This review is part of the 31 films of Halloween review series
The Evil Dead is a bit of a strange film. While it is a straight horror film (unlike its two sequels) it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and enjoys being quite controversial.
The Evil Dead sees five friends heading off to a cabin in the middle of nowhere (will people never learn?) to enjoy a break from college.
The first few minutes of the film are filled with tension with the action cutting from the kids car, to a truck to something mysteriously racing through the woods and the pace rarely slows down from here.
After narrowly avoiding an accident with the truck and coming a cropper on a bridge the guys finally make it to the cabin which, while a bit dirty is pretty homely and they settle in comfortably. That’s when things start to go a bit weird.
One of the girls is drawing a clock when she sudden seems to become possessed and starts randomly drawing a face of some sort; during dinner the cellar hatch starts banging and on investigation Scott and Ash find a book with some disturbing images in it, a knife and a tape recorder which, of course, they decide to play.
There’s a bit of exposition on the tape with a professor explaining about the Book Of the Dead, demon possession and how they are released. Low and behold, the voice on the tape reads out some incantations and something is the wood wakes up.
One of the girls, Cheryl, hears a noise and heads outside to investigate and, in quite a disturbing scene, she’s attacked by trees and brutally raped by them. At this point I should note that I’m watching the “uncut” version of the film. In the UK when it was first released the film was heavily censored and wasn’t widely available on VHS until 1990. The film was actually banned in Germany until 2016.
Cheryl manages to break free and runs through the forest pursed by an unseen force that flies through the trees, knocking them to the ground as whatever it is rushes towards Cheryl who is struggling to get into the cabin.
This part of the film is incredibly well shot: the menace you feel from not being able to see what is chasing Cheryl, and the knowledge that it must be huge and powerful because of the way it knocks over the trees is quite frightening.
Cheryl understandably wants to leave and Ash begrudgingly agrees to take her into town but they’re unable to escape as the bridge has been destroyed.
Returning to the cabin, Ash continues to listen to the tape and Shelly and Linda are trying to be psychics by guessing cards, from across the room Cheryl starts calling out the correct cards and turns to reveal she’s been possessed by the spirit of a “deadite” and they’re rather pissed off that they’ve been disturbed.
From this point on the film enters pretty standard horror film territory, albeit in a far more over-the-top and gory manner than most of its contemporary films and I think its this OTT-ness that has made the film the cult classic it is today.
The effects are quite poor (you can see an actress is wearing a mask at one point) and the possessed voices are laughable but that all adds to the charm of this film.
A couple of things I do like about this film is the fact that we don’t see the big bad enemy in the woods, that’s left to our own imaginations, and the second thing is that this film doesn’t fall into the “final girl” trope that seemingly pervaded horror films of the time.
Watch this is you want to view something that doesn’t take itself to seriously but can still provide plenty of scares.