The Evil Dead – my brother’s favorite movie
My brother Pete was a huge horror fan! At the top of his list of favorites was The Evil Dead. Actually…who doesn’t love that movie? There’s nothing not to love. Written and directed by the great Sam Raimi and starring the man himself, Bruce Campbell. It was based on a short film by Raimi and Campbell called Within the Woods. It’s low-budget horror at its 80s best, and the one that started it all!
Friends since high school, Raimi and Campbell loved making low-budget super-8 movies. No one had ever heard of either of them. At the beginning of Raimi’s career, he produced several short films, mostly comedies. His interest in horror was piqued after he produced a short about a stalker called Clockwork. He and Campbell made Within the Woods as proof of concept in order to raise money for a full-length movie. And it worked. They managed to raise around three hundred seventy-five thousand dollars, which wasn’t big enough for what he wanted to do. But the guys said, “fuck it”.
The Evil Dead is about five college friends that are spending the weekend in a cabin in the woods. (Nothing bad is gonna happen, right?). Then they find a book (The Necronomicon) and an audiotape. The tape explains the purpose of the book and the evil it can bring. But as expected, they read from the book and release the evil. (Something my brother would 100% do!).
Raimi and Campbell recruited their friends, family, and people they had worked with before. They took on multiple roles and did all the location scouting themselves. Crew members even wound up staying in the cabin for a short period of time. At one point or another, several people involved have described the shoot as “brutal” and “unbearable”. Talk about suffering for one’s craft!
Sleeping in the cabin may have been the least of the crew’s problems. Several of the actors were hurt during filming. At one point, Campbell fell and hurt his leg. Instead of feeling bad for him, Raimi would poke it with a stick. Raimi believed that actors being in pain would translate into horror. He used onions to make the actors cry during filming. Actress Betsy Baker had her eyelashes ripped out when a mask was removed from her face. The weather was so cold that people started getting sick. Some crew members went days without a shower. Toward the end of the shoot, the crew started burning the furniture to stay warm.
And the special effects created by Tom Sullivan were stellar. They may be cheesy by today’s standards, but I think they still hold up. If was shot, stabbed, severed, or melted – Tom was behind it. He is the mind behind the look of the Deadites and the Necronomicon. He used foam and latex to create body parts, and he experimented with different formulations of fake blood. He spent three months working with Bart Pierce on the stop-motion scenes at the end of the movie. And let’s not forget that fucked up scene with the tree.
Although the cabin in the woods trope has been used many times, Raimi uses the trope to his advantage. His creative use of cameras to get the POV of the deadites made for some great scares, and he came up with some ingenious ways to show the evil moving closer. (Remember, this was the 80s, and many of the camera tricks used today were not around then). He didn’t skimp in the blood and gore either. (I feel like half the budget went to fake blood…and I’m not complaining!) The characters are in deep trouble and trapped- a feeling that Raimi makes sure you feel too.
And then there’s the iconic Ash Williams. Coward turned unlikely hero. Bruce Campbell’s Ash has become one of the most beloved and recognizable figures in horror! Campbell wasn’t trying to be funny in The Evil Dead, but since then, Ash has evolved into everyone’s favorite wisecracking, boomstick-wielding deadite warrior! And Campbell has become the king of the B-movies. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t love Bruce Campbell.
What was born from two friends’ love of horror soon became an empire. Boosted by a glowing endorsement by Stephen King who said it was “the most ferociously original film of the year”. The Evil Dead was a huge success. Some of the movie’s scenes were labeled “too violent” to be released in several other countries, which helped boost the movie’s success. It has spawned four additional films (including the newest one, Evil Dead Rise) and the tv show Ash vs Evil Dead. Horror fans just can’t get enough of Ash and the deadites!
The Evil Dead was not only my brother’s favorite movie but it is one of mine as well. If you’re one of the three horror fans that haven’t seen it, you need to do that as soon as possible. Trust me – you won’t regret it.