Before Ash was groovy, he was just Ashley. The original The Evil Dead is a different breed from what we’ve come to expect from the franchise that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell built.
Slapstick humor accompanied by buckets of Karo syrup blood come to mind when we think of The Evil Dead series, but what was it originally? Director Sam Raimi with childhood friends Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and brother Ted Raimi made short super-8 films throughout high school. Influenced by comedy à la The Three Stooges and pulp adventure yarns, the group honed their craft with the shorts. Legend has it that Campbell wanted to be the lead actor to get chicks.
The infectious energy of Sam Raimi in his formative years has never left. When browsing his filmography you see it instantly. Drag Me To Hell, Dark Man, and even his Spider-Man trilogy carry a gleeful kineticism within them. While not as slapstick as later installments, The Evil Dead was his first foray to share with us all.
The plot is your classic cabin in the woods story. Five young friends take off to a quiet cabin. A book bound by human flesh is found deep in the basement. An audio tape is discovered containing incantations which, when read out loud over the recording, releases the evil dead. The friends find themselves helpless to stop the evil as it spreads to them one by one. Ultimately this leaves only one survivor left to desperately fight to live until morning.
That survivor is Campbell’s character Ashley, who becomes Ash over the course of the series. Before he had a chainsaw for an arm and made wisecracks he was a sensitive boyfriend who saw his girlfriend and friends possessed and taken from him. Ash is tortured on film (and on set) in ways that would drive anyone insane. He’s covered in so much blood at any given moment that at one point during the making of the film Campbell left his shirt next to a fire and it hardened so much from the fake blood that it shattered when he tried putting it back on.
With its simplicity the plot could have lead nowhere special, but combined with Raimi’s vision and surreal visuals it became more intense and unique than most independent horror movies of its time.
The film carries a weight that is simultaneously heavy and rapid fire. Gore and demonized action sequences interplay with human compassion and torture. There’s also a scene where a tree branch pulls a Trump. Raimi sets a pace that glides in and out of these moments with an ease that leaves you unsettled in the best of ways. It’s like riding the world’s smoothest rollercoaster that is full of nothing but those slow, clicking ascensions and rushing dives that leave your stomach in your throat. It’s subtle. It’s totally NOT subtle. It’s in-your-face disturbing, and it’s silence fueled suspenseful. This is what movies made by a visionary with carte blanche, not a studio, should be.
One of my favorite scenes is a small detail of no importance to the overall movie. Later in the movie the camera is above Ash in the rafters of the cabin. He walks through the cabin and the camera follows him. The sound effect that we hear as each rafter is passed is so unnatural and mechanical it can’t be unnoticed. It’s a small and overall unnecessary detail that adds to the film.
This series spawned two sequels: Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Both have different tones and settings for our hero Ash who becomes increasingly more selfish and also funny from movie to movie. A remake (Evil Dead) was made a few years ago, but despite having some good makeup effects it’s not remembered for anything more than a cameo from Ash after the credits that really doesn’t make sense, but is still loved. Most recently, and over 20 years since we last saw some original Evil Deadness, an original series titled Ash vs. Evil Dead premiered on Starz and is currently in its second season. The series is a combination of all the Evil Dead movies. It has the horror, the buckets of Karo syrup blood, and tons of humor at the expense of Ash. It’s one of my favorites to watch, especially during this time of the year.
This series is over the-top-gore and comedy as a whole. I love watching them all, but the original has always held a special place in my heart and that’s why it’s making the list you primitive screw heads. Don’t miss out on this original Halloween classic that belongs amongst the other must-see picks on our 31 Days of Halloween list here.