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(Credit: New Line Cinema)

Film

'The Evil Dead' at 40: Sam Raimi's gory horror celebration

@Russellisation
'The Evil Dead' - Sam Raimi
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Lurking in the drab, dank forests of the wilderness often lies a modest wooden cabin, fitted with budget furniture, squeaking beds, peeling wallpaper and an ominous basement. It’s a cliché that has long existed in horror cinema, planted by 1947s Red House, nurtured by Equinox and brought to full violent fruition by Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, subsequently creating a cornerstone of modern horror cinema. 

Having only recently matured past his pubescent love for youthful visceral excess, Sam Raimi was only 20 when he made the supernatural horror film, The Evil Dead, a project he now considers a considerable “rite of passage”. Low-budget and gruesomely handmade, Raimi’s film focused on five college students on vacation in a remote wooden cabin, who, after finding a mysterious audiotape, accidentally release untold demons and spirits of evil.

In the equivalent of opening Pandora’s Box, the lead cast of characters that included actors Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker, are sent on a satanic test of wits and psychological torment as they attempt to right their wrongs and escape alive. With a spirited tone that feels lifted from the joys of sleepover folklore, The Evil Dead finds joy in its own innate absurdity, refusing to shy away from its rudimentary creation, pieced together with crude makeup and goopy blood

Made between a tight-knit group of close friends, the production of the film was predictably troublesome, described as a “comedy of errors” by lead actor Bruce Campbell, whose character Ash Williams would quickly become a cult horror icon. Despite several actors experiencing serious injuries on set, Raimi merely frolicked in the freedom that such a production had gifted him, admitting to enjoying “torturing” his actors. Believing the pain and torment of the film’s production process may make for better performances, he even said in a behind the scenes documentary, “if everyone was in extreme pain and misery, that would translate into a horror”. 

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As a result, the production transformed into an all or nothing scenario where Sam Raimi and his crew embraced the chaos, allowing it to contribute and fuel the quality of the final film. During the final few days on set, the crew began burning the set’s furniture in order to stay warm during the harsh cold evenings, a fitting illustration of their blind devotion to get their film over the line. 

What resulted is one of the greatest and most original feats of horror in the 20th century, a pure, unadulterated ode to the joy of low-budget moviemaking. Once production had finally wrapped and the cast was rightfully given time to recuperate, the editing process began, fascinatingly assisted by a young Joel Coen, before the film premiered in Michigan in 1981 and screened at Cannes a year later.

Inspiring loyal horror communities and filmmakers around the world, Sam Raimi’s film even influenced the likes of Stephen King, who would state that he was “registering things [he] had never seen in a movie before,” later describing the film as the “most ferociously original film of the year”.

Spawning sequels, TV series, and a surprisingly great remake, The Evil Dead became the flagship brand of gore, violence and satanic flesh eaters. For eager purveyors of horror, how could you resist a name like The Evil Dead.

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