The Evil Dead; or Ash Has a Bad Vacation

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Ash Wednesday, where this month, we are celebrating the Evil Dead series in preparation for the Halloween premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who would like to remind you that general etiquette states that if you find the book of the dead, don’t read from it aloud–it only causes problems down the line.

Today’s film offering: The Evil Dead (1981)

Not to be confused with the do-gooder dead.
Not to be confused with the do-gooder dead.

Lilly: The Evil Dead franchise is one that has become horror canon over the years, a series of films you are told to watch the moment you mention an interest in scary movies. Since 1981, it has spawned not only two sequels and a reboot/remake, but video games, comic books, and even a musical. Yes. A musical. Bruce Campbell is a cult icon, the director, Sam Raimi, went on to direct the Spider-Man trilogy, and people get tattoos of the Naturom Demonto. It’s pretty big, you guys.

Today, we’re looking at the first film in the series, the film that started it all: The Evil Dead

Andy: Somewhat infamously a ‘video nasty’, a selection of films banned in Britain during the 1980s (most of them made by Italians), it has a reputation as being icky, unpleasant, but also tongue-in-cheek funny. Is it? Weeell…

Lilly: Basically, this is the tale of five friends who go off on a holiday that goes horribly, horribly wrong. Of course, that’s to be expected when one not only finds the book of the dead (the aforementioned Naturom Demonto) but also plays the tapes of the man reading the words from it out loud. Especially after the tapes are prefixed with ‘when the words are read out loud, the demons come to life’. So. There’s that.

Andy: Yeah, the plot is basically an excuse to have a variety of weird, horrible stuff happen to a group of teens. Of course, that can be levelled at many horror movies, so it seems unfair to call it a ‘weakness’ per se, but there’s surprisingly little of the core mythology here. The demons are just called demons rather than Deadites, the Naturom Demonto is the book instead of the Necronomicon. And heresy of heresies, Ash actually picks up a chainsaw and then doesn’t use it!

Lilly: As someone who has heard of this film for years, and who had only seen the sequels, it was an odd shift to watch this first film in the series. The pacing was so odd, with potential scares happening, then the build up lasting for roughly two hours before the big scare came (it felt that way anyway). There were moments in the film where I got impatient, waiting for the pay off. Then there was the drawn out gory death scenes on top of that, and it felt like only ten minutes, tops, was spent on plot. Which, hey, makes for a scary, gross-out of a time, but it wasn’t enough to keep me interested. 

Andy: Yeah, the pacing is really off. It’s such a strange feeling – some films develop a rhythm all of their own (Dario Argento, for all his weird faults, is very good at this), but this is just, I dunno, discordant. The film feels rushed in places, and almost painfully slow in others. It feels almost like a rough cut – it’s as if Sam Raimi couldn’t bear to part with any of his effect scenes and left them all in.

Lilly: There is a lot of talk about gratuitous violence in horror films, about what is ‘too much’ and what is actually plot-relevant, and I was really surprised to find a lot of the violence I heard condemned in films like Hostel and Saw really runs rampant in The Evil Dead. One can argue that some of it even has no real purpose beyond shock value–why do we see Cheryl raped by a tree, for instance, but only have Scott coming back, looking beaten up by the same evil? And how many times do we have to watch someone claw flesh off someone else before that bit is done? I mean, I’m sure the special effects department involved in this project had a field day, and that’s great to see an area of film-making really being showcased, but still. Still. The same people who bad mouth films such as Hostel and then praise The Evil Dead should probably step back and take a moment to really consider their complaints. 

Andy: Yeah, there’s nothing uniquely horrible about modern horror. Last House on the Left is one of the most gruelling experiences imaginable, and that was released in the 70s.

Lilly: I sort of struggle with this film because, unlike a lot of what we watch, including films we don’t like, this is one that I think people should see but I would feel uncomfortable watching it with them, or even recommending it if I wasn’t sure of what sort of gore they could handle. I would hate to have someone watch it and connect me to it, is the thing, and that is an icky feeling. I mean. I get it. The corpse is melting. I’m sorry that we have to see the fat coming out of the sleeve. Like. You should see the film, but…sorry, it’s gross.

Andy: Yeah, I’d recommend it as well. It sounds like we’re completely bashing it, but that’s not the case, there’s some really good stuff in here. One of the most fun things is seeing the future-legend Ash as just another teen looking for a good time. It’s like going back and watching the beginning of Alien where Ripley is just another member of the crew. Plus the effects, while over the top, are pretty excellent – John Carpenter’s The Thing taken to the next level.

It’s just that, if I were going to watch just one of the Evil Dead trilogy, this wouldn’t be it. Tune in this time next week for our look at its much, much better sequel.

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