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Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Evil Dead (1981) Sam Raimi

Sure, the Dolby Digital animation at the beginning of this DVD edition probably cost more to make than the entire film, but it takes about two seconds of innovative camerawork to demonstrate that this was something very new indeed. A painfully young Bruce Campbell wih a painfully bad haircut is on his way to some deserted cabin in the wilderness with his sister and his buddies and it's also painfully obvious that e hasn't learned how to act yet. As much as I enjoyed the Spiderman movies, it was Campbell's cameos that I loved the best and I can't wait for My Name is Bruce, Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of the She-Vampires and a DVD release of Crimewave. In short, I'm a fan and yet I've never actually seen this film.

I've seen Raimi's slightly larger budget remake, Evil Dead II, in which he told his story on something more expensive than Super 8. In fact I saw it in movie theatres when it came out. But the BBFC, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to ban the first one outright so that it wasn't legally available in the UK at all for some time. Somehow I never got round to it after it found a sanctioned release and by then was tracking down obscure WIP movies and other banned Eurotrash anyway. So this one's a treat for me and it's long overdue.

The story is basically the same as the remake. The two guys and three girls find the cabin full of mysterious artifacts, including a weird knife, a weirder book and a reel to reel tape detailing the exploits of some guy investigating forces beyond life and death. The book is bound in human flesh, inked in human blood and contains all sorts of dangerous incantations. Naturally the tape contains some moron reading the incantations aloud, thus freeing whatever evil wasn't already free. As the film starts something is in the woods but after the incantations hae been read, the woods themselves are alive, as they demonstrate amply by raping one of the girls. Raimi later wished he hadn't filmed that scene, but it fits.

In fact everything fits, and as long as this is viewed on its own terms, that of a $350,000 debut feature made by people who were very much learning what they were doing as they went along, it's about as great as it could possibly be. Judge it on any other level and you'll find flaws. The effects and animation aren't great but they're innovative. Who else in 1981 thought of animating plasticine corpses to show them deteriorate, have huge hands exploding out of them and then add roaches and oatmeal? The story really doesn't make a lot of sense at all but is very cool indeed, very obviously showing Raimi's Three Stooges influences as much as the more expected horror background. The whole scene with the projector is a peach. None of the acting is particularly good either, though Campbell obviously improves as the film goes on.

However there's just so much innovation and enjoyment involve that it's hardly surprising that it became a cult hit. I don't think that on its own level it's been outdone, unless you count something like Peter Jackson's debut Bad Taste, which was more overtly a comedy. It's no Hallowe'en but it's a few levels more fun than A Nightmare on Elm Street or especially Friday the 13th. Kudos to the many Raimis and Taperts, and anyone else involved.

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