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The Evil Dead review – a flawed masterpiece

Ash: the film's hero

Last weekend I watched The Evil Dead with my friends Alex, Phil and Louis. We were all talking throughout the whole movie and therefore didn’t get much out of it. I thought it seemed good enough but I knew I’d need to sit down with it again. Today I did just that, on my own this time. As I expected, it’s actually great.

A group of friends embark on a weekend retreat to a cabin in the woodlands of the Tennessee Mountains. From the moment they arrive, things seem wrong. Voices are heard, things go bump in the night. The two men of the group, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Scotty (Richard Demanicor) discover some recording equipment and an ancient funerary text titled ‘The Book of the Dead’ in the cabin’s cellar upon investigating some of the strange noises. They play back some of the old tapes they find which are recordings of a man who was once researching the power of ‘The Book of the Dead’. The voice of the man recites some incantations in a strange tongue and things go completely downhill from then on.

The Evil Dead was made on a shoe-string budget and it is nuts. One of the girls in the group gets raped by the forest; another gets stabbed in the ankle with a pencil by her possessed friend. There are even points in the film where it is apparent that claymation was utilised. This was director, Sam Raimi’s (the Spider-Man trilogy) first film. Watching this back in 1981 when it was first released must have been a breath of fresh air for film-goers, particularly horror fans. Raimi shows ingenuity in his choice of film-making techniques. Some of the best sequences in the film involve POV shots from the perspective of an unknown presence, later revealed to be demonic spirits. In these scenes, the camera surges through the air on the wind, shoves tree branches out of the way and in perhaps the best moment of the film, doors as well. It’s really the camerawork that stands out the most in The Evil Dead (apart from the gore, maybe).

The acting is questionable at times, excluding Bruce Campbell. He doesn’t get much to work with in the way of characterisation, however. Ash doesn’t really seem to care when his sister gets possessed but when his girlfriend does he’s devastated. Otherwise, he owns this film. There’s some fairly hokey continuity issues too: characters who are sprayed with blood at one point, appear to be cleansed in the next scene and there’s even a moment where a not-so-subtle wardrobe change is evident. These aspects of the film can be jarring but they don’t really bring the overall experience down.

The Evil Dead is entertainment at it’s most thrilling. It’s a potent and concentrated mix of blood, evil spirits and edge-of-your-seat thrills. I’m looking forward to the sequel now, which is supposed to be even better. It’s going to be interesting to see how an increased budget added to what was already a winning formula.

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