looking upon these college students. At the beginning, the movement appeared to be jagged but it evened out as the story progressed for us to fully experience the true madness occurring within this cabin.
The Evil Dead has its drawbacks but I certainly respect what it achieved on its limited budget and horrific vision. It creates such an uncomfortable viewing experience from the sounds and visuals it provides but the story just does not come together in a substantial manner. The film proves to be something that can be enjoyed as a genre exercise but not something with the substance this director has the capability to provide.