Friday, October 22, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: The Evil Dead

I couldn't let the month go by without mentioning the supremely fantabulous The Evil Dead (1981).
It was actually hard to choose as I'm a big fan of Evil Dead 2 as well, and Army of Darkness is no slouch either... But I had to go with the first in the series here.
At this point, I'm wondering how many films from 1981 made the cut here in this month-long favorites blog-a-thon. Has to be quite a few.

I was quite young, thirteen perhaps, when I first saw Bruce Campbell and Co. in this low-budget gore-fest. Director Sam Raimi was a nobody back then, and when he and his friends got together to make a horror film, I'm positive they had no idea how much of an iconic movie they were about to produce. Don't get me wrong, this is no Silence of the Lambs here. No Psycho. But what it is is a campy, rock 'n roll kind of horror film for which you really don't need a brain to watch. Which is fine by me. And let's face it, sometimes you just need a little Bruce Campbell!

As five college friends are on their way to a remote cabin in the backwoods of Tennessee, a mysterious force comes upon them and makes the wheel of the car jerk wildly and nearly send them into an oncoming truck.
Recovering from that, they travel across a bridge that nearly falls apart with them on it, and drive down a cow path of a lane, finally arriving at the tiny cabin.

Exiting the vehicle, Scotty (Richard DeManincor, aka Hal Delrich) heads up onto the porch where a swing for two on chains is swinging and banging against the side of the cabin in an annoying manner. Just as he takes the hidden key down from its resting place above the doorway (how original), the swing abruptly stops.
This is our first clue that there are forces at work here. Brushing that off, Scotty goes inside while the others unload the car.

There for the weekend, the group consists of our hero Ash (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), the aforementioned Scotty, his girlfriend Shelley (Theresa Tilly, aka Sarah York) , and Ash's sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss). As they settle in, Cheryl is in her designated room, drawing. The window is open and a nice evening breeze blows through it, bringing with it a whispering noise that sure sounds a lot like a voice saying 'Join Us'. Matter of fact, it is!

Cheryl feels compelled all the sudden to draw a rough sketch of a book, complete with a primitive demonic face on it.
Brushing that aside (apparently undisturbed that she has drawn a face from the depths of hell), she joins the others instead for dinner.

As Ash stumbles over a toast, the door to the basement flops open unexpectedly. They all stand around it and wonder what it is. (At this point, I could pretty much tell I was going to detest Scotty. He is an asshole from the word go, and when Cheryl suggests that it could be an animal in the basement, Scotty responds by saying that is the "stooopidest thing I've ever heard". Yep, he's a douche bag.)

After arguing about who's going to check it out, Douch bag Scotty finally disappears down into the basement. After a few minutes, Ash calls to him but he doesn't answer. A bit freaked, he takes a lantern and heads down. First of all, let me just say I love Ash (who doesn't?). Secondly, this basement is friggin' huge compared to the size of the cabin. The fact that it even has a basement is amazing. Lastly, if I were Ash I'd have cold-cocked Scotty, as after a lengthy search, the bastard jumps out and scares the shit out of Ash.

Soon, they're rooting through a bunch of stuff they found, including a picture of a creepy book - just like the one Cheryl drew a primitive one of. (On the wall in the background looms a poster of the 1977 version of The Hills Have Eyes. Nice.)

They decide to bring the stuff upstairs to check it out, and end up all sitting around to listen to the tapes on a recorder they discovered. Seems a scientist who was excavating Kandarian ruins brought his wife with him up to the cabin to go over the data and research.

Unfortunately, he found what is translated as the Book of the Dead, an ancient tome of incantations. Supposedly the book is written on human flesh and inked in human blood and deals with demons and demonic resurrections. Also presumed is the fact that if you read these incantations aloud, you can summon forth demons that have been at rest and compel them to possess the living. (Stop right here. So you'd read them out loud? Really? When you know what they are supposed to do? Ah hell, these are the same people who say Candyman five times in a mirror! Damn.) But our fab five continue on, listening as the scientist reads the incantations aloud.

