This movie is just as infamous for the furore surrounding the film as it is for the actual content.
I grew up in the midst of the Videos Nasties storm in a teacup in which the Tory government led by Herr Thatcher thought that the commoners who watched certain horror movies would grab a chainsaw and start the Tring Chain Saw Massacre.
This movie was dubbed Video Nasty Number 1 by Christian busybody and all round philistine Mary Whitehouse (even though she admitted she hadn’t seen the film from start to finish) and referred to it as if Satan himself had made a low budget horror movie and released it on video. The film would be placed on the infamous DPP list and banned.
Was it as bad as this- a horror film to end all horror films? A film that can corrupt a nations viewers and instigate a countrywide bloodbath?
The answer is- of course not. But it is a brilliantly inventive horror which oozes intelligence, charisma and knowledge of film in general.
There are horrific sequences within the film to prove the points made by the country’s self appointed moral guardians. One such is the forest rape scene. This sequence feels like something from a really perverted Japanese horror movie. Its horrific, repellent and surreal all in equal measures. Apparently Raimi feels that this scene now sticks like a sore thumb and would never have shot it with hindsight.
But theres a lot more to this complex movie. Its reference points are far reaching and reach beyond just the horror genre.
The film starts out innocently enough- a trip to a cabin in the woods by a group of unremarkable teenagers. But then things start to go awry and with the forest rape and the game of ‘Guess The Card’ things go completely insane. In this respect the film is like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre- a well worn storyline is suddenly massively subverted. In fact the scene in which Scott sees all of the animal bones hanging from the cabins rafters on entering the property was a direct reference to this movie. Another point of reference is that like TCM the hero is left battered, bruised and bloodied at the end of the film.
There is also a torn Hills Have Eyes poster in the cellar- this was a reference to the torn Jaws poster in the Winnebago in Hills. The Evil Dead is also watched by Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street also.
Theres a real sense of disorientation in this film for the characters and the audience. Any sense of time or space in the ordinary world is jettisoned. The clocks stopping, running backwards or the sounds they make being exaggerated is one sign of this.
In fact, sound is exaggerated and altered within the film as a whole. The overhead scene in which the camera pans across the rafters of the cabin whilst Ash prowls around below is a great example of this. Where there should be silence and logic there is instead the nonsensical and bizarre.
Another aspect of the film’s sound is that it must be one of the loudest films I’ve ever seen. Just as the violence and horror is graphic, exaggerated and cartoon like then so is the sound. Screams and sound effects are turned up to 11. I once watched the film in a cinema after it had been released in THX. The volume for the screening had been cranked up to such a degree that audience members were covering their ears at some points. One such scene was where the possessed Shelly is stabbed in the back with the kandarian dagger- the level of the screeching is something to experience especially in a cinema.
However, whilst Mary Whitehouse would have Daily Mail readers believe that this film is evil incarnate, Raimi’s tongue was firmly in cheek when he made this. The violence is slapstick and colourful (its not just blood that is emitted but what looks like milk, paint and green bile) in nature, like a cross between a Tex Avery cartoon and an E.C. Comic. Your average filmgoer will realise this, your genre fan will lap it up with a spoon. The filmmakers are trying to gross out their audience but whilst they are also carried along with the film’s slapstick sensibility. A pipe rupturing and pouring out shitloads of blood into Ash’s face is the film’s equivalent to a custard pie in the mush. Maybe if Mary Whitehouse had watched the entire film she might have surmised this. But then again she seemed to hate other people’s pleasure so she would probably still have been outraged.
The film’s camerawork is also noteworthy. The first person use of the camera to convey the evil presence lurking in the woods is genius and brilliantly effective. The film is full of examples of camera trickery to take the audience on a disorienting ride that feels groundbreaking and never showy. This film’s strength lies in the inventiveness of the filmmakers. Take note Hollywood- innovation and ideas are always better then throwing a huge budget at a project to make a mediocre piece of shit.
The Evil Dead is now firmly ensconced on lists of critic’s lists of the best horror films ever made. And it deserves it. It continues to influence filmmakers today and is forever being referenced.
Now if only Sam Raimi would release Within The Woods karma would be complete for us Deadheads.
The film was eventually legalised in the UK. Mary Whitehouse died. Karmas a bitch.
5 out of 5