The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi)

screened Monday July 30 2007 on Anchor Bay DVD in Astoria NY IMDb

In preparation for watching The Evil Dead II (TSPDT #783) for my project, I watched Sam Raimi’s first feature, the first installment of the Bruce Campbell /Ash Williams trilogy. Inadvertently I’d seen the last part of the trilogy first: Army of Darkness was a college favorite. Raimi was at his peak around that time; I prefer both Evil Dead films I’ve seen and the delirious Darkman (sort of a poor man’s Batman) to his later, more mainstream efforts that I’ve seen: A Simple Plan (which doesn’t seem to know whether to mock or outdo his buddy the Coens’ Fargo) and of course the Spider-Man series (I haven’t even seen the most recent one). 

Seeing the first Dead movie helps me understand why the Spider-Man series doesn’t do it for me – they lack the most compelling quality of Raimi’s earlier filmmaking – the visceralness.  All of Peter Parker’s digitally rendered slinging and crashing and flailing about can’t compare to the very tactile feel of Raimi’s patented early camerawork flying at breakneck pace through creepy woods full of real trees and dirt, the pancake powder makeup glistening from the faces of demon-eyed young women, and of course Bruce Campbell’s spaghetti-limbed physique.  The feeling of reality in this film resonates beyond the mimetic intentions of cinematic affect, but also opens up the viewer to appreciate the film as an act of filmmaking.

Perhaps some may deride this as calling too much attention to itself, but if we can agree that this film invokes (intentionally) a fair degree of camp, and that part of camp appeal is the knowledge of a show being put on (in which the audience’s spectatorship becomes disembodied from their set position, and they regard all the parts being played on-stage, behind the stage and of course themselves in the audience), this film rewards such a viewing amply, relishing the teen horror stereotypes while simultaneously trying to ape them within its limited means.  Raimi compensates his limited means through sheer ferocity — and, like a pubescent choir boy trying to overcome his croaks by singing even louder, the result incites a paradoxical combo of knee-jerk parodic laughter and genuine terror.  This tonal imbalance has been the bane of his directing (in Spider-man you can never take his “serious” scenes seriously because it doesn’t feel like he is; as a result those moments just drag on the entire enterprise) even as it gives his films an energy that few can match. It may be the aesthetic of an amateur, but it’s far more compelling than the professional doggerel he’s putting out these days.


Author: alsolikelife

This is my pet project

  • CodeKnown

    There was a big fuss in the UK when the film was released because the BBFC asked for the “tree rape” scene to be removed. It’s a fairly good example of a scene being cut for censorship reasons that inadvertently takes the context of subsequent scenes with it. I think most of the violent/gory scenes remained unchanged in the UK theatrical release. The scene itself is an excellent example of NOT showing violence in order to create a more disturbing impact – many editors/directors could learn a thing or two today from such techniques.

  • alsolikelife

    I was meaning to comment on how the film treats its women characters. Moral judgments aside, I’ll just say the film does a lot to defile and debase the women – first with the tree rape and then by turning them into repulsive zombies. That’s par for course with teen horror, granted, but there’s something distinctive about the way Raimi does it, like he’s been given a set of Barbie dolls and gleefully disfigures them.

  • CodeKnown

    “there’s something distinctive about the way Raimi does it, like he’s been given a set of Barbie dolls and gleefully disfigures them.”

    Very much so – it’s a pity that the next generation feels it has to outdo its predecessors, because that line of thinking produced Hostel, Irreversible and the like.

  • jonk

    I just (re?)visited The Evil Dead a couple months back and couldn’t believe that I had never heard about Raimi’s/the film’s misogyny. On the zombie front, in addition to the women being turned, and having violence done to them, they are visited by much more violence by the turned men. Sure, Raimi has some neat camera tricks and effects, but the film fails miserably when moral judgments are not put aside.

  • alsolikelife

    Thanks for weighing in jonk. Raimi’s is certainly not an isolated case… and I think i prefer what he does to what you see in Hostel or Captivity. Maybe because of what I was saying about Evil Dead so obviously looking like “a movie” – there’s an amateurish camp quality to it that makes it feel like it’s done for “good-natured” reasons rather than depravity, celebrating the act of filmmaking more than misogyny, if that makes sense.

  • Reborn Baby Dolls

    The original Evil Dead is a movie I can watch over and over. I hope his new horror movie is on par with it.