- Monthly Theme: Genre Classics
- The Film: The Evil Dead
- Country of origin: U.S.A.
- Date of U.S. release: April 24, 1983
- Studio: Renaissance Pictures
- Distributer: New Line Cinemas
- Domestic Gross: $2.4 million
- Budget: $375,000 (estimated)
- Directors: Sam Raimi
- Producers: Robert G. Tapert, et al.
- Screenwriters: Sam Raimi
- Adaptation? No.
- Cinematography: Tom Philo
- Make-Up/FX: Tom Sullivan, et al.
- Music: Joseph LoDuca
- Part of a series? Yes, This is the first film in the Evil Dead series, followed by 1987’s Evil Dead II and 1992’s Army of Darkness.
- Remakes? Yes, Fede Alvarez directed a reboot/remake titled Evil Dead in 2013.
- Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Genre icon Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead II, Maniac Cop, etc.).
- Other notables?: No.
- Awards?: Best Low-Budget Film at the 1983 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. 2 awards at the 1982 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
- Tagline: “The ultimate experience in grueling terror.”
- The Lowdown: The premise of The Evil Dead couldn’t be simpler: five college-aged friends rent a remote cabin in the Tennessee woods for the weekend and are terrorized by demonic forces. Those forces are unleashed when they find and play tape recordings of a scholar translating passages of an ancient Sumerian text (referred to in the film as Naturan Demanto – the Book of the Dead). Our protagonist, Ash (Bruce Campbell), is horrified as his friends are possessed by murderous demonic entities. Lots of dismemberments and ankle stabbings ensue. Bodies ripple, puff up, turn blue, spew semen-like fluids, and cave in at the slightest touch. The Jewish girl is raped by a bunch of trees. The camera repeatedly assumes the point-of-view of “evil” and races malevolently through the woods. The tattered remnants of a poster for The Hills Have Eyes looks balefully on from a basement wall. The movie was not very successful, but attained cult status over the years, spawning two sequels, comic book spin-offs and a stage musical. It launched the career of director Sam Raimi, who went on to direct Drag Me to Hell (which Kristine and I actually watched BEFORE we watched this) Darkman, A Simple Plan, The Gift, The Quick and the Dead and, most notably, the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst.
If you haven’t seen The Evil Dead our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.
Sean: I should start by asking, what was your initial reaction to the movie when we watched it last year?
Kristine: Shock and delight. It’s somehow a very… whimsical movie. Does that even make sense?
Sean: I think it does, but can you explain what you mean?
Kristine: I mean, it’s so grotesque but also somehow naive.
Sean: Funny you should say that because I agree totally except maybe for one sequence….
Kristine: You mean the tree rape?
Sean: Yes. I just re-watched it and, I mean, it really is shocking and graphic.
Kristine: Well, yeah. That scene doesn’t fit.
Sean: Yes. Can I first point out that it’s the Jewish girl who gets tree-raped? Just sayin’ that’s weird.
Kristine: The thing about that scene is that it has none of the gonzo fun of the rest of the gore. It just feels much more mean-spirited and is truly scary – not fun, gross-out scary like the rest of the movie. That being said… I still think it is a good scene.
Sean: And also, if she’s Jewish (which she obvs is) and she’s Ash’s sister than doesn’t that make Ash, like, maybe the first modern badass Jewish monster-killing horror movie hero?
Kristine: Yes, I suppose so. Though I think it’s less that she’s the Jewess and more that she’s the naysayer, the outsider, the Cassandra of the group, and the least feminine and cheerleader-like.
Sean: Yeah she’s kinda butchie and so, I guess that means she must get bramble-fucked to like, show her who’s boss? The woods are boss.
Kristine: Right, but she also becomes a weird power figure after she is possessed. Even trapped in the cellar she is somehow controlling the situation, don’t you think? She is communicating with the other demons.
Sean: She’s also the first one possessed – she’s drawing and then her hand gets taken over and draws the Book of the Dead, like automatic-writing-style. She also insists that they shut off the tape of the scholar reciting the demon-conjuring spell. She all freaks out, screaming “Shut it off!” Then she also bosses Ash into driving her out of the woods, but then the bridge is out so they can’t leave anyway. So she is like, the lone female who tries to assert power. I think it goes without saying that she is also portrayed as hysterical, shrill and unlikable. Obviously.
Kristine: Yes. But put aside the rest of Cheryl’s character for now. What do you think about the tree rape scene, purely as a scene? Do we agree it doesn’t fit the rest of the movie in terms of tone?
