Tag Archives: Bruce Campbell

A Fortnight of Terror: The Evil Dead

ED poster

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.

linda EDThere 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

Progress: 94/1001

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A Fortnight of Terror Guest Post: The Evil Dead vs The Thing

One thing I love about having theme weeks (or fortnights in this case) is that it gives me the chance to showcase voices other than mine on the site. Lucky for all of us, Chris from the fantastic Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop has joined in on the fun this time, with this comparison of two stone cold horror classics. Perfect timing too, as I will be reviewing one of these films myself tomorrow.

I first watched The Thing (1982) quite a few years ago. Since then I have watched the original Evil Dead (1981) for the first time and, having watched The Thing again, it shocked me just how similar the two are; sure, a lot of horror films stick by certain rules and display particular tropes, but the comparison between these two films seemed more similar than most others. The Evil Dead might be more supernatural horror compared to the alien/monster horror of The Thing, but the parallels are definitely there. Spoilers ahead, naturally…

Lead men

Both The Evil Dead and The Thing have pretty strong male leads who have become somewhat iconic in the horror genre. The Evil Dead has Ash, played by the legendary Bruce Campbell, who although doesn’t really stand out for the first third or so of the film, by the end is undoubtedly the hero of the group, stepping up to take care of business when needed. Campbell then become the central figure for both Evil Dead sequels, cementing his role as a cult figure.

Ash

The Thing has a similarly strong male lead in Kurt Russell’s Mac. Like Ash in The Evil Dead, Mac takes charge of the situation and has to do the unpleasant thing of putting people out of their misery. This is still one of Russell’s most iconic roles and arguably rivals Campbell’s Ash as one of the most recognisable leading men in horror films.

Kurt

Isolated location

The Evil Dead’s fabled cabin in the woods is one of the most referenced and copied features of the film. It virtually invented the trope and it has rarely been used to such great effect. The cabin’s location is a forest in the Tennessee hills and, thanks to Sam Raimi’s direction, manages to create a simultaneous feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. It really feels like there is nothing for miles around, nowhere to escape from the evil forces within the cabin.

ED location

The Thing is set in the Antarctic at an American research station. Just like the cabin it feels truly isolated; there’s little to no chance anyone could escape without dying in some way, yet the inside of the research station feels scarily confined. The darkness of the Antarctic stretches on forever and the research station might as well be the last place left on Earth.

Thing location

Mutant-like possession

Upon playing a recording of incantations from the book of the dead, the group start to become possessed by evil spirits. The result is almost mutant-like possession, grotesque and horrifying, exemplified by the budget make up and visual effects. This is ever so slightly comical but nonetheless disturbing.

ED Mutant

The mutant possession in The Thing is on somewhat of a larger scale, with more obvious mutations, but it’s still a similar process. The alien parasite takes over each of its hosts one by one, turning each against the rest of the group. Again, some of the effects might seem comical to some, but the practical effects rather than CGI give it a more authentic feel.

Thing Mutant

They have to kill their own

As each of the cabin’s inhabitants becomes possessed by the evil force, Ash has no choice but to get his hands dirty and deal with those who were once his friends. He does so through pretty much any means possible, be it lopping them to bits with an axe or gouging their eyes out with his thumbs.

Kill own ED

Likewise, in The Thing the group have no choice but to end their friends and colleagues once the alien parasite grabs hold of them. Their methods are equally brutal, often involving fire, which lead to some really rather gruesome deaths.

Someone’s held prisoner

One of the lasting images of The Evil Dead is of a possessed Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) locked in the cellar. This is similar to the previous point of the group having to kill their own in that they’re having to take drastic action against one of their friends. It’s an image so important to the film, that it’s also become one of the key images of the 2013 remake.

ED Prisoner

With The Thing, we also have someone kept prisoner in Blair (Wilford Brimley). He’s locked up by the others after being caught destroying equipment and killing the group’s sled dogs. Unlike The Evil Dead, this character is not kept captive after transforming, but it is Blair who becomes one of the most famous monsters in the film, another similarity to Sam Raimi’s film.

Thing prisoner

It was their own doing

As is the case with most horror films, most of the bad things that happen result from bad decisions made by the characters. In the case of The Evil Dead, the whole debacle could have been avoided if they had just left the Book of the Dead and the cassette recorder alone. hey could have avoided the whole sticky, blood-curdling situation. Although it probably wouldn’t have made a very compelling film that way.

ED fault

The Antarctic researchers in The Thing aren’t quite as culpable as the idiots in the cabin, but it still could be classed as their own doing. They take in an infected dog into their research station, sling it in with the rest of the dogs where it transforms into one of the horrific creatures and attacks the rest of its canine buddies. Although they weren’t to know, it was the taking the dog with them that started it all. Arguable but I’m running with it.

Thing fault

Ambiguous-ish endings

If I haven’t spoilt the films enough for you already, then this is where I well and truly kill them off. With the ending of The Evil Dead, it appears that Ash has seen off the evil spirits by tossing the book on the fire. However, just before the credits role, we take the POV of something slaloming through the woods towards the cabin. Ash then turns around in horror as whatever it is, seems to attack him. Cut to black.

The ending of The Thing is similarly ambiguous. The last remaining monster has apparently been destroyed, along with much of the research station, and only Mac and Childs (Keith David) are left, sharing a bottle of scotch as they lie there with the camp burning around them. There is much debate as to whether the the Thing had indeed been eradicated, whether it was still alive somewhere, laying dormant or whether Mac or Childs were actually infected by it. We’re left to make up our own minds as to what the outcome is.

So there we have it: my comparison of The Evil Dead and The Thing. I might be reading far too much into their similarities, and feel free to tell me if you think I am. Also, if you can think of any other horror films that fit this structure, then let me know.

UK based Chris Thomson is the creator and writer of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop. Be sure to visit his fantastic site and like his page on Facebook here to keep up with all his reviews.

Over this fortnight, you have the chance to win an as yet unconfirmed (but definitely choice) prize courtesy of Madman Entertainment, so be sure to get liking and commenting to go into the draw.