In 1978, childhood friends director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell collaborated on a horror short titled Within the Woods with a budget a little over a thousand dollars. The short began to draw some attention after being screened at a local theatre alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The positive attention Within the Woods was receiving from local audiences inspired Raimi to remake Within the Woods as a full-length feature. After much begging and pleading to numerous people for donations, Raimi was able to receive a budget of over a hundred thousand dollars. While the 20-year-old director was not able to receive all the money he wanted, Raimi conjured up one of the greatest horror films of all time with The Evil Dead.
The Evil Dead follows five friends on a vacation to a secluded cabin in the woods. Their peaceful outing soon turns into a living nightmare when the friends discover an audio recording and book called the Necronomicon. Unknowingly to the group of friends, they read out loud instructions that releases an evil entity into the cabin and surrounding area. The entity possesses each friend one by one by turning them into a demonic being who attack those not yet infected. The result is some of the most bone-chilling horror to ever make it to the big screen.
Filled with copious amounts of gore, scares, and humor, The Evil Dead is the epitome of a cult classic. That being said, it is very fitting that The Evil Dead marks the feature film debut of the king of B-list actors and cult phenomenon Bruce Campbell. Campbell plays Ashley Williams, a typical 1980s male college student who just wants to spend a weekend getting cozy by the fire with his girlfriend Shelly (Sarah York). While Campbell only gives us a taste of what was yet to come for his iconic Ash Williams character, it becomes very clear that Campbell was completely committed to the pure insanity around him. In fact, during filming Campbell sprained his ankle and Raimi liked the look of his natural limping. Instead of letting his best friend heal, Raimi would poke Campbell’s injured ankle with a stick. Campbell, who was dedicated to the film until the very end of its year and a half post-production, had to stand in for his co-stars during reshoots. As we all know his hard work certainly paid off.
At a run length of only eighty-five minutes, The Evil Dead is rather thin on a script and does not have any of the famous Ash Williams’ one-liners. Yet Raimi makes up for it in tenfold as he brings forth a chilling and bleak atmosphere that is just as effective in creating scares as the film’s stomach-turning imagery and an excessive amount of gore. While innovative camerawork with cinematographer Tim Philo was the result of the film’s small budget, it has been imitated by many horror directors since. Because Raimi and Philo did not have any professional equipment such as a camera rig, they were extremely creative in their visual style which is a major aspect of the film’s cult status. A great example of this innovative camera work is best shown during the film’s climax where the camera is set at an angle for the majority of the scene.
While The Evil Dead is Horror 101 for any lover of the genre, the film almost never reached mass audiences. In fact, it was not until famed horror author Stephen King gave The Evil Dead a rave review that New Line Cinemas agreed to distribute it. Twenty-seven years later, The Evil Dead is very much a product of its time compared to most modern-day horror that have been subjected to PG-13 ratings and jump scares. Yet, the film has also stood the test of time as two sequels, a remake, a musical, and television show has followed with all staying true to Raimi’s gory vision. The Evil Dead has also influenced many directors such as Peter Jackson, was paid homage to in the 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods and even inspired two unofficial sequels in Italy. Once an amateur filmmaker, Raimi would go on to direct the Spider-Man trilogy from 2002 to 2007 which would go on to become one of the most successful blockbusters of the early 21st century. While Raimi has moved on to other projects outside of the horror genre, The Evil Dead will forever serve as a blueprint for amateur horror directors for years to come.