Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) is one hell of a beloved horror flick. Judging from blogs I follow and other things I read, I would venture that it is probably more beloved than any other horror film ever made. Which makes me worry how many people will be a bit bummed with this review, cause I did not particularly like this film at all.
There is no doubt Raimi and friends did a pretty exceptional job on the production front. You can tell this film was made on the cheap, but that never stops the creativity shining through. The creativity does not always work, the whirling camera first person shots for example, but it is an aspect of the film that you have to respect. And perhaps watching this for the first time in 2013 means that I am not able to appreciate just how big a deal the film was when it hit. But other classic horror films, such as Halloween (1978) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) that I feared might have lost some of their impact when viewed for the first time in the 2010s, still worked exceptionally well for me. The set up is pretty archetypical cabin in the woods stuff. Think Cabin in the Woods (2012). One issue is that, unlike Whedon’s film and the best of the genre, I think this film skimps a lot on the establishment of the characters. For whatever reason the film is in too much of a rush and I think that hurts the film later on. For me to care about the characters being killed, I need to have gotten to know them or connect with them… or at the very least be slightly intrigued by them. But here I wasn’t, so I was not particularly fussed when they started to be knocked off. Even just establishing them as clichés would have increased the effectiveness of the film a great deal. I think this rushed beginning also means that the creepy isolated house in the woods atmosphere that the filmmakers were aiming for was not entirely there.
There are a couple of other key areas where The Evil Dead falls down for me. Firstly, aside from the easy charisma of Bruce Campbell, I thought the acting ranges from the pretty stilted to the pretty terrible overall. I don’t think that is helped by a script that I definitely consider to be pretty weak. Another aspect of the film that I think pales in comparison with classic slashers (I am thinking particularly of Halloween here) is the soundtrack. In films such as Carpenter’s, the soundtrack plays a major role in enhancing and elevating what is occurring onscreen and is a major player in the setting of tone and more importantly atmosphere of the experience. I found the sparse soundtrack here to be more annoying that anything else, failing to really add anything and actually reducing the tension at times. I am sounding pretty negative, but The Evil Dead is not without its upsides. There are a couple of quite cool ‘bump in the night’ moments and for a fair section of the middle part of the film, it is really quite frightening as well. But I think as the action really ramps up in the film’s final act, at times relying on some terrible effects shots, the really frightening impact is lost. I did really like some of the stuff with the Book of the Dead and the tape recording though, and thought that was much more atmospheric than what the rest of the film was able to achieve.
As a personal view, I found The Evil Dead to be dated, much more so than other classic horror films of its vintage. I thought the pacing and manner in which the film ‘builds’ (or doesn’t) meant it was a bit of a let down for me. A slasher/horror film does not need to have stunningly nuanced characters. But the undercooked teen characters onscreen here really let the rest of the film down. I know a bunch of you guys absolutely love this film. So let me know (civilly of course) in the comments below what I am missing with it.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
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