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Evil Dead: An Appreciation
Reviewed by Kenn McCracken, © 2007

Format: Movie
Review Date:   August 14, 2007

"The Evil Dead has the simple, stupid power of a good campfire story -- but its simplicity is not a side effect. It is something carefully crafted by Raimi, who is anything but stupid. Five college students on a holiday, two boys and three girls, find a deserted cabin and an ancient book -- a Lovecraftian Book of the Dead -- that turns them into unkillable zombies, one by one, until only the film's star. Bruce Campbell, is left. The only way to get rid of these zombies -- the evil dead -- is by dismemberment. Luckily a chainsaw is handy, and . . .

And it doesn't sound like much. Well, neither does Hans and Gretel or Bluebeard in the hands of an untalented teller. What Raimi achieves in Evil Dead is a black rainbow of terror." -- Stephen King

Everyone has heard of Evil Dead, in one way or another. Perhaps you've seen the third part of the trilogy, Army of Darkness, or wondered where that goofy guy from Xena came from, or saw the video in the cult classics section of the local video store. Regardless, there are very few people who are not aware of this series in some form, and what makes this notable is that all of the movies were made low-budget, and took in very little money at the box office.

Regardless of their take at the theaters, all three movies are hugely successful in the home theater realm. Each has seen multiple releases on laserdisc, VHS, and DVD, with numerous editions of each available at one time or another. Video games, comic books, and a musical have been build around it. Say what you will about Friday the 13th, Halloween, or The Exorcist. Evil Dead, for what it is, is the most successful franchises in horror on many levels.

Evil Dead

The first film was made in 1982 for around $375,000. It's campy at best, laughable at worst, yet was called "the most ferociously original horror film of the year" by Stephen King. The plot centers on five characters on vacation from college, planning on spending time at a remote cabin. Ash (Bruce Campbell) just wants to have time to tell his girlfriend Linda how much he loves her. The cabin has been taken over by demonic forces, thanks to the efforts of a professor who translated an ancient text, and the kids open the gateway for dead souls. One by one, the good guys are possessed, in the end, leaving only Ash to battle for his life.

The movie carries a distinct B-movie look and feel, but there are some unmistakably creepy moments nonetheless. Some of the movie is absolutely brutal to watch. Despite the laugh factor, it is still common to walk away from this film looking over your shoulder.

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

This is the true masterpiece of the trilogy, in my opinion. It is half-sequel, half-remake, but most importantly, it finds the perfect balance between creepy horror and self-aware humor.

The beginning is what would appear to be a remake of the first film, with college friends going to a cabin in the woods for a vacation, and on some levels, that's exactly what it is. Sam Raimi, writer and director, couldn't get the rights to the first movie from the original studio, so he was forced to reshoot the scenes that he wanted to include in a recap of the first film.

After what is essentially a fast-forwarded version of the first film, but with more money and creepier, we descend into the meat of the sequel, which focuses again on Ash, and casts back to the backstory of the professor and his wife. The professor has a daughter, and she has showed up with various and sundry victi . . . er, helpers, just back from an archeological trip. She finds her parents are missing, and that Ash, looking more than a little deranged, is covered in blood. Presumably that of her parents. She decides he is a murderer. Soon after, though, everyone discovers that Ash is, in fact, their only hope.

I recommend you watch all three in order. The evolution of the character and the films themselves is fascinating to watch, and the storyline progresses like a trilogy. However, if you are dying tonight, and can only pick one to watch ever, make this the one, to get the best idea of the real joy off this series.

Army of Darkness

This one is the most over-the-top of the entire franchise, much closer in spirit to the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges than a thriller. Picking up exactly where part two left off, Ash fulfills the prophecies found in the Book of the Dead, fighting off the Deadites in the Middle Ages.

The movie is a direct followup to the second movie, but is not titled as a sequel. Why? Who knows? The movie is a direct descendant of the Evil Dead films, but, just as a child, has quite a few rebellious differences from its parents.

Before, the camp value stemmed from the lack of budget; here, it is intentional. The horror aspects are still there, but they don't come across as scary at all anymore. This is more of a romantic action-hero movie (in its own backhanded fashion) than a horror film. Regardless, it is as necessary to the trilogy as the first and second parts, bringing the storyline to a satisfying end and smoothly and logically following the atmospheric progression set by the first two films.

Evil Dead 4

Psych. There won't be an Evil Dead 4, or an Army of Darkness 2, contrary to reports scattered across the Net. Bruce Campbell himself has said: So, you want Evil Dead IV/Army of Darkness II, eh? Well, don't hold your breath, buckos. There have been rumors a plenty flying around the whacky Web so I have decided to post the definitive answer. The 4th installment hasn't been made for a simple reason -- "Army of Darkness" didn't rake in enough cash to justify another film. The basic economics of Hollywood rule, gang, I hate to break it to you. It's like this -- no Box Office, no sequel. No other explanation is correct, no other one is needed. Let me be clear, however, on one point: I'd be happy to do it -- so would Sam, but let's not beat that dead horse any more until it becomes a reality . . . IF it ever does.

Now, I could lie to you, but you're grown up (some of you) and I'm sure you'd rather have the straight dope than some phony windbag explanation. In the meantime, enjoy the slew of re-releases in stores now."

Sam and Bruce both have their plates full, anyway. Perhaps you've heard of TV series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Hercules, Xena, Jack of All Trades, or Cleopatra 2525? Perhaps you've heard of the Spider-movies. All of these come back to Evil Dead on the family tree of cast and crew.

Somehow, from the depths of a Tennessee farmhouse that was falling apart in front of the camera, emerged not only a talented director and a talented leading man, as able in a serious role as in comic relief (Campbell was rumored to be in consideration for the part of Scully's partner for the eighth season of The X-Files), but also a cult classic.

It is a cult classic for a reason. More than simple scary movies, the series mixes a twisted and surreal sense of humor with the usual gore and jumpy spookiness of horror cinema. King was right about one thing, at least: Evil Dead is a black rainbow of terror. That's what you get, though, when you mix a story of demonic possession with the Three Stooges and bad puns. Really, though, what more could you want?


Kenn McCracken is a RevolutionSF writer emeritus, now wrenched free from our gaping maw. But we'll get him back. Someday.

 
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