The Evil Dead (1981)

Dir: Sam Raimi, 1981



“The ultimate experience in gruelling terror” screams the blurb. Well, I wouldn’t quite go that far but it is the ultimate horror film.

Filmed for only $90,000, The Evil Dead is a masterpiece in low budget filmmaking. It’s imaginative, gory, brilliant.

Five friends drive to an old cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. While there they find a reel to reel tape recorder and some reels of tape, a book and a dagger

Playing the tapes they are informed that the book is “The Necronomicon Ex Mortis or Book Of Dead” and is bound in human flesh. The speaker on the tapes then begins to recite an incantation. This wakens the evil spirits intent on killing every last one of them and turning them into “the evil dead”.

Raimi and friends Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert starred in the Raimi written and directed short film Into The Woods. A student film, it was made in an attempt to show financiers what they were capable of. After much touting the trio received a less than satisfactory budget but, a budget nonetheless.

Raimi wrote and directed the flick, Campbell was the star and Tapert the producer. A winning combination.

Being a relatively small movie, the friends roped in family members and acquaintances to make up the crew needed for the shoot.

As it’s a debut feature from non professionals the acting is incredibly hammy at times. The script isn’t brilliant but added with the less than expert delivery presents something joyous and fun. If it had been made with experienced actors the film would have lost some of it’s charm and what makes it so enjoyable.

Not just strictly a horror there is a thin vein of comedy running through it. The gore is deliberately over the top so as to make you smile and chuckle.

The cast milk everything for what it’s worth. Shelves made of balsa wood “trap” the stars under it. Styrofoam floor boards look incredibly “hard” to penetrate. You get the idea.

The director is recalcitrant in his use of bloody effects. Oozing from every pour and orifice Karo Syrup and red food colouring is poured by the gallon and, literally, runs down the screen.

However, as it’s played for laughs, you don’t wince or squirm. The effects are very, very good, though. Eyes are gouged out, pencils are pierced through ankles all for the bloody fun of the viewer.

Sam Raimi doesn’t let good taste get in the way of having fun. The film’s most notorious scene has Ellen Sandweiss’s charcter, Cheryl, being sexually assaulted by a tree. Although, not explicit, Raimi throws in a quick breast shot and a branch attacking her vagina.

It’s obvious that his intention was purely to amuse in the name of bad taste. It’s so ridiculous and tongue in cheek that it’s farcical.

Inevitably, a film with gore of this magnitude was never going to have an easy time. The Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) slapped it with an ‘X’ rating. ‘X’ has the unfair affiliation with porn. The majority of cinemas refuse to show films with that particular category and will only go as high as an ‘R’ rating. Trees raping girls isn’t going to fit in that rating very easily.

Instead, the distributors decide to release the feature ‘unrated’. This, also, has a downside as theatres, more often than not, refuse to show ‘unrated’ films as well. As you can imagine distribution was very limited.

The UK took a slightly different view of things. The boards director, James Ferman, thoroughly enjoyed the film and wanted to pass it uncut. Some of the examiners felt the excessive violence and bloodletting pushed the film a little too far in terms of acceptability and suggested that several little cuts would be best. A few of the female examiners was disturbed by the botanical attack on the girl and wanted cuts. Overall 49 secs was removed.

Palace Pictures released the film on video soon after the finish of it’s theatrical run. Unlike other videos in the early 80’s The Evil Dead was put out in it’s UK censored version.

Perennial pain in the arse and all round whinger, Mary Whitehouse, singled out The Evil Dead as the “number one video nasty” and, hence, a phrase was coined.

Determined to suck all the joy and fun out of life, Fuhrer Whitehouse and her army of fascists, The National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVLA), crusaded to rid Britain of the filth and obscenity corrupting the minds of innocent adults and children.

The Tory government listened and the police went on a rampage confiscating undesirable videos, often based solely on their title. A red faced constabulary were forced to return copies of Samuel Fuller’s critically acclaimed war film The Big Red One after mistaking it for a porno!

Sam Raimi’s soon to be classic was tried numerous times for obscenity in the courts. Sometimes it was found guilty, others not. This put the film in a kind of legal limbo. Was it obscene or wasn’t it? You couldn’t have it obscene in one part of the country and not another. Palace decided to take the bull y the horns and challenge the legal status in a court of law. The verdict…not guilty. The Evil Dead was free, again. Almost.

Because the video had been found guilty in some courts the BBFC were unable to pass that particular it would have been in breach of the law. The lawyers informed them that the¬†anticipated release would have to be quite different from the previous one. The cinema cuts were replicated plus an additional 17 secs. All in all 1 min and 6 secs was removed. On 15th March 1990 it was awarded an ’18’ certificate.

Original UK video sleeve reprinted to advertise the upcoming video release

After a huge overhaul of BBFC policies The Evil Dead was resubmitted and passed uncut with an ’18’ restriction.

Uncut UK DVD release.

Out of the trilogy I find this one to be the best. There’s more fun to be had. It manages to find the right balance between comedy and horror. The sequels tend to focus more on the comedy and that creates an imbalance.

Watch it! It’s a riot!


2 thoughts on “The Evil Dead (1981)

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