Saturday, April 27, 2013

Evil Triumph: 1981's Evil Dead.

Movie Review: Evil Dead

Director: Sam Raimi

Reviewed: 27 April 2013

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

What makes a great horror film?  It should be upsetting.  It should traffic in suspense and gore, as well as play on collective fears.  It should show images that are unsettling.  It should leave audiences disquieted.  It has taken me a long time, but I finally caught up with Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" alone, in the dark, in my house on a rainy Saturday.  As I travel backwards in time through film to catch up with the ones that I missed, ones that I was too young to see, and ones that I avoided, I am so glad that I did not see "Evil Dead" at a young age.  Even as a 34-year old, it was marvelously upsetting.

To know Sam Raimi's work now is to see him attempt to dazzle with big budgets and stars with "Spiderman" and "Oz: The Great and Powerful," but in 1981, the director crafted ninety minutes of suspense out of thin air, with one location, unknown actors, and a indefatigable sense of showmanship. Just as Steven Spielberg was forced to hide the great white shark until the third act of "Jaws,"Raimi uses trick after trick in "Evil Dead" to scare in low-tech, innovative ways, no doubt an effect of a miniscule budget. The plot of a traditional group of friends and lovers in a deserted cabin in the woods who stumble across an ancient text could not be more sparse. But the spookiness of the moving trees, the omnipresent rolling fog, and the sound work of gurgling, cackling demons summoning young people to their doom all works. As does the visceral texture of the film which spares no opportunity for blood, ooze, and worse to erupt onscreen and onto the face of Bruce Campbell's heroic Ash. When I said the word 'trick' earlier, I do not mean that pejoratively. I love textures, sets, puppets, make-up, and models and find that I prefer them to entirely computer-generated worlds in films. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I like a scary costume or bit of make-up; I like a set and props that you can nearly feel. I just watched "Oblivion," the latest Tom Cruise science-fiction vehicle with an immense budget that shows impressive, otherworldly sights on the screen. It caught my eye. But at no time was I as worried for Tom Cruise as I was for Ash in this film. Special effects, make-up, and sound design all bombarded me in "Evil Dead," and hyper-realistic images are no match for being afraid of the dark, being afraid of the woods, and being afraid of unknown sounds. A great early shot shows a porch bench steadily slamming into the cabin's wall, an ominous precursor to the mayhem that follows.

Does this 1981 horror film hold up and still provide scares? Yes. A demon trapped in the cellar provides another layer of dread to multiple scenes, watching the adventures much like an audience and frequently grabbing out at the ankles of the protagonists. The camera hurtles unforgettably through the woods personifying the demons, as well as the endless door slamming and window smashing of the maze-like cabin.  I do not understand what it all means, and I do not think every sequence works, but I am in awe of the vision, design, and execution of this film.  I think it to be a near classic with a terrific final shot.

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