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The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi) 1982   

    A testament to the power that low budget films still have to disturb us, Sam Raimiís The Evil Dead is quite a potent piece of filmmaking. Made in 1982 for about $50,000, the movie is almost entirely set in a small cabin located in some very dark woods. After a mildly creepy opening thirty minutes, that, aside from a outrageous scene that turns the table on manís rape of nature, only provoke mild discomfort, the film begins reanimating the dead and becomes truly scary. There seem to be no concrete rules about how the unseen evil that haunts these kids operate, and thatís perhaps one of the more unnerving things about it. Though the sequels to this film explained much about the mysterious goings on that are displayed here, few answers are to be found in this film itself. After finding a mysterious book from Kandahar (heh), all hell breaks loose for the filmís five teens, and weíre along for the wild ride. 

    Itís mostly an exercise in technique as Raimi plays with us, trying to tweak our primal fears. We never really see whatís behind the evil, even though the characters sometimes do. As they search for it in the dark, theyíre as anxious for it to reveal itself as we are. Raimi opts to show us the invisible demonís point of view as it chases its victims down, and this is one of the more effective tricks that he uses. Above all else though is a fear of death, or more specifically, a fear of losing the integrity of our flesh. The film is exceptionally gory but that gore isnít used so much to gross us out as to disturb us by reminding us how easily breakable our own bodies are. As a multitude of fingers get crushed, flesh gets ripped down to the bone, and eyes get punctured in excruciating detail, the movie moves beyond the merely grotesque and toward making us actually afraid of the same treatment after we enter the supposed blackness of death.   

    The story is so stripped down in The Evil Dead that its imaginative flourishes are that much more impressive. The relentless way that Raimi continues to confound our expectations makes the film akin to an amusement park ride and the brief bursts of humor and heart are greatly appreciated. Itís far from a rapid flurry though; he ekes out the maximum scare potential out of each effect he uses. Itís about as perfectly controlled as this sort of thing gets, and even though we know the effects are cheesy and fake they lose none of our power to keep us on edge. 

* * * 1/2 

01/27/02 

Jeremy Heilman