The Evil Dead Review
The Evil Dead is a 1981 low-budget horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi. The film launched the careers of both Raimi and the film's main star, Bruce Campbell. Despite it being an amateur film and having a measly $375,000 budget, the movie has grown into one of the most iconic films of recent memory and is regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
High schooler Ash Williams and a group of his friends are vacationing in a cabin in the Tennessee mountains when they find a book made of human flesh and a collection of tapes from the man who found it. The group accidentally activates a spell that awakens a group of evil spirits that begin to possess them one-by-one, tuning them into zombies. Now, Ash must survive the night and defeat the evil dead.
Even though the set-up is cliched, the film was released before the "cabin in the woods" was a trope. So rather than hurting the movie, the setup comes off more as a staple, a little piece of film history that's fun to look back on.
The screenplay is actually pretty good for a first-time screenwriter. The dialogue isn't obnoxious and there are long stretches of the movie where there's no talking at all and the images onscreen tell the story, showing a very mature knowledge of the "show, don't tell" rule in film that's rare for the inexperienced.
The characters are bland, but they're sympathetic enough to the point where you want to see them make it out alive. They're not annoying, but they're not likable or lively either. There's just vanilla.
The pacing, again, for an amateur film, is remarkably reserved. Usually, amateur screenwriters wouldn't take any time with a horror film and just start with the scares right away. Raimi takes his sweet, sweet time, building up a creepy atmosphere all leading up to when we actually see the monsters. It's very reminiscent of Alien, in that the movie has a slow buildup for the first half and only then begins to scare you. The jumpscares work sometimes; the times when they do work are when they play with your expectations. They'll have someone sneaking up to a shower curtain, the camera slowly creeping and the music building and growing more intense... only to find that there's nothing there. Then, the same buildup happens and then a jumpscare actually happens and it's effective, because you didn't know whether to expect it or not. The scenes where they don't work are way too obvious: the lighting and cinematography, even to the untrained eye, clearly say, "There's gonna be a jumpscare right here!"
The lighting is mostly white and orange lighting, with not a lot of filters. When it does use the orange lighting, however, it looks amazing. The orange adds to the Halloween feel of the setting and it's another nice layer to the atmosphere. Sometimes the lighting angles can throw the audience off with the story it's trying to tell, though. For example, there's a scene where Ash is talking to his friend and half of his friend's face is kept in shadow. You think that he's gonna turn and show that he has something scary on the other half of his face, but he's perfectly normal. Moments like that are a bit annoying, but it's a rare occurrence.
The cinematography is subpar. It doesn't break any camera rules like the rule of thirds and it serves to show us what's going on. In the other scenes, though, you can tell that it's beginner's camerawork. Sometimes the camera will be at an odd, crooked angle that, as far as I could tell, doesn't really help or connect to the story. Whenever there's a tracking shot, you can tell that somebody is holding and moving the camera. It's still enough so you can tell what's going on, but it's shaky enough and in a certain way that it breaks the illusion while you're watching it. There's even a shot that's completely out of focus; it's just a shot of Ash and his friend in the car, but Ash and his friend, the subjects of the shot, are all fuzzy and unclear. However, there is one shot that I'm perplexed at how they pulled off. It's just a shot of the camera gliding over the water and I have no idea how they didn't make the water ripple or move or anything. This is an inexperienced filmmaking team taking on this difficult shot and they somehow made it work. It boggles my mind.
The acting is fair, though, once again, the characters aren't fleshed out enough to give the actors anything to work with. The acting really shines, though, when the girls are turned into the evil dead. Their voices are obviously dubbed over, but it adds another layer of creepy. The laughing and the expressions are also great, resulting in some really terrifying deliveries.
The highlights of the whole movie, though, are the special effects. Not only are they impressive because this is a beginner's film, but they're impressive by film standards in general. The makeup is what sells half the scares of the movie. They're that good. The zombies look decayed and gross, exactly how they should look. The fake blood also looks amazing in that it looks gross and enjoyably fake, likening a resemblance to hammer horror blood. There's this great part at the end of the movie where they use stop motion and claymation to show the zombies decomposing and it looks fantastic.
The music is also what sells a lot of the creepy atmosphere. Composer Joseph LoDuca offers up a really creepy score, with eerie whistling noises and spine-tingling violins.
Summary: This movie's most impressive feature is that it was entirely made by a group of friends from Detroit with no previous experience in making movies. When coupled with that knowledge, and the assumption that this was purely a passion project for Raimi and his friends, The Evil Dead is an enjoyable horror film with some pretty good scares, spectacular special effects and chilling music. Even with the poor cinematography and stilted acting I dare you not to enjoy this, especially if you're a movie fan or film student since this is a really intriguing watch for either.