Cheryl has a hissy-fit right about then - she screams like a child as the incantations are read. Outside, the ground begins to shake and break open, emitting a demonic (of course) red light. With Cheryl yelling to shut it off, a tree breaks through the window and everyone gets irritated with Scotty for not turning it off. Cheryl runs out of the room, unable to deal with everything.

Ash feels that this is the right time to present Linda with a little gift. Yeah, I always consider it a great time to be romantic after someone has read a laundry list of demon incantations and scared the shit out of everyone. Sexy!
While Linda admires her little magnifying glass on a chain, the demons become restless outside, peering through each person's window to gauge their possession-factor. Who will they choose!?

Why Cheryl of course! After hearing voices say 'Join Us', she traverses outside to ask the age old question: 'Is anybody out there?' (Man, if I had a quarter for every time I've heard someone say that...) Bizarrely, the trees and vines surrounding them come to life and hold her down so one branch in particular is able to quite literally rape her.
(Was this film actually shown in theaters?)
It's a sequence that is almost funny, if it weren't so brutal.

Completely mentally destroyed and full of fear, Cheryl rushes back inside and begs Ash to take her home. After trying to calm her down and reason with her without success, he agrees to take her.

They are able to get to the bridge, but find it is no longer viable. It's a tangled mess of metal and wood, and there's no way they're leaving tonight. Cheryl proceeds to have another attack of hysteria, rolling on the ground in desperation and panic.

Forced to retreat back to the cabin, Ash finishes listening to the recordings by himself, learning that the only way to kill a Kandarian demon is to dismember it.
As Linda and Shelley are playing a little game of guess the cards, Cheryl begins announcing the cards correctly one by one, in a demonic tone. Then she turns to face them and is indeed a freaky demon girl. When Linda gets a bit too close, Cheryl-Demon sticks a pencil into her foot, right near the Achilles tendon. (Besides Pet Sematary, this injury wins the prize for the most painful looking foot injury in horror!) She then throws everyone else in the room around like rag dolls. After a major struggle, Cheryl is forced kicked into the basement and locked there. You gotta love it.

The ghastly demonic ghouls (called deadites, actually) in the Evil Dead series are some kind of crazy, messed up fun. Their raspy demonic voices and way they spew forth gallons of foul liquid (not even blood, actually) when stabbed or even killed is legendary. It's such a hilariously gruesome film.

So now everyone wants to leave. (Yeah, no shit.) But since escape is impossible, they have to learn to fight the demons. Considering the only way to kill them is to cut them into pieces, you know you're going to get some major gore before it's all over.

When Shelley is attacked next (because her dumb-ass boyfriend left her alone in the bedroom), Scotty doesn't seem too concerned that she turns up missing. Like I said, douche bag. He searches for her, until she actually finds him first, attempting to rip off his face. He tosses her into the fire and burns her face quite nicely. In turn, she throttles Scotty until he grabs his trusty knife and hacks off her hand. Like I said, this is no doubt one of the goriest damn films I've ever had the pleasure of watching. After she gets stabbed in the back, she makes the most godawful noise - for about three straight minutes - until she finally lies still. But surprise, like any horror movie villain, she springs back to life when someone gets too close and Ash proceeds to cut her apart limb from limb. Yay Ash!

Ash and Scotty bury Shelley, but Scotty is determined he's getting the hell out of Dodge. He heads into the woods to find a path around the disabled bridge.
With Scotty apparently gone, Ash then makes the discovery that his lovely Linda has been possessed as well - giggling like an annoying schoolgirl. Scotty then busts through the door, obviously attacked by the woods and near death.

With Linda giggling and smiling at Ash, he finds it impossible to kill her and put her out of her misery. For a few moments, she morphs into normal Linda and begs him not to kill her, and not to let them take her away.
Next up, a normal Cheryl pleads with him from the basement to let her go as well. The reprieve doesn't last long, and as the demons manifest once more, Ash drags Linda from the house.

Douche bag Scotty then succumbs to his injuries and Ash is feeling pretty melancholy. But it's back to the action when Linda shows up again and chases him around with a big knife, all the while cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West. Ash is able to finagle the knife away from her and he stabs her, bringing forth projectile body fluids that do NOT make you want a milkshake anytime soon. Poor guy, he's just not having a banner day.