Sean: I think it is the scene where the film seems like it’s exploitation roots (pun intended) show through the most. Like, it’s trying really hard to be a piece of trash in that scene and it just feels kind of gross and wrong, but then once the possessions begin the movie becomes the right kind of glorious camp trash.
Kristine: Well, it is trashy. But it’s also kind of amazing, I thought.
Sean: That tree-rape is so fucking bizarre.
Kristine: It is. It’s so weird.
Sean: Just off the charts… I kind of admire it, grudgingly. I also think that the scene is very clear that Cheryl is torn between horror and ecstasy as she is being violated, because after they show the big root plunging into her crotch she is like, moaning with pleasure and then she breaks free and runs.
Kristine: That’s how I feel. You are so right about the actual rape. It’s incredibly problematic. Another thing that I think makes it mean-spirited and different from the rest of the movie is that it is the only scene I can think of, excepting Ash as the only survivor, when one of the characters is isolated. The rest of the movie is so invested in the social dynamic, like, “Okay, this demon is also your girlfriend, so can you really kill her?” But Cheryl is all alone in the woods. I think it underscores her role as loner outcast, right?
Sean: I think the movie is basically like, “I don’t know what to do with female pleasure OR female sexual power, and so let’s like, debase it, turn it into a spectacle, fetishize and try and control it…” But in like the weirdest way humanly possible: by having trees fuck her ‘til she’ likes it.’ Ankle stabbing. React.
Kristine: Okay, that scene is actually one of my faves. It is so unbelievably squirm inducing. It’s so awful but so good. The way she keeps twisting the pencil in and around, ripping and tearing and screaming. Like, way way more visceral then anything in Wolf Creek.
Sean: I know. The movie just like, drags things out for five beats longer than you expect it to and it is incredibly fun and effective.
Kristine: Exactly. I love that the weapon is a common, everyday object. Like, I’m sure I stabbed my sister with a pencil at one point in our childhood.
Sean: So something else I wanted to bring up is how much this movie just sees human bodies as incredibly permeable. Just bags of pus, blood, semen milk spewing out of people’s mouths….
Sean: When Dead Linda is tearing at Ash’s calves? And the skin is just flaking away and it is disgusting?
Kristine: Right, right. So, one of the very first movies we watched together was Drag Me to Hell. This is the same director, right?
Kristine: And I loved that movie, too.
Sean: And Drag Me to Hell was considered a “return to form” for Sam Raimi after all his Spider-Man shenanigans, and this is the form that was being referred to.
Kristine: Because I was going to say, there was gross-out body stuff in Drag Me to Hell also. And not even in the horror sense (blood, etc.). Just the grossness of even “normal” bodies, right? Like the gypsy lady’s gross dentures…
Sean: Fluids. Pouring into open mouths.
Kristine: Yes, exactly. I know nothing about Sam Raimi’s personal life, but I think he sleeps sealed in a sanitized Ziplock baggie at night.
Sean: I mean, I think one of the things that’s really fun about these kinds of splatter flicks is just what a confrontation they are with the abjection of our own bodies and how they exaggerate how gross our bodies are.
Kristine: I just made a random association. My roommate is watching Nip/Tuck for the first time. The over-the-top, campy, super-visceral imagery and storylines in that show remind me of this movie and of Drag Me to Hell. Remember the scene when someone (was it Kimber?) puts all the liposuction gunk in Christian’s car? And it all pours out in the parking garage?
Sean: Hmm, interesting. Well it’s also weird that Raimi started with these kinds of movies and then went over to really mainstream Hollywood stuff, and the other big director I would associate with these kinds of comic, off the chain gorefests is Peter Jackson. Who also crossed over to the mainstream in a big way.
Kristine: Is he skinny now?
Sean: He is skinny, yes.
Kristine: I thought you were mentioning him because he is skinny and I was going to talk about gastric bypass liposuction weirdness.
Sean: Um… your inner pathologies are bubbling to the surface.
Kristine: No, it is relevant. We are talking about bodies and reveling in them/being disgusted by them.
Sean: Okay I’ll buy that.
Kristine: I have to Google what Sam Raimi looks like.
Sean: He is bland porridge. Like, a man-next-door-looking nobody.
Kristine: Um he is like, Igor.
Sean: But do you have any ideas about why these gorefest directors (who were considered masters of this very “low” artform) both happened to cross over?
Kristine: Peter Jackson is the Heavenly Creatures guy, right?
