This is the segment where I pick apart a well-worn film series and see how well it’s aged, and how well it hasn’t. In the leadup to Halloween I’ve revisited Sam Raimi’s beloved horror-comedy series EVIL DEAD. Groovy.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981) It may be really rough and ready, but even Sam Raimi’s first feature is full of style and proof of what can be achieved with no money and plenty of passion and perseverance. The behind-the-scenes stories are just as interesting as the final product, and anyone who attempted to film anything of any length surely couldn’t match the troubles Raimi and co ran into – Bruce Campbell’s brother fell off a cliff their first day of shooting! Despite its shonkiness it remains the scariest of the series, with otherworldly makeshift special effects, bucket-loads of syrupy blood and genuinely creepy sound design. Perhaps THE EVIL DEAD’s cult status was inevitable, with a one-location cabin in the woods story, amateurish acting, continuity issues that came from a longer-than-planned shoot and copious “Shemping” where crew stood in for actors who had abandoned the project due to fatigue or frustration, it all becomes part of the charm of the piece.
EVIL DEAD II (1987) The first fifteen minutes of EVIL DEAD II polishes and streamlines what was memorable from the first film, then things really go insane. Ash (Campbell) takes his girlfriend to an isolated country cabin again, but this time there’s an occult archaeologist, his daughter and a redneck couple fighting deadite possession too. It somehow feels both overstuffed and a little stretched, but there’s plenty to like here. One moment alone makes this sort-of sequel worth a look, a moment that perfectly sums up the funny-sinister tone of the series – the wonderful long take that follows the supernatural presence chasing Ash through the cabin, doors, walls and windows posing no barrier. Bruce Campbell was never going to be a serious leading man, but as a comic foil for himself there are few better, and his tooling up for battle montage is rightly iconic.
ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) The final (so far) stage of Ash’s adventure is more of a hit-and-miss affair. Why bother with scar continuity if you’re not bothered elsewhere? Why am I asking that question? Nobody cares! There is next-to-no attempt to scare anymore, only to entertain as a kind of gory battle movie full of Three Stooges gags. Probably a few more jokes fall flat than last time, but you can’t help but chuckle at Ash conveniently finding a manual entitled “Steam Plant Operation” at just the right moment, nor at the glee with which Campbell plays Evil Ash. The Evil Dead films were never even close to polished-looking, but Raimi clearly really wanted to make a blockbuster, and stretched his dollar to the limit here so ARMY OF DARKNESS looks, charmingly, like something made in the mid-60s.
EVIL DEAD (2013) If a film’s worth sort-of remaking, it’s worth doing twice. Though not really part of Raimi’s continuity, this new take got his whole-hearted seal of approval. The campy black comic sensibility is pretty much gone, and the only time you might find yourself laughing is at the sheer extremity of the gore (there’s flaying, dismembering and a literal storm of blood at the finale). The idea of taking a friend to an isolated cabin to go cold turkey makes a lot more sense than hanging out in a creepy shed on your summer holidays, and Jane Levy completely owns the film as Mia, fighting both her addiction and possession by the malevolent forces that reside in the woods. We’ve yet to hear of any more of these new scarier and more serious Dead movies, but we have got Campbell’s return in ASH VS EVIL DEAD to look forward to this Halloween… SSP