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Five go to a cabin in the woods
The Evil Dead (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Evil Dead (DVD)
Advantages: Enormous fun, scary at times
Disadvantages: Made on a seriously strict budget
Five friends, Ash, Cheryl, Scott, Linda and Shelly, go on a trip to a deserted cabin in the woods. Within hours of having arrived, Cheryl is visited by an evil spirit who takes control of her hands while she is drawing. Cheryl later decides that someone is watching them from the woods and goes outside to investigate - while there, she is attacked by tree roots and branches, but manages to get away, returning sobbing to the cabin. The others all think she is making things up, but eventually Ash agrees to drive her to the nearest town. Before long, however, it is clear that Cheryl is right and something is definitely after them - and at least one of those somethings is in the cellar of the cabin. Can they find out what it is and get away safely? Or are they all doomed to die horribly?!
Directed by Sam Raimi, this 1981 film was a suprise hit, making more of a splash than other films with much higher budgets. For modern viewers, it may be hard to tell exactly why it was so highly acclaimed - the acting is rubbish and the special effects are way worse than they should have been for a film made in the 1980s. Yet there is a definite charm to it that will appeal to fans of horror - or at least it did to this fan.
As often happens with horror films, the acting is not exactly top notch; actually, it's only just passable. Of the five characters, there are really only two that stand out. Firstly, Cheryl, played by Ellen Sandweiss, who is the first to 'feel' the spirits. Her acting is definitely wooden, yet she does manage to convey abject terror, which creates a great build-up to the atmosphere of the film. And she also manages to portray a mixture of fear and sexual arousement while being apparently raped by a tree branch - this is really quite creepy, but intriguing to watch at the same time. You won't remember Sandweiss for her acting skills, but you will remember what happened to her, and that is at least partially down to the actress.
Bruce Campbell plays Ash, the best-looking of the friends, and apparently all-round good guy. He doesn't come across as being all that wooden; he just doesn't really make all that much of an impact for anything apart from his looks and, towards the end, some marvellous demon killing techniques! The rest of the bunch really don't make any kind of impact. One of the girls has a marvellously eerie laugh once she has turned into a demon, but as I'm not even sure which of the actresses it was, there obviously isn't much to her apart from that. They all did the basic job required of them though, and to be honest, even though the acting wasn't of the best quality, it really wasn't all that important to my enjoyment of the film.
The premise on which the film is based - that the teenagers released the demons because they listened to a tape of incantations based on The Book of the Dead' - is rather silly. Sam Raimi, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed the film, obviously wanted to give an explanation for the happenings in the cabin, and I suppose he could have come up with a worse explanation. Again though, like the acting and the special effects, it isn't all that important. The main thrills of the film are the pacing and the awesome, doom-ridden atmosphere. The horror starts very early on and then is relentless - just as you think it can't get any worse, it does.
The special effects are, at times, laughable. The demons look completely unrealistic - lots of swollen faces and blue make-up - and some of the chopping scenes that Ash carries out are deeply unconvincing. The blood is too thin and the body parts look plastic, as they probably were. Despite this, I still found it scary at times and even jumped once or twice. The film was apparently banned in the UK until 1990; now it has a rating of 18 and, despite the laughable special effects, this is really deserved. I've no doubt teenagers younger than 18 have watched and will continue to watch it on a regular basis because of the film's reputation, but I think parents should keep a tab on them because of the continual violence. There are also a couple of scenes involving breasts, and, of course the rape scene.
I'm well aware that anyone reading this will wonder why on earth I've awarded the film with four stars when so much of it is of low quality. It is very simply because of the great atmosphere and, to a certain extent, because of my weird sense of humour. Because of the lack of character development, it is hard to feel much concern for the teenagers, which makes it possible to watch the film and just enjoy it for what it is - a total gore-fest with hilariously bad special effects. Of course, this isn't going to be for everyone. However, if you start watching a film called The Evil Dead with the expectation that it isn't going to be a horror, then there is probably something wrong with you! If you can't enjoy it for what it is, don't bother.
There are a whole host of extras that come with the DVD. Most are unexciting, including the theatrical and TV trailers, a couple of bios for Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and the producer, a poster and still gallery and audio commentaries with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Then there are a couple of documentaries and some behind the scenes footage and outtakes. One of the documentaries is made by Bruce Campbell and is quite fun to watch, talking about why people become such fans of films, to the extent that they go to conventions etc. It doesn't provide a great deal of insight into The Evil Dead though. The other documentary involves interviews with a couple of producer/distributor-type people talking about the impact that the film had when it first came out. It's interesting enough, but isn't worth going to a lot of effort to watch.
I really enjoyed this film, despite all the faults. Had it been made with a serious budget, decent actors and classy special effects, I doubt it would have been as successful. As it is, it is a thoroughly random film with plenty of unexpected scary bits and the odd laugh too that doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't. It won't be for everyone, but if you like horror, you should watch it at some point. Recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.
Running time: 85 minutes (uncut)
Summary: A must-see for fans of horror