The Evil Dead (1981)

No American distributor wanted to touch it once we were done.

Sam Raimi

Each time I watch The Evil Dead (1981), I increase my rating. One more time and I may be giving it a perfect ten. (Do these go up to eleven?) In between viewings, I forget how raw and exciting it is, its effectiveness amplified by Sam Raimi’s kinetic filmmaking. As the camera moves low across the water and into the woods during its opening, we’re dragged along with it into an inescapable nightmare.


On their drive to a remote cabin in the Tennessee woods, five college students wonder why they were able to get it so cheap. They speculate on its condition, but don’t anticipate that by playing an old reel-to-reel tape they find in the cellar, they’ll be unleashing demonic entities that will possess them one by one, leaving their splattered remains for housekeeping to remove the next morning.


For a while, I preferred the pseudo-sequel, Evil Dead II. It’s basically a re-telling of the story with a more professional shine on it. However, when I revisit the original, I prefer to believe Evil Dead II doesn’t exist (and I firmly believe Army of Darkness doesn’t exist.) There’s more to appreciate about The Evil Dead when you experience how much was accomplished with so little. The pure, primal energy of it cannot be duplicated.


With my recent re-watch, I realized for the first time how closely it resembles a 1980s Italian gorefest. However, it preceded Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, Argento’s Suspiria, and Lamberto Bava’s Demons. If, like me, you thought those films were inspiration for Raimi, watch The Evil Dead again and you might think he was an inspiration for them. With word of mouth preceding its release, a 1982 screening at Cannes, and Stephen King’s infamous review, it’s entirely possible.

…The most ferociously original horror film of the year…

To this day, King’s quote perfectly and succinctly describes The Evil Dead, as does a subtitle in the film’s closing credits:

The ultimate experience in grueling horror.

It’s not hyperbole. To this day, with the many horror films that have come and gone, none match the achievement of The Evil Dead.


My favorite scene is simple and doesn’t involve complicated special effects. It occurs relatively early when Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), the first possessed, stabs a pencil into Linda’s (Betsy Baker) ankle. If that’s not bad enough, she then twists and turns it for an excruciating few seconds. Take it from a first grader who was accidentally stabbed in the mouth with a pencil while trying to assist a classmate, it’s a tad painful.


For anyone who remembers midnight movies in the early-to-mid-1980s, I think I first saw The Evil Dead at an AMC theater in Kansas City. (I have more certain memories of seeing Dawn of the Dead for the first time at a midnight movie.) If only I knew then what I know now, I would have appreciated the experience more. I guess it doesn’t matter, my appreciation for it now compensates for any lost in the years that preceded.


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