Once again, he drags Linda outside, this time taking her to the woodshed, and straps her down on the table. Grabbing the chainsaw, he prepares to dismember her but finds he can't. Instead he attempts to bury her, only to have her raise from the grave and rip open his leg. Ash struggles to kill her by blunt force trauma, but she just keeps freaking laughing the entire time. Wow, if it wasn't so amusing I'd be pulling out my hair.

As she leaps in the air towards him, he grabs the shovel and decapitates her in motion. As her head rolls away, Ash is covered with bloody gore from her headless corpse. Yuck!
He makes his way back to the cabin and into the basement, where blood seems to be seeping from every open crack in the place - filling the light bulbs, running down the walls, etc. He heads back upstairs, where his mind plays tricks on him. The clock ticks louder than Big Ben, doors slam open and closed, his heart beats faster than humanly possible.

He sees himself in a mirror and is able to put his whole hand into the mirror - something is obviously not right with that.
Soon all his reanimated ghoulish friends all have a go at him, and more unbelievable amounts of blood, guts, and inexpliciable gore pass the time almost hysterically.
When Ash finally realizes he needs to destroy the Book of the Dead in order to stop the menacing zombie-like creatures, he struggles but finally pitches it into the fire. Presto!

Within seconds, all his zombie friends start to disintegrate before his eyes. In a really cool stop motion sequence, bodies decompose and shrivel into nothing, with stuff that looks like fully cooked risotto seeping out of every orifice. Blood and body parts sling themselves onto Ash, who takes it like the real trooper we know he is.

By this time, it is dawn. The curse is supposed to be broken. Ash steps outside, checking out the sunrise and hobbling towards the car. But just as you think everything is alright, the camera cuts to the demon's point of view as it races back through the woods, into and out of the cabin, down the porch and straight at Ash.

End game.

There are so many reasons to love this film. Campbell's physical comedy and acting are really stellar here, even more so in the sequel/re-imagining Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. It's no wonder he has such a huge fan following. This film, combined with Evil Dead 2, are wild showcases for his stand-out talent.

The simple 'bad-ass cabin in the woods' storyline isn't really detrimental to the movie, and it gained such an incredible and loyal fan base that it holds a rare 100% rating on Rotten
I don't know anyone that doesn't enjoy The Evil Dead, actually.

*On a side note, my hubby and I own a little cabin in the woods that reminds me very much of this one, in fact we call it our Evil Dead cabin. And no, I don't talk walks through the woods nearby at night. The trees look all too familiar.

So it you're looking to have "The ultimate experience in grueling terror" (its tag line) then throw this baby in the DVD player and have at it.


Budd said...

This movie is indeed excellent. I think I like it more than the second and third, because it is more of a serious horror movie. They tend to to get less horror as they go. I do like them all, a lot, for what they are, but this one is my favorite and it can be downright spooky.

Shaun Mazerall said...

I've always been a huge fan of the physical comedy.

Bruce Campbell is one of the great physical actors. The things he puts his body through, and the movements of his body throughout the Evil Dead Trilogy especially, is mind blowing. But where did he get the physical comedy from?

Jim Carrey and Michael Richards are on this same list, but they came up around the same time. Their predecessors/idols were probably guys like Steve Martin (before he went super stiff), John Ritter, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and my personal all-time favorite Don Knotts. For those who haven't seen "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" please Netflix immediately.

What other great physical actors am I missing?

Strange Kid said...

Man... they definitely don't make them like this anymore. Raimi's "Three Stooges" sense of comedy mixed with Bruce Campbell's physical comedy is perfect. I was SO hoping we'd have a chance at seeing Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash!

Mina Jade said...

Wow. Glad to find a horror movie at last.

lazlo azavaar said...

My friends and I rented the first two Evil Deads (back in the VHS days)and watched them back to back. My squeamish sister walked in on the scene where a demons eye pops out and flies into a girl's mouth, and it made her (my sister) throw-up! We all laughed and laughed. Good times!