Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Holocaust: The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981)

Somewhat accidentally, I've ended up watching the Evil Dead trilogy in reverse during the course of this month's viewing, and this has proved to be both interesting and slightly instructive. It's well-known that the series leaned further away from horror and more towards comedy and slapstick as it passed through two sequels, but watching them in this counter-intuitive fashion really hammered it home. It's also allowed me to more fully appreciate what a great low-budget horror film the first installment really is, in comparison to its more tongue-in-cheek younger brothers. A slight vein of comedy is still present, but it's arguably subservient to, and intermingled with, the chills and thrills that dominate proceedings.

Upon its initial release in the UK (simultaneously on video and in theatres; a first of its kind, if I'm not mistaken) the film quickly became a poster child for the hysteria surrounding the 'Video Nasty' moral panic that was sweeping across the country at the time. Things got so farcical that the distributors (Palace Pictures, who later produced such genre gems as The Company of Wolves and Hardware) were eventually taken to court, where they successfully overturned accusations of obscenity.

To be honest, there's not a great amount I can really say about this film that hasn't already been expressed countless times. For instance, it probably goes without saying that the real star of the show here is the dynamic, freewheeling cinematography that is frequently on display, with its elaborate tracking shots, Dutch angles and expressionistic lighting. As a side note, one wonders if the film would have been remembered by so many if it wasn't so audaciously directed and technically well executed. On the other hand, I'd say that the stop motion and prosthetic effects are occasionally inconsistent, but for the most part quite effective. Come to think of it though, even the less convincing/successful ones still exude an almost uncanny creepiness at times, in spite of, or maybe even because of, their modest origins; the same can't really be said for the higher budgeted effects of the sequels. 

Finally, it would be frankly heinous not to briefly mention the contributions of Bruce Campbell. The film was clearly an effort of blood, sweat and tears for all involved, but no doubt especially so for Bruce, who always takes a bit of a beating at the hands of the admittedly sadistic Sam Raimi. Apparently, the actor even put his family's house up as collateral for a loan so that the movie could be blown up to 35mm for its wider release. Anyone that committed to getting a movie out there is a legend in my book. 

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