My first encounter with The Evil Dead was on video. I've never seen it in a theater, and to a certain extent I'm glad I never did: this is the kind of movie that attracts hoards of smarmy hecklers and I have no patience for them whatsoever. The Evil Dead is best watched late at night on video--with no one else around and all the lights out. Even better yet, if you could somehow arrange it, you'd watch it in an abandoned rural house, isolated in the backwoods, with the smell of mildew and other less identifiable odors in the air. And maybe with an old porch swing still swinging and banging against the wall every now and then. . . . Well, you get the picture. Environment can make all the difference with a movie such as The Evil Dead, provided your intention is to actually watch the movie and let it work its vicious little spell on you.
Even with its crudities The Evil Dead packs quite a powerful punch (maybe in part because of its crudities). Never during the course of the movie do you get the impression that you're watching a work of art. The Evil Dead is much too blunt for that. But because it lacks the niceties of a typical Hollywood horror movie, it also feels undiluted and thus all the more eerie. After you've seen this movie, you're almost guaranteed to be moving a shade faster when all the lights are out in your house--particularly on the way up from the basement. Heck, you might find a good excuse for avoiding the basement altogether for a few days.
For the uninitiated, The Evil Dead is concerned with a group of five vacationing college students (featuring Bruce Campbell, who now has a recurring role in Xena: Warrior Princess) who rent a rural cabin and unwittingly awaken demonic forces that have been slumbering for eons. The supernatural forces (what shall we call them?) attack and possess the students one by one, resulting in hideous slobbering monstrosities with reddish eyes and grey skin. Particularly unnerving (it's the movie's masterstroke) is the creature captured in the cellar. While the remaining college students contemplate what to do, it crashes against the chained cellar door (which leads into the middle of the living room!) and taunts them while the chains and hinges rattle and strain. Director Sam Raimi also supplies some astonishingly unsettling images as the camera tracks across swamps and through the woods--as if we're seeing the point of view of the demonic creatures.
The Evil Dead is a hyperbolic exercise in high style that refuses to acknowledge the value of subtlety. Raimi and company instead opt for an approach that delights in its own excesses--with a veritable non-stop barrage of gore, until by the end of the movie the cabin's floor is caked in blood. Raimi's love of hyperbolic overstatements would become even more pronounced in the remake/sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, where he adds comedy to the mix.
The Evil Dead is one of the first examples of a movie that first came to life only on its video release. If you own the old HBO/Cannon version, it's time to get rid of it and enjoy the movie in this much improved video transfer from Anchor Bay.
The Evil Dead is now available from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Suggested retail price: $9.99 for the regular edition (with four different box designs) and $14.98 for the "Collector's Edition. The "Collector's Edition" features stereo sound, a theatrical trailer, brief liner notes from Bruce Campbell, and a clamshell case.