Sean: Yes but his early movies were megadisgusting comic barfgore.
Kristine: Okay, well, I can take a stab at this but, it might well be wildly inaccurate cause the only movie of Peter Jackson’s I have seen is Heavenly Creatures. No Lord of the Shingles or whatever…
Sean: Dead Alive would be the one of his early films to watch (and we will) for the sake of comparison to The Evil Dead.
Kristine: …and the only movies of Raimi’s I have seen are The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell. But I would guess that they both are masters of the visual and of mood more so then story. I would also guess that they have major cult appeal, and perhaps have a fan base amongst power players in Hollywood. Am I correct that their major commercial successes are adaptations of a sort (Spider-Man and Lord of the Things)? Because if so, I could totally see some Hollywood suit being like, “Oh it would be cool if Sam did this! Me and my bros watched The Evil Dead every weekend in college!” Or something like that.
Sean: Right that makes sense. And you’re right, they both crossed over with adaptations of existing properties after proving themselves with their own original weirdo stuff.
Kristine: I want something original to be a huge hit…
Sean: You mean like Paranormal Activity?
Kristine: Yawn. Something cool.
Sean: It’s like my thesis advisor in college told me about the job market: “They want you to do something strange with familiar stuff.” My theory is that both Raimi and Jackson are painstaking technicians. Like, they’re really both interested in the technique of filmmaking, and that a movie like The Evil Dead looks like a bit of silly cheese, but it actually requires a ton of hard work to pull off and all those gonzo gore effects are like, technical more than anything else.
Kristine: I agree. That’s what I meant about being masters of visuals and mood, less so than story.
Sean: So splatter movies are a great showcase for technical geniuses to show their stuff.
Kristine: I agree with that 100%. I have questions for you. 1. Was this one of the first horror comedy movies? And 2. Am I wrong to read the scene where Ash slaps Linda as a domestic abuse parallel? I actually think Linda is the most interesting demon…
Sean: To answer your question about horror-comedy…. I mean, the short answer is “No way.” Horror comedies have been around since film began. I’d say a good example of “classic Hollywood” horror comedy is like, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and stuff like that. But combining slapstick and scares is all over silent and early sound cinema also… But The Evil Dead is definitely one of the first great splatter comedies, if that distinction means anything to you. And the thing is, this movie isn’t even that comedic…
Kristine: Yeah, I would argue that this isn’t comedy per se – like, the monsters aren’t doing anything “funny” – but it is just so shocking and weird that laughter is your innate response. Though Raimi obviosuly plays it up in this one with the music cues and such.
Sean: Well… it gets complicated because the two sequels to this are overtly comedic and Bruce Campbell’s acting style is so hammy and slapsticky.
Kristine: Right, right.
Sean: But it is played more straight here in the first movie.
Kristine: Can we talk about Linda? Sean, We Need to Talk About Linda.
Sean: Yes. I have a lot to say about the gender politics of the movie overall and Linda’s a big part of that…
Kristine: Linda is the girl-gone-bad, right? She embodies femininity in a way that Cheryl certainly doesn’t, and her demonic messing with Ash is all about feminine stereotypes.
Sean: Goodgirl gone bad, yes.
Kristine: She is not even the same kind of demon as Cheryl, once they’re both possessed. I feel like the Linda character is effective but…
Sean: All her baby-voiced taunting is actually very infantilizing and creepy.
Kristine: …can’t you see a million dudes being like, “That’s my girlfriend on the rag!” Like they do with Linda Blair from The Exorcist. Which reminds me: Max von Sydow was in The Exorcist. Why is he our horror movie club specter?
Sean: I just want to point out that the “love gift” that Ash gives Linda, and that he puts on her grave when he buries her, is totally the magnifying glass that comes with a Walgreen’s Eyeglass Repair Kit. It is the weirdest necklace in America.
Kristine: What about the scene where Ash slaps Linda and then pulls the rifle on her (but she de-demonizes so he doesn’t pull the trigger). It felt very domestic violence to me… Like, he is hitting her not because she is a homicidal demon, but because she is mocking him and questioning his manly authority.
Sean: Oh totally. Well, this movie consists mostly of crazy women attacking the men. For the first hour, it is Ash and Scott against the possessed females. And also it’s like, once your body has been wounded (once it has an “opening”) then you’re more likely to be possessed. Yeah, I think the scene plays with that stuff for sure.
