Evil Dead, The (Book of the Damned Edition) (1981)

The Evil Dead (Book of the Damned Edition)

This film shares the distinction of sharing "my favorite movie" with "Evil Dead II".  I like them equally but for different reasons.  Mainly, "Evil Dead" is scary and "Evil Dead II" contains a lot of humor while being gory.  This film is based off a short that is essentially the same story with the same actors called "Within the Woods".  

A quick bit about the product.  The "Book of the Dead" edition comes in a rubber surfaced book package.  The pages contain many of the pages seen in the movie.  There is an included booklet that tells the story of how the movie was made.  There are also many extras on the disc.  The quality of the entire package is excellent.  As far as I know, as of 2009 this is the best version of "The Evil Dead".

Written and directed by Sam Raimi ("Darkman", "The Gift", the "Spiderman" series).  Stars Bruce Campbell ("Terminal Invasion", "Bubba Ho-tep") as Ash.  Cheryl is played by Ellen Sandweiss ("Within the Woods", "Satan's Playground", "The Dread").  Richard DeManincor (credited as Hal Delrich to stay out of trouble with SAG) plays Scott, Betsy Baker plays Linda, and Shelly is played by Theresa Tilly (credited as Sarah York).  A tree is a prominent character, but is not named.

I will be adding non-spoiler bits from the DVD's Bruce Campbell commentary (there is a second commentary by Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert) for some flavor, since the majority of those reading this review probably know a good bit about this film.  Such as- the film was originally titled "Book of the Dead", but distributor Irvin Shapiro told the crew that everyone (i.e., the audience) would think they would need to read for 90 minutes. At the end of the review there are SPOILERS for some scenes.

The film starts off with a nice POV shot skimming across a swamp with ominous noises. (Campbell was pushing a rubber raft holding Raimi for the shot.  The POV plus noise is unofficially called the 'Force')  We skip to 5 young people cruising down backwoods road in 'The Classic' (Sam's 1973 Delta 88 Oldsmobile which supposedly has been in every movie Sam ever made, much like Campbell.  Except for 'Drag Me to Hell' due to scheduling conflicts.)  The Force makes 'The Classic' veers into an oncoming truck, nearly colliding with it.  The driver of the truck was a local, not a stuntman, or as Campbell put it "we had to trust a bunch of moonshine swilling yahoos weren't going to kill us."  Soon after the group passes two waving pedestrians.  They are Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert.  They have nothing to do with the story, bit it is fun to point out.

On the way to the cabin 'The Classic' momentarily gets stuck on a rickety bridge, dropping planks (styrofoam blocks called "It's Murder" beams after a previous short called "It's Murder") into the river below.  The group finally gets to middle of nowhere cabin.  (This was a real cabin, and the crew spent two weeks shoveling cow manure out of it to make it usable.)  The first spooky scene occurs here.  A swing on the front porch is swinging back and forth into the cabin's wall with no wind present.  Once Scott grabs the keys above the doorframe, the swing instantly stops.

The group settles into the cabin.  Immediately, Cheryl gets mini-possessed while drawing, producing a crude Necronomicon image.  During dinner a trap door to the basement flies open by itself.  (The hole you see is just a five-foot deep hole dug into the ground.  The actual basement was filmed at a farmhouse owned by Tapert's family.)  Scott and Ash go down into the basement and find a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a crazy looking book, a bizarre dagger, and a shotgun.  (The torn "Hills Have Eyes" poster is a dig at Wes Craven.  In the "Hills Have Eyes" there is a torn "Jaws" poster.  Each torn poster is supposed to be saying, "Ha! My movie is scarier than yours".  A scene from "Evil Dead" showed up on a TV in "Nightmare on Elm Street".)

Back up to the surface.  From some reason they decide to play the tape recording, which is a phonetic reading from that crazy book.  (Fun side story-it the scene they are smoking pot, and to try and be authentic, they actually smoked pot.  The subsequent filming was useless and had to be redone.  The voice on the recorded tape is Bob Dorian.)  And, yes, bad stuff starts happening, the first being Cheryl investigating noises outside the cabin.  We're about 20 minutes into the movie.

From this point people start to get possessed, victimized, beaten, chopped up, stabbed, and melted, and not necessarily in that sequence, or in any real order at all.  See the *** SPOILERS *** at the end for some more juicy details.

The film quality is a bit faded in this transfer at some points.  The audio is good, with the audio FX volume acceptable.  The acting is not very good, since all the actors were still rather young and inexperienced.  There is a bit of nudity and lots of violence and gore.  The FX are great for the budget (including stop motion animation!), but will be considered lacking compared to current huge FX budgets.  However, the possessed characters are probably better than most due to the use of sclera contact lenses and makeup.  The cinematography is full of great visual shots.  The plot is straight forward, though it takes some strange avenues along the way to the end.  Also, there are parts where the films lags for a bit, though once the action gets going it doesn't stop.

This is a violent and gory film, so those of a more sensitive nature may want to be wary.  If gore is not a concern to you, this film is a must buy.  Unlike "Evil Dead II", though, this may not be a great party movie as the gore could turn off a fair bit of viewers.

*** SPOILERS ***

We shall start with Cheryl leaving the cabin to investigate.  In one of the most disturbing and memorable scenes on film, she gets speared/raped by a vine in the woods.  Some type of Japanese hentai reference would fit here if I had the willpower to do so.  As one could guess, "Evil Dead" was released unrated.

Cheryl is quite rightly freaked out, so Ash tries to take her back to town, but the bridge is destroyed, so they return, and Cheryl decides to flip out, demon style.  And I hope you do not worry about your Achilles tendon too much.  

There is more insanity, but eventually Ash prevails.  Maybe.