The Evil Dead, by Alexandra Ferguson

Year – 1981
Country – USA
Certificate – 18
Director – Sam Raimi
Cast – Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker

Some movies never go out of fashion, no matter how badly the wrinkles and dementia begin to set in. These days director Sam Raimi is better known for ruining the Spider-Man franchise than for his twisted 80s classic in which a woman is raped by a tree…
Raimi’s The Evil Dead is a slapstick-horror, fusing ridiculous physical comedy with buckets of gore and severed prosthetics. There a very few films which have managed to re-create this perfect balance through direction, performance, dialogue and design, though Joss Whedon’s recent The Cabin in The Woods (2011) wonderfully updated the concept for the 21st Century.

The Evil Dead begins with the number one horror cliché: a group of friends choose the most unlikely vacation destination and travel to a cabin in the woods miles away from civilisation. Not only this, but when the friends discover a conveniently placed Necronomicon text they then go on to unleash unimaginable evil throughout the entire wood.

As a plot, Raimi’s attempt would typically be shrugged off; however even now the film’s cult status has meant it is still cherished by horror fans worldwide. This is thanks to many contributing factors perfectly constructed on screen by Raimi. His choice to produce a standard video-nasty with added slapstick humour was a gamble, but has left us with a film no audience member will ever forget.

The humour of the film is injected through extraordinary plasticine special effects, Raimi’s dialogue and Bruce Campbell’s unforgettable performance as Ash. Put bluntly, the other cast members are almost unnecessary. Campbell is put in the most awkward scenes and given the most ridiculous lines but he wears it like a tailored suit. His commitment to being a horror clown is so impressive that he has gone on to make a career out of his initial performance in this low-budget winner.

Opposite Campbell for a large part of the film are many plasticine beasties (to be politically correct the term is claymation). Crafted out of bruised-coloured clay, evil moulds itself into all kinds of bizarre forms in order to make Ash’s life a living hell. These crazy spews of evil are hilarious to watch and Campbell’s face itself often appears like plasticine as he forces it into the most painful of expressions.
Each scene is captured by Raimi through altered camera-angles, jump-cuts and extreme close-ups in order to add to the psychotic style of comedy and uneasy atmosphere of horror.

What works so well about Raimi’s choice to present slapstick-horror is the violent nature of slapstick comedy. Cartoons like Tom & Jerry have been squeezing the hilarity out of violence for many years and entertaining audiences in the process. However, Raimi has achieved where so many others have failed by remembering to take the horror elements just as seriously. His creation is nasty, gory and shocking and does not go easy on the audience just because it also intends to be funny.
These moments of humour might act as a distraction to the audience, asking them to look at one thing while Raimi sets up another, but this only adds to the success of the film by always keeping the audience on the edge of their seat.

Ultimately, The Evil Dead is a film of glorious excess and parody. It works so well because audiences already hold the genre expectations, but don’t expect anything they eventually see on screen.

The amount of blood and violence always appears in the audience’s blind-spot and this added adrenaline makes the comedic dialogue and action even more side-splitting and has propelled The Evil Dead to cult heights most directors can only dream of.

If you haven’t seen it in a while, dig it out. You will laugh and squirm all over again.

Share