Kristine: Do you remember the scene when Cheryl is in the basement and is all saying to Ash, “Don’t kill her, you love her” to try and talk him out of killing one of her demonic sisters…
Sean: You are so right about the Ash-hitting-Linda scene. He is all “Shut up!” when she is laughing at him and then punches her.
Kristine: Right? Like, punch her for being a demon that will kill you. Not for laughing at you.
Sean: I mean, the movie just goes for it and basically offers up female bodies as the site of horror and perversion. The movie is “told” from a male perspective and a kind of retrograde one at that.
Kristine: I agree, it doesn’t even try to explain why Scotty or Ash aren’t “turned.”
Sean: Scott is eventually, but it takes a while.
Kristine: And only for like a second.
Sean: It’s all very Bros vs. Hoes for most of the movie.
Kristine: The movie says that the demonic possession came about after the kids played the demonic incantations, blah blah… But aren’t there strong hints that the evil is also just nature itself? I mean, from the very start of the movie, the environment is presented as menacing (and don’t forget the tree rape).
Sean: Because the first scene of the movie – before the incantation – is the P.O.V. evil camera racing through the woods, right?
Sean: Sure, there’s something primordial and pagan and “non-Western” about it all too. The book that the conjuring spell comes from is Sumerian.
Kristine: Right. And that conflation of Nature with the feminine is as old as time. “Mother Nature” blah blah. What about “Father Time?” Clocks are always acting up in this movie.
Sean: Okay here’s another point I wanted to make: the movie is so committed to being about the horror and grossness of women and how men subjectively are horrified and grossed out by them, that it actually comes all the way through “offensive” and back into “hilarious” and that it (inadvertently or advertently) plays as a spoof of those Freudian anxieties and the “war of the sexes.”
Kristine: I buy that.
Sean: And it is thus highly enjoyable.
Kristine: But I don’t buy that all of the fanboys who love this movie are reading it as such…
Sean: Well, that just means the movie might be smarter than they are.
Kristine: True. This exists, btw.
Sean: And even so, I think they know they’re being confronted with something primally satisfying but that it is also being spoofed/parodied.
Kristine: I have to say that Cheryl in the basement is such an indelible image. Like, when I see my roommate’s demonic cat lurking beneath furniture, that’s what I am reminded of.
Sean: Cheryl in the basement is great fun.
Kristine: Remember when I was researching horror pinball games? Well, at the top of the list of games people wished they had made was an Evil Dead game and so someone made one. The coolest part is Cheryl popping up out of the cellar door to steal your ball.
Sean: Also, the cabin is in the Tennessee woods. So that seems important to me.
Kristine: How so?
Sean: Just…. remember The Descent takes place in deep West Virginia, in Appalachia? Just something about the landscape of The South being “haunted.” In a way, this is an example of Southern Gothic. Just a totally splatterrific, perversely weird one. Also, I want to shout out one little detail: when Ash is alone at the end going crazy and the house is clapping its shutters and the clocks are unwinding and then he reaches into the mirror and it is a pool of water and he like, freaks out screaming. It’s that kind of sequence that pushes this movie into “masterpiece” territory for me. So Lacanian and weird and surreal.
Kristine: Well, I loved that whole sequence, I was going to say, that scene is much more impressive then the demons disintegrating at the end, which was no big whoop to me. Like, it’s kind of cool, but did not blow my mind.
Sean: Oh, I love them both for different reasons.
Kristine: Is that sequence just kind of “dated?” It was just… Beetlejuice to me.
Sean: I love the disintegrating claymation demons. Beetlejuice wouldn’t exist without this movie (though I adore that movie also).
Kristine: I believe you. But I saw Beetlejuice decades before I saw Evil Dead. I just thought the imploding dogs in The Thing were cooler than those disintegrating demons.
Sean: Apples and blood oranges, dear.
Kristine: Well, the pencil stabbing was better then the disintegration too.
Sean: I am sending you an eyeglass repair mirror to wear around your neck and then you can watch that scene through it and then you will “get it.” So, would you watch Evil Dead II?
Sean: It is often considered the best of the trilogy.
Kristine: I just want to add that I really love the zoomie demon-camera that goes whipping through the woods and then, at the very end, crashes into Ash.
Sean: Yeah that’s fine. You know what this movie reminds me of? In spirit?
Sean: Bugs Bunny cartoons. Like, the madcap manic hysteria and weird setpieces.
Kristine: I see that.
The Girl’s rating: Total trash… I loved it!
The Freak’s rating: Masterpiece.