Written by William C. Benker
Before Spider-Man took off, Sam Raimi’s distinctive eye for campy horror was so acute that any B-Horror fanatic was sure to spot his films a mile away. Only later did fans begin to realize that his reputation had grown. He began with Evil Dead, (and its two superb sequels) later came Darkman (with Liam Neeson), The Quick and the Dead, and The Gift, reaffirming Raimi’s status in the directorial realm. To most, Sam Raimi was a skilled director, but his style was peculiar: something about it just screamed a mixture of slapstick humor and suspense. In Evil Dead we get the most comprehensive explanation to what really makes his films so enjoyable.
Evil Dead’s story is both pencil thin yet entirely sufficient: the plot centers on awakening demonic spirits from an ancient Sumerian book (bound in human flesh). What really advances the story is its delivery. Raimi’s primitive yet elaborate plot seethes medieval grandeur. It appeals to both mythological and mystical fans alike, kindly bracing his audience for the ecstatic bombardment of terror that quickly consumes his actors. But Raimi’s protagonist is unlike any other Hollywood hero. For one, Bruce Campbell is anything but Hollywood.
Now a legendary B-Movie actor for his role in the Evil Dead Trilogy, Campbell has scored a cameo in nearly every one of Raimi’s films since the group of amateur’s found themselves knee-deep in kero syrup blood on the set of their first film. Ash (Campbell) takes the demonic possession of his friends rather well, desperately holding onto his sanity throughout the process. But throughout all the mayhem, never once does Evil Dead lose its charm. In fact, much like Campbell himself, the haggard sequences and gruesome acting is what makes the film so much fun. For Raimi, the fine line between horror and humor is what frightening audiences is all about.
For the amateur film crew, Evil Dead holds its own in terms of low-budget productions. Not only did Raimi and his crew pull this off guerilla style, but Raimi’s own camerawork and choreography became a distinctive quality in itself. (Check out Russell Crowe’s final shotgun blast at the end of The Quick and the Dead, you’ll see what I mean.) It’s the particularly messy quality that erupts so satisfactorily throughout the picture. Evil Dead defines low-budget effects, but to the point where they compliment the sheer tenacity of the picture itself. What is most remarkable about this zombie shocker is the director’s ability to keep the film firmly on the ground, while delivering some of the most bizarre horror imagineable. Somehow, Raimi is able to maintain the balancing act to create a terrific journey into the Book of the Dead.
But any horror film is nothing without its gore, and Raimi is sure to pull off enough of it to keep his audience satisfied. After the incantations are read from a tape recorder they find in the basement, the plot takes off with evil spirits quickly possessing everyone in the house. It’s certainly one of the few films that will show the real physical abuse people may endure from the forest itself (or its director). Raimi plays hardball when it comes to the physical aspect of acting. It’s rare to see the particular energy needed in order to highlight a film of this type. Loud noises, smashing windows and falling debris all take on a heavy role with the actors in order to get the best out of what they had available. You’ll easily be able to see that the future blockbuster director really wants to get the most out of his movie. Ash takes a continuous beating throughout the picture. What’s worse is the pure pleasure the audience begins to have after Campbell’s been put through enough mayhem, yet still seems to carry a strong air of comedy in his act: that’s exactly what Raimi is looking for. The slapstick fanatic is ready and willing to place all his trust in his actor’s ability to take a good beating.
Evil Dead is a comprehensive analysis into the growth of any budding filmmaker. The only difference with Sam Raimi is that his earliest quirks and charms in Evil Dead are still present in his most successful blockbusters. He may not be the most eloquent artist in the world, but Sam Raimi is certainly a star in the American horror circuit. His latest picture, Drag Me To Hell, is a throwback to his former fame as a horror director, but brings to the table a more palatable substance (for some) and of course a much higher budget. The beauty of Evil Dead, however, lies in its grit. The pure horrific exposé of all that is B-Horror finds its way into the earliest installment of the now cult-favorite Evil Dead series, continuously throwing scares and laughs at high speed in every direction. Sit back and enjoy the ride when watching Evil Dead, because the most assured lesson of all is that Sam Raimi is still in the business.