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  Evil Dead, The Woodland Creatures
Year: 1981
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Something is lurking in these Tennessee woods, yet this group of five holidaymakers do not know that. They are driving to a cabin there, but on the way is a hint of the terror to come when Scotty (Hal Delrich), who is at the wheel, finds it inexplicably yanked out of his hands and they almost crash into an oncoming truck which is making its way in the opposite direction through this remote forest. They recover, but then they have the bridge to contend with, which is so rickety that bits and pieces of it fall off into the river below. They reach the other side - but they'll regret not turning back...

It's safe to say that The Evil Dead was a sensation when it was first released, not so much because of people lining up around the cinemas to get in and see it, but because of how notorious it became. It was either banned or heavily cut in a number of countries, leading it to be put on the so-called Video Nasties list in Britain, in spite of already having been passed for cinema exhibition in an edited form, making it probably the most famous film of all to appear in that category. Now, in these more enlightened times, it's possible to see it intact pretty much anywhere it was tampered with by the censors, which in a way has lessened its power.

Watching it now, if you have not seen it before, you may well wonder what the fuss was all about, but Sam Raimi's debut feature is still an entertaining horror thrill ride, especially when you factor in the immense hardship that went into making it, with cast members leaving halfway through and Raimi and his cohorts having to scrape by with as much innovation on next to no money as they could to get the thing finished. It could be what appealed to audiences looking for stronger stuff was that atmosphere of tapping into something arcane, as the characters do in the story, for in spite of its reduced circumstances this did have the mood of the forbidden about it, as if your nightmares were true and there really was an entity in the woods.

Whether the filmmakers genuinely did experience anything creepy out there goes unrecorded, as in the main they were exhaustedly trying to get their footage, but as with other chiller classics such as The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which looked to have been a big influence), that feeling of being at one remove from reality and shifting into a harrowing ordeal was what Raimi capitalised upon. Yet although this is known for being non-stop in its assault on the audience, you can see that quite a lot of it was given over to tension building sequences, as Ash (Bruce Campbell's star-making turn), wanders around between attacks and grows increasingly unhinged.

The plot was simplicity itself, more through necessity than ambition. The five young people arrive at the cabin having negotiated the bridge, and settle in for the evening. There's a measure of character stuff as we find out that Scotty is something of a prankster, and a jerk to boot so that we aren't sure if he really will be the lead, Ash's sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) sketches the clock only to do a spot of automatic drawing and render the image of the book they will find in the basement, and Ash is obviously in love with Linda (Betsy Baker), touching emotions that will be thrown back in his face when the onslaught begins. Campbell is very much more restrained, at least comedically, than he would become, but that suits the comparatively sincere style.

The first half hour is very much scene setting material, but then Cheryl does something you must never do - she goes to see if there's anybody out there, and then, in one of the most infamous sections of any horror film, is raped by the forest; now we can tell they're not messing about, and the rest of the film lives up to that. That sequence has led to much debate, with not even Raimi sure if he should have included it, but at worst it's juvenile as it commences the degradation of the victims of the spirits, and hard to take seriously as a depiction of a genuine crime. Taken in context, not something the film's critics would have done, it can be approached as another instance of the outrageous series of incidents here, from the hokey messages read out from the Book of the Dead, to the systematic humiliation of Ash, one of the most longsuffering characters in horror fiction. If you're not taken with its style, you could find it monotonous, and many view the first sequel a more all-round satisfying watch, but The Evil Dead carved out its own special place in movie history for all that. Music by Joe LoDuca.

[The Evil Dead Blu-ray looks as good as blown up 16mm film can look, and is packed with features, including commentary.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Sam Raimi  (1959 - )

Precociously talented American director with a penchant for horror/fantasy and inventive camerawork. Raimi made a huge impact with his debut film The Evil Dead at the tender age of 22, a gory, often breathtaking horror romp made on a tiny budget with a variety of friends from his hometown of Detroit. Follow-up Crimewave was a comic misfire, but Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were supremely entertaining, while tragic superhero yarn Darkman was Raimi's first time wielding a big budget.

Raimi showed a more serious side with the baseball drama For Love of the Game, thriller A Simple Plan and supernatural chiller The Gift, before directing one of 2002's biggest grossing films, Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 was released in summer 2004, with Spider-Man 3 following two years later. He then returned to outright horror with the thrill ride Drag Me to Hell, and hit Wizard of Oz prequel Oz the Great and Powerful after that. On the small screen, Raimi co-created American Gothic and the hugely popular Hercules and Xena series. Bruce Campbell usually pops up in his films, as does his trusty Oldsmobile car.

 
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