“No, no. It was the woods themselves!” sobs Cheryl to Ash. “They’re alive, Ashley. The trees; they’re alive!”
My first encounter with The Evil Dead films was seeing copies of the original trilogy on VHS available at K-Mart 15 years ago (I believe they were released by Anchor Bay). I didn’t actually get to see them on the big screen until 11 years ago. I went to an Evil Dead double feature at Lincoln Center in October 2002 as part of the Film Society’s Next Generation of Horror series (they showed a number of horror classics as well as the NY premiere of The Ring). I saw 1981′s The Evil Dead and 1987′s Evil Dead 2 for only $9.25 (what a bargain!) at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Sam Raimi was originally supposed to do a Q&A in-between the films, but he was stuck doing location scouting for Spider-Man 2 and had to cancel the Q&A a couple of weeks before the screenings. I would get to see The Evil Dead again eight years later at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. Unfortunately, it was a Grindhouse Releasing print that was shown; it was cropped to a 1.85:1 widescreen ratio (rather than its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio) and was a bit out-of-focus (intentional?).
1981’s The Evil Dead follows five friends who journey to a cabin in the woods. Unbeknownst to them, unspeakable evil is lurking in the forest. They find a book called the Necronomicon (aka the Book of the Dead), and a taped translation of the text. Once the tape is played, the evil forces are released. One by one, the friends are possessed with no means of escape. They eventually discover that the only way to completely defeat a deadite is by total body dismemberment. It is up to the remaining one to battle the evil deadites and survive the night.
This film marked a terrific directing debut from Sam Raimi. Sure, the acting isn’t quite top-notch (Bruce Campbell would eventually find his character Ash later in the film; overall the cast is very decent). What’s lacking in the acting department is more than made up for in the writing, the amazing camerawork (who doesn’t love those fast-roaming Deadite POV shots?), and the low budget makeup design and special effects (a lot of artistry went into those effects). Raimi also gets a special kudos for having the balls to show a tree coming alive and having that same tree proceed to kidnap and rape one of the female characters (a lot of great effects work went into pulling that sequence off). By the time this film started shooting, it was becoming commonplace for a horror/slasher film to feature a lone survivor who was female. Raimi subverts this by making the lone survivor of his horror film male (although *SPOILER ALERT* Ash isn’t exactly the manliest of men in this film, he achieves his grooviness in the sequels).
This film had a successful theatrical run in the United Kingdom. The film was released on video (with two minutes removed, just like the version shown in U.K. theaters) in 1983, in between the “video nasty” scare of 1982 in the U.K. and the Video Recordings Act of 1984. This film was subsequently banned by the Department of Public Prosecutions list and placed on their list of “video nasties.” The film was removed and re-added to the list several times before finally being removed for good in 1985. The film would be shown uncut for the first time in the U.K. more than 15 years later.