For our first ever PCU Classics we’re looking back at The Evil Dead, the horror movie that changed how movies were made, spawned hundreds of copycats and a franchise. The brainchild of boyhood friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell it tells the story of five Michigan State students who go away to an isolated cabin in the woods for spring break and are forever changed.
Our five friends: Linda, Shelly, Scotty and siblings Cheryl and Ash head out for vacation and things start to go south almost immediately when the steering wheel of their car suddenly goes out of control. Ash insists that the car was just tuned up but Scotty, who’s driving to give Ash a break, isn’t so sure. The friends continue on to the cabin and it’s here the real horror begins as Cheryl, Ash’s sister and an artist, begins to hear a voice calling to her from the woods and feels the uncontrollable urge draw to draw a book over and over again.
The movie builds tension through the use of sound as Joseph LoDuca’s score, filled with screeches, taps and harsh dissonant notes lets you know long before anything actually happens that these kids are in way over their heads. This, combined with the simple sounds of water dripping, echoing voices and the rhythmic thump, thump of a porch swing create such a sense of unease throughout the first act that you realize the moment they find Professor Knowby’s recorder, notes and artifacts they’re doomed.
What really makes the movie stand out is the use of the shaky cam technique, something that Raimi and Tim Philo, his cinematographer, did on the fly when they couldn’t afford to purchase a steadicam. The technique, combined with extreme closeups and odd camera angles make the atmosphere one of danger and fear. This is taken to terrifying heights when Cheryl wanders outside after the group listens to the Professor’s recording, leading to the infamous tree rape scene which to this day is one of the scariest and most disturbing things ever put to film.
While each successive film in the franchise got sillier and more tongue in cheek until the 2013 reboot and the 2015 television series went back to the roots of the original, nothing truly beats this movie for the pure, unadulterated terror it inspires.
A triumph of low budget movie making, the film’s cultural impact can be seen in the works of Joss Whedon, Erik Kripke, Eli Roth and many, many others. The Evil Dead proves that as long as you have an interesting plot, actors who are willing to commit full throttle to their roles, great editors and the ability to be creative on a budget you can make something amazing.
I give The Evil Dead 5 Fake Shemps out of 5