Looking Back at The Evil Dead

Apr 12, 2013 No Comments by

Between 1981 and 1983, one film helped define a new look of horror for generations to come. Author Stephen King described it as “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.” Now over three decades later it has absorbed and captured the hearts of countless horror fans around the world.

Long before he helmed Spiderman and Oz: The Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi started off with one of the greatest, and still one of the most frightening, masterpieces of horror ever made: The Evil Dead. With the release of the remake, I think it’s a great time for people who are not familiar with this classic film to learn exactly what they are missing including the film itself, the massive cult following it amassed, the controversy, some fun trivia notes for the diehard fans like myself, and the ridiculously huge legacy the movie leaves behind.

The movie is about five young teenagers who choose to vacation in a cabin deep in the Tennessee woods. There they uncover a tape recorder that plays incantations taken from the Necronomicon, also known as the Book of the Dead. The incantations resurrect demons that possess the teenagers one by one. They are now forced to battle each other in order to try to stop the crazed nightmare that has been unleashed, resulting in quite a grotesque bloodbath of bodily dismemberment and mayhem.

The Evil Dead was released initially in 1981 to limited audiences and was released nationwide in 1983 by Renaissance Pictures and New Line Cinema. It became a sleeper success, grossing a little over $2.4 million at the box-office over its $350,000 budget. When the MPAA got a hold of the film they initially gave The Evil Dead an X-rating, which actually improved the movie’s chances of raking in the dough. The critical reception was mixed at the time but later on it received more positive feedback, especially in the years that followed.

The movie also caused a bit of controversy due to the film’s violent and gory subject matter as well as the infamous tree rape sequence (some countries banned the movie and the tree rape sequence was removed in some video versions). When the film was released to video in the UK, it was deemed so grotesque and vulgar it was labeled the “Number One Nasty” on the infamous Video Nasty list. The movie quickly made itself a name with its VHS, and later DVD, and Blu-Ray releases.  Anchor Bay released quite a few DVD versions of the film (and I’ve been snookered into buying each and every one of them – Ed.). Today on RottenTomatoes.com The Evil Dead currently holds a 98% Fresh rating, making it one of the highest ranked horror films on the site.

The Evil Dead’s production was quite an epic one. It took a grand total of four years to get the movie off the ground, from 1979 to 1983. The main reason for this long period of time was that the filmmakers kept running out of money needed to first make and later distribute the film. Sam Raimi made a couple of films prior to working on The Evil Dead called It’s Murder! and Within The Woods (essentially a test run of The Evil Dead), which helped provide the revenue he needed to work on The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi relied on camera trickery, which included having the camera fly through the woods at a fast, kinetic pace, as well as having distorted and unusual camera angles to create the tension and eerie mood for the film (this later became a huge trademark for Sam Raimi on his later works). Stop motion animation was used for the film’s spectacular grotesque finale when the demons meet their end. Artist Tom Sullivan did all the demon makeup and most of the gore effects, as well as creating the Book of the Dead and the skull dagger seen in the film (continued after the pic).

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Most of the cast and crew were unknowns at the time and only a few have made big names for themselves since then. Director Sam Raimi went on to have a hugely successful career as a filmmaker, directing the two Evil Dead sequels (Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness), Darkman, The Gift, Spiderman and its two sequels, Drag Me To Hell, and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Actor Bruce Campbell made himself a name with his character of Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy as well as making appearances in many of Sam Raimi’s films (the two are very close friends by the way). Tom Sullivan also worked on the two Evil Dead sequels and worked on some of the creature effects on The Fly II. Composer Joe LoDuca went on and scored the two Evil Dead sequels as well as scoring the theme for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell both worked on. Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother, played various off-screen characters in the film. He also made a huge name for himself by appearing in countless horror films as well as working with Sam on several of his later films.

Here are some interesting trivia notes for fans of the movie and some horror fans that are not familiar with The Evil Dead:

There is a torn poster for The Hills Have Eyes in the basement. This started a long-running gag between directors Sam Raimi and Wes Craven. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy can be seen watching The Evil Dead. In Evil Dead II, Freddy Krueger’s glove can be seen hanging in the workshed. Sam Raimi may have done this as a running gag because in The Hills Have Eyes a torn poster for the movie Jaws is seen.

The cabin that was used for the film was actually an abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere. Sadly the cabin no longer exists today as a couple years after the film’s production ended it burned down. To date, the locations of the cabin’s remains are unknown to all but a few diehard fans who tracked it down and took parts of the stone chimney, which happened to be the only portion of the cabin that remained intact.

The car that is seen in the film is a 1973 Oldsmobile that is owned by Sam Raimi. He used the car in almost every one of his films that followed after The Evil Dead.

The remake is not the only thing that manages to keep the spirit of The Evil Dead alive. Years after the film and its two sequels were released, a trilogy of video games were made for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. They were Evil Dead: Hail to the King, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, and Evil Dead: Regeneration. Each appears to be a continuation of the events of Army of Darkness with the exception of Regeneration, which seems to take place in an altered timeline following the end of Evil Dead II. Various members of The Evil Dead’s crew took part in creating the games, including voiceovers from Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi.

A huge series of comic books and graphic novels were made to continue the story of Army of Darkness. There was also a consideration to have the character Ash battle Freddy and Jason in a supposed Freddy vs. Jason sequel which never materialized.

Even after three decades, The Evil Dead still manages to take horror fans one by one. The film had a huge production time span that had its troubles and it caused some controversy due to its graphic content at the time. Even through all that the movie was a sleeper hit upon its release and the critical reception was mainly positive. The film’s director started off on a long and extremely successful film career as well as making a huge cult name for his leading actor. The two sequels that followed also became cult hits and spawned off huge offspring of their own. For an extremely low budget film it showed off some impressive special effects that were a huge breakthrough for their time. Now with the release of the remake, it seems that Evil Dead will never go away and let’s hope it never will. In a single immortal word by Ash to sum it all up, it’s “Groovy.”

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About the author

Gregory Watson lives in Bridgeport, Ohio. When it comes to horror he’s in love with it all: splatter, scares, wild makeup and special effects, horror comedies (sometimes parodies), you name it. And while he really doesn’t have a favorite, the scarier the better. His philosophical motto for horror movies is: Make the popcorn go flying. We all could use a few scares in our lives.
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