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The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi's (Darkman, Quick & The Dead, Army Of Darkness) first feature film, is a true cult classic in every sense of the word. Originally released in 1982, The Evil Dead tells the tale of a group of friends who go to a cabin in the woods, where they find an unspeakable evil lurking in the forest. They find the Necronomicon, the Book Of The Dead, and the taped translation of the text. Once the tape is played, the evil is released. One by one, the teens become deadly zombies. With only one remaining (Bruce Campbell), it is up to him to survive the night and battle The Evil Dead.
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Such was the case with "Evil Dead", in which a couple of years ago, I gave it an average review and criticized its supposed bad acting and script holes but praised its production values (I have since deleted this review and replace it with this one). Watching it again on Blu-Ray, I can finally understand the entire hullabaloo. The goofy acting actually adds rather takes away from the film and as for the script errors - well, nobody complained about how Rick's raincoat suddenly dried up after reading Elsa's letter in "Casablanca". "Evil Dead" is, far from underwhelming, a relentless experience from beginning to end. In fact, it is so unremittingly intense that Raimi had to make its sequel considerably lighter in tone.
Watching "Evil Dead" made me discover all the hidden nuances that I didn't see the first time I saw. The supposedly "dumb" characters that Raimi created was intentional - unlike most slasher films, that lazily goes through the motions to set up a character's death, the way Raimi sets up these characters' mistakes and inevitable demises has weight because he shows us how a minor foolish action could have severe ramifications. Take, for example, the scene where Cheryl is raped by the trees in the forest. The scene is shocking in its gleeful violence, but the aftermath gives it weight. Cheryl tells her friends the experience, but none of them believe her. This subsequently leads to a chilling scene involving a deck of cards where a demonically possessed Cheryl goes berserk and stabs Linda with a pencil, which in turns leads to her possession. Thus we find out the motivation behind such sequences - small human errors leads to large ramifications to all the characters involved and it becomes an endless cycle until one character is left standing.
If there is an argument where less is more, then "Evil Dead" is truly the model of that argument. The way Sam Raimi builds scenes for the inevitable scare and the gruesome murder now strikes me as impressive enough, but the methods he used to make the film bigger is astonishing given the film's pathetic budget. The claustrophobic sets, the drearily grainy imagery and the dark shadows lurking outside the cabin and in that dreaded cellar add to the horror, creating a frightening experience for viewers who want to get out but are trapped inside much like the film's ill-fated characters.
Unfortunately, this was something that I didn't notice when I watched it on DVD a few years ago. Watching it on Blu-Ray, however, I understood the director's intentions. The 16mm camerawork of "Evil Dead" is extremely effective in capturing the grit and violent imagery on film. In that sense, Raimi's challenge in overcoming all kinds of deficiencies that would have been solved by a few extra million dollars benefits rather than takes away from the picture.
As far as the goofy acting is concerned, I have another confession: I enjoyed it. First time I saw it, I didn't like it. But watching it again made me rethink my opinions. Far from an example of bad acting; the "dumb characters" now strikes me as comic relief and their goofiness even adds to the gallows humor to the seemingly scary sequences. One of the best moments comes when a possessed Cheryl grabs Ash by the throats, which leads to Ash whining at the demons for tormenting him. Suddenly, he turns away to see one of Ash's possessed friends gleefully declare, "We're gonna get you". It's a wonderful sequence that's both funny and scary at the same time.
"Evil Dead" is a movie that warrants second viewing even by people who hated it the first time they watched it. On my first viewing, I was underwhelmed by the film given the hype. Watching it on Blu-Ray made me want to stab a pencil on my ankle for not realizing the film's brilliance. "Evil Dead" is the "Detour" of horror movies: a zero-budget movie that overcame its financial hurdles to deliver a visceral experience for viewers and in doing so redefined its genre. The Blu-Ray enhances the experience even further, providing an exceptionally grainy video (remember, this was shot on 16mm) and a rousing Dolby True HD 5.1 track. As for the bonus features, unfortunately I bought the bare-bones Blu-Ray version that only contains the audio commentary track (recommended for those who want to make films with minimal production values), but there is a limited edition out there that contains a DVD disc featuring numerous supplements. Either way, don't even think of starting your horror collection without this great picture.