By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Summary: Cheap scares and gore, but it did set a necessary and important bedrock for later, better films to come.
Review: One of the things I feel slightly obligated to do when I review older films is at least try to look at them through a historical lens. I try to think about what they might have seemed like “back then…” in addition to how they’re seen now. In terms of 1981’s ‘Evil Dead’, I think I have to do this because it is a “cabin in the woods” movie. Granted, today that scenario is such a time-warn cliché that modern movies using it are almost always unintentionally comical for it. But back then, when the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise was still new and people weren’t yet making this kind of film all the time, I suppose it seemed fresher. And for what it’s worth, they do try to shake it up in this film by adding more supernatural elements and a strange “Book of the Dead” to the story. Anyways, my point is that, for everything that’s sub-par about this picture, I won’t accuse its premise for being unoriginal.
But when it comes right down to it, this film is still a cheesy low-budget horror film. There are women screaming, ghouls popping up out of nowhere, chase scenes, people dying in bloody ways, etc. Even then I don’t think this was particularly effective, and it certainly isn’t now. In fact the only thing horror-wise that this film has going for it is a villain (some evil spirit I guess) whom we never see. We only view first person shots of it running through the forest. That, I’ll admit, was surprising potent, if little else about this film was. I should also mention that this film starred a very young Bruce Campbell, an actor destined for later B-movie greatness.
This film’s director was Sam Raimi, the man who would go on to direct all three of the highly successful ‘Spiderman’ pictures. This was his first feature-length film, and I suppose he learned valuable lessons on it that helped to make his later movies better. I will say, however, that I’m glad that ‘Evil Dead’ was a modest success at the box office and has since become a cult hit. I’m glad because Raimi, along with Campbell, made two sequels to it; films which were much more entertaining and fun to see.