Blu-ray/DVD Review: THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

What more can really be said about Sam Raimi’s 1981 splatter defining classic, THE EVIL DEAD? It’s a film that single-handedly landed itself – alongside Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer – on the video nasty list in 1984, an inventory of films deemed socially and religiously unsavory by NVALA (the National Viewers’ and Listener’s Association).

It’s a group whose moniker is as vacuous as its socially suffocating members, ones who fought to remove THE EVIL DEAD and its ilk from the lexicon of film. And lets be honest, it’s censorship stands as a true badge of honor for a film as economically conceived and brilliantly imagined as this one; a visceral raw power-punch that director Edgar Wright proclaimed is “born from hell” while the pagemaster of terror Stephen King called “the most ferociously original horror film of 1982!”

So ferocious in fact that its originality has remained intact, surviving the subsequent decades of onslaught waged by distraught parents and vexed politicians, notably Mary Whitehouse who seared THE EVIL DEAD with a number one most wanted label of all video nasties. A fitting designation and trajectory for a film that does indeed feel possessed, barreling forth from the dingy basement of its respective cabin like a bat out of hell. And like its demonic book, cast in human flesh and scrawled with blood, THE EVIL DEAD has remained a testament to the power of human capacity, highlighting the arduous task its skeleton crew undertook (most notably Raimi, Bruce Campbell and producer Robert Tapert) to bring forth one of the grimiest pieces in the history of horror cinema.

Which is why it may seem inessential to bring forth such a grainy and bile soaked film, one that works perhaps more potently the closer it looks to its 16mm negative (enlarged to 35mm for theaters), into the realm of 4K. After all, THE EVIL DEAD‘s particularly vile wax coating isn’t just an effective tool to raising the demonic force that lays waiting in the countryside of Morristown, Tennessee but a telling sign of its artistic merit as a shoe-string passion project. Its blood-drenched offensiveness is, to an extent, inextricably linked to its emulsion, acting as a celluloid cadaver; something we shouldn’t be seeing.

In case you’ve been living in a secluded cabin in the woods for the past thirty-seven years, THE EVIL DEAD is a story that runs parallel to the films own history of a group of friends uniting to make a movie together, ultimately spilling blood, sweat and tears over the next 12 weeks (a grueling shoot that’s an extensive highlight of the films commentary).

Here, five friends head out to a remote cabin, only to flood its chantey with copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears – over the next 12 or so hours – after the book of the dead is discovered alongside recordings of its diabolical contents. It’s these recordings that awaken a mysterious entity (inventively introduced using a makeshift Steadicam coined the “Shaky-Cam”) that one-by-one consumes each friend (turning them into what has been effectively coined as “deadites”), upending the bucolic countryside with enough carnage to fill a well.

Other resourceful contraptions used to effectively mainstream a low-budget, on the fly production were the Ram-o-Cam (where the force of evil would batter through the windows) as well as the Vas-o-Cam, which employed Vaseline and tape in order to simulate a camera dolly.

What these economically astute contraptions serve as are portals (demonic or otherwise) into the film, revealing the conception of its cult status prior to reception. This unequivocally aids in its transgressive and ultimate value as an artistic source of entertainment, revealing a lively and timely visual incantation that is one unparalleled bloody ride.

In an elaborate and perhaps far-fetched way, Sam Raimi’s film works as a Rube Goldberg Machine, a relatively simple story (not far from the likes of the slasher, a sub-genre of horror that was just beginning to over-populate the woods) that goes about telling it in a complex fashion. Not to say all simple tales need simple execution, but Raimi and his skeleton-crew (already stretched thin from exhaustive conditions) go from 20 minutes of exposition to over an hour of lunacy, carved out in the flesh of its five college co-eds.

Rather than dispatch their victims off-screen or in a stab-and-run method that seemed all the rage, Raimi drags each possessed body through what appears to be literal hell and back. Ankles are stabbed with pencils (a perpetually skin-crawling moment), hands are gnawed off, faces are flayed, eyes are gauged out, chests impaled, entire bodies hacked to bits and bodies burned. If there ever were an undemanding way to unfold horror, THE EVIL DEAD did not care to know.

It all looks – thanks in part to the crews cost effective means – like bedlam and havoc, as stop-motion (leading to countless hours in post-production) and practical effects lead an air of authenticity. If imagined, this is what bodily possession would look like, and in looking like an indecent act (one we shouldn’t be witnessing), the horrors of THE EVIL DEAD were born. And thanks to a new 4K UHD release (out now courtesy of Lionsgate Films) with a stunningly bewitching 2160p transfer in 1.33:1 (running off its original 1.85:1), every bit of its genre defying ferocity can be seen, heard and felt, possessing yet another spot in your ever-growing deadite collection.


Gregory Mucci
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