by Kevin Fermini
From the October 2015 IssueOctober 31st marks an important date in the lives of horror movie buffs, as Ash vs. Evil Dead — Sam Raimi’s long-awaited fourth installment in the Evil Dead series — finally hits television screens. Raimi’s cult classic trilogy, The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness have carved a sadistic hole in the history of cinema as three of the zaniest, most brutally inventive horror films of all time. Known for their mix of horrific gore, snarky one-liners, episodes of surrealism, and unmistakable Three Stooges influence, the films have been championed for over thirty years by their ravenous cult following. The premise is well known by now: five friends vacation at a cabin in the woods, where demonic spirits possess them, leaving a single hero to defend and dismember for himself. Bruce Campbell will never truly be able to outlive his character of Ashley J. Williams, the chainsaw-handed, dimwitted hero of the series. But before he was a cult star hacking up demons while spouting lines like “groovy,” Bruce Campbell was a twenty-year-old kid who loved movies, venturing out to the backwoods of Tennessee with his childhood friend, Sam Raimi, to unintentionally create a landmark in cinematic history called The Evil Dead.
The twenty-year-old Raimi had just dropped out of film school along with Campbell and their producer, Robert Tapert, to try their hands at feature filmmaking. With a microscopic budget, a skeleton crew and a cast of five barely competent actors, the trio aimed to make a cheap horror film to sell to drive-ins, hopefully making a small profit and learning a thing or two in the process. Their can-do spirit quickly devolved into desperation, as shooting dragged on, actors left, and sleeping and eating were excised from shooting schedules. Incredibly, whatever madness occurred in those weeks of shooting created one unforgettable film experience.
The Evil Dead is remarkable for its success against all odds; somehow Raimi and his crew created a work of unparalleled imaginative power out of a micro-budget and an abandoned cabin. One gets the feeling upon watching the film that Raimi believed he would never make a film again, and dumped every trick in his book into an eighty-five minute explosive flash of raw, horrific artistry. The Evil Dead transcends the drive-in. It transcends horror cinema. It stands alone as a work of pure, uninhibited creative savagery. Raimi’s camera moves with a fierceness which gives it a remarkable presence; his frequent use of subjective point-of-view shots rip the viewer into the action. In particular, Raimi uses his camera as a symbol of otherworldly, unseen evil which pursues dizzyingly through the film’s landscape. The camera watches the characters with a malevolent evil, peering through windows, relentlessly following, or gazing from a distance. In one particularly memorable sequence, Ash emerges from the cabin’s basement, frantically searching for his demonically possessed sister. Raimi’s staging of the scene is simple yet brilliant; tilting the camera at a forty-five degree angle. The skewed perspective creates a surreal atmosphere symbolizing both Ash’s impending mental breakdown and the sinister, twisted gaze of the spirits toying with him. The camera zips through the cabin, around Ash’s head, along the ceiling and under the floorboards, a visual embodiment of two gnarled points of view.Furthermore, Raimi cleverly paints his low-budget creation with a blood-soaked rainbow of sickening colors. The film is awash in dirty greens, blues, and reds. The skin of the possessed demons alternates between stark white, pop-art blue and distorted porcelain-doll primary colors. And the blood: bright orange-red, milky white and thick opaque black. Over the course of the film’s runtime, the characters transform from mild-mannered college students to gore-soaked Jackson Pollock paintings.
Raimi’s decision to push his aesthetic to such extremes serves as a great benefit to the film, pushing it into surreal boundaries which enhances the film’s off-filtered atmosphere. Even the obvious technical flaws which would ordinarily distract a viewer seem to add to the film’s power: the evil spirit haunting the characters is able to bend reality in such extreme ways that even a poorly matted full moon becomes a part of the film’s other-worldly quality. This very mindset is perfectly represented in the film’s dreamlike, splattery climax. After destroying the Book of the Dead which has summoned the evil spirits, Ash watches his two possessed friends decay before his eyes. In a startling move, Raimi uses claymation to portray the meltdown in explosive details. The characters ooze green, spit out snakes and bugs, and giant demonic claws tear out from inside them. Raimi even incorporates a technical error into the climax to further push the surreality: a minor continuity error in the claymation, rather than being cut out, is instead accentuated through sound design. When the camera accidentally shifts positions mid-animation, Raimi incorporates ghostly sound effects to suggest that the very frame of reality, rather than the frame of the camera, is being shifted. It is this sort of aggressive ingenuity which makes Raimi’s debut so memorable, and transcends it far above its initial exploitation roots.
Upon this startling groundwork Raimi took his series further in the following sequels, incorporating slapstick humor and cartoonish violence into Ash’s demented adventures. While these sequels stand out to some fans as the series’ true high points, the power of Raimi’s original feature eclipses them all in its startling creative vision. And so, horror fans await the debut of Ash vs. Evil Dead with every passing second. Will it live up to the film’s high caliber? If any ounce of creative energy shines through as strongly as it did in 1981, anything is possible in Raimi’s twisted reality.
5 out of 5 stars