Viking Night: The Evil Dead

By Bruce Hall

April 30, 2013

Oh, to be a teenager in the 1980s watching this movie on VHS again.

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Thanks to a well received reboot, interest in The Evil Dead hasn’t been this high since the “M” in MTV still stood for “music”. Everyone’s a fan, which goes to show you how nostalgia has a way of influencing your perspective. Sometimes, even I forget the only reason I ever liked Knight Rider is because I was a child, and therefore had no taste. I’m just trying to say that sometimes we remember things the way we do at least in part because of the age we were when we first experienced them. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m big enough to admit when I like something mostly for nostalgic reasons. I still like The A-Team, even though it’s not as good as I remember it. And I know I’m not alone. There’s a reason why things endure.

That’s pretty much the way I feel about The Evil Dead. It’s the movie that happened when Sam Raimi and his brother from another mother - Bruce Campbell - finally got the chance to follow through on a concept they’d been woodshedding for years. It was a neo-Lovecraftian horror-comedy involving a group of college kids, a cabin in the woods, and vengeful ancient spirits from beneath the sludge filled sewers of hell. Basically, a date movie. Raimi directs and Campbell plays Ash, a lantern jawed 20-something who’s on a weekend trip to the woods with his sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and three friends. They arrive at the dilapidated cabin ready to party, but things get weird when Cheryl starts hearing voices, and wanders off into the night.


Meanwhile, Ash and Scotty (Hal Delrich) discover a strange book and some recording equipment in the basement. The book is bound in peculiar looking leather and is filled lots of ominous sounding Latin. On a tape, they find recordings made by the scientist who'd been studying the book. He explains how, when he read from the pages, evil spirits arose and killed his companions. Eager to prevent others from repeating his mistake, he ironically records the entire evil spell onto tape. Now, as the recording plays back, something in the woods awakens. When Cheryl returns she is disheveled, and babbling about having been attacked. No one believes her until, of course, it's too late. By the time they realize what they’ve done, they’re already hip deep in fubar.

The "cabin in the woods" trope is as least as old as cabin technology itself, and it's so hard wired into our DNA that we all intrinsically know how this plays out. Something evil is on the hunt, and its target is a group of vulnerable/isolated kids who are trying to have a sexy time. There’s nothing Evil hates more than kids having sex, so bodies will hit the floor until everyone’s dead or Evil gets defeated - it’s just a matter of when and how. But there’s something about The Evil Dead that transcends its campfire story origins. Despite the dark subject matter there’s a manic energy to this film, and it goes about its (very) gory business with a wink and a nudge. Horrifying things happen to these kids but it’s all executed with a very deliberate sense of stylistic overkill.

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