Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi

Before they were evil, they were merely dead. Scores of meandering living-impaired spent their days and nights wandering vacant streets and hollowed out shopping malls to little effect. This time around, they received a ‘roided-out upgrade with a slightly more “evil” demeanor, and a penchant for limb gnawing. Five friends enter a cabin, only one will exit. It’s the zombified cage-match of the century!! Before the sun rises, only one will be left standing… that is, if the sun rises.
Director/writer, Sam Raimi and his fledgling film crew ventured into the woods to film a story about five friends who spend one blood soaked evening in an isolated cabin in rural Tennessee. There they discover the Necronomicon, or “Book of the Dead”, which invokes evil spirits who inhabit the unsuspecting friends one by one. That is, of course, until it’s discovered that the only way to stop these “evil dead” is TOTAL BODY DISMEMBERMENT!! Although, I would argue that simply chopping off a zombie’s legs (or partial body dismemberment, if you will) would render them pretty innocuous, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with flesh-eaters.
Is it possible to merely appreciate a work of art on its cultural significance and innovation alone, all the while ignoring its content? Of course it is. I’m not accusing Evil Dead of being nothing more than an exercise in shock values, I’m not even sure director Sam Raimi would take umbrage with that, but I do think people tend to tangle the film itself up with the raucous joy of discovering it on home video like a knotted ball of last year’s Christmas lights in their minds. It’s shockingly beyond gory, and ignominiously cheap. But more importantly, most of it works quite well. Bruce Campbell stars as Ashley (known as Ash). Ash is an ineffectual and nominal character until, by process of elimination he’s forced to fight back against his now-possessed chums. The initial discovery and exposition leads to the most eerie moments. As a car packed to the brim with evil spirit fodder approaches the cabin, a tinge of Texas Chain Saw Massacre can be felt when the soundtrack is muted, and the long tracking shot follows the slow-moving vehicle at a safe distance. In the basement of the cabin, the friends discover an old tape recorder, along with the Book of the Dead, which then fills us in on the back story and impetus for the plot. The recorded incantation sends out an RSVP to its demonic guest list, and chaos ensues… and ensues and ensues. During this process, Ash even beheads his own demonic girlfriend, whose neck then pulls an Old Faithful by dousing him with gallons of blood. Of course, a scantily clad female member of the clan heads out into the woods barefoot and alone. There she’s “violated” by the woods itself – let’s just say it gives a whole new meaning to the term “tree hugger.” The effects are top notch for a crew whose main tools were a jar of syrup and Balsa wood. The dead spew Technicolor fluids across the screen in an over-the-top exercise in pushing the limit. Now, the film itself is well-crafted. Raimi’s camera work goes where no camera has gone before, both in what it’s filming and its physical location. The camera is almost a living being here, whether it’s sinking through the floorboards, zooming through the woods, or dangling above the actors. The ambition at times overshoots the capabilities, though. You can see what they were aiming for, but it just doesn’t translate. The stop-motion animation and utter continuity mishaps are examples of this. Ash will get drenched in blood, and in the next scene be nearly dry as a bone. These are minor quibbles, given the big picture. It's gore galore, and never pretends to be anything more.

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