35 years of The Evil Dead
Thirty five years ago on October 15th 1981 The Evil Dead hit American cinemas and, for some horror geeks and nerds like me, the world was forever changed.
It has spawned two sequels, the sadly inevitable remake/reboot, t-shirts, toys, trinkets and, so far, two seasons of a TV show.
While Night of the Living Dead may have started the modern zombie genre and while Halloween may have influenced the slasher genre, I think, more than anything, The Evil Dead, more than maybe any other movie, actually inspired other filmmakers.
Over the last decade or so both its legion of fans and even the star, Bruce Campbell, himself have lovingly ridiculed the acting and some of the rough-around-the-edges practical effects. The three things that are undeniable though about the first Evil Dead film is that it is an insanely good directorial effort by the, then, just 20 year old, Sam Raimi, Tom Sullivan's effects are artistic, ambitious, invaluable (as Raimi himself said) and unlike anything else you've seen, and everyone involved went through hell making it.
This is why I think The Evil Dead inspired more filmmakers than most films and that's because the story behind the making of it is as evocative, fascinating and incredible as the film itself. Sidebar: Also, if you, like me, are in your mid-30s and went through film-school/art-college in your late teens/early twenties you either know 50 people whose independent films all stole heavily from Raimi's unique, visual techniques and/or you blatantly stole them too.
If you don't know the story of how it was made or don't know the names Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell then I suggest you purchase and read The Evil Dead Companion and Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor right now! No time for reading? then listen to the commentaries on ANY of the 99 versions Anchor Bay have put out on DVD or Blu Ray today.
However, as a quick re-cap, for the uninitiated: Three friends from Michigan who made Super 8 movies, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell realised that horror sold well and there was a big drive in audience. They made a Super 8 film called Within The Woods to help raise money from various investors: dentists, car dealers, grocery store managers and so on. With that money they went south to a cabin in Tennessee with some, mostly, inexperienced actors and a small crew of friends and family. Over one of the coldest winters in recent Tennessee history they toiled away making, what would become, The Evil Dead until the cast and crew dwindled to only a few dedicated hangers on.
There is a romance to it, a can-do spirit, something very American and something very impressive about it that's genuinely awe inspiring. Also if you have a group of friends who have been your group for decades and you all share a passion for something be it sports, movies, music, whatever then you can see your friends in the friendships of 'The Michigan Mafia' Bruce, Sam, Rob, Josh Becker, Ivan & Ted Raimi, Scott Spiegel, John Cameron, Tom Sullivan and more that still survive today.
Not only has the film endured but all of the main people involved still have thriving careers today. Specifically Sam Raimi as a director, Rob Tapert as a producer (more often than not in television) and Bruce Campbell as an actor. They have often worked together over the last 35 years and while Sam Raimi has never been able to get that oh-so-tantalising leading role for Bruce outside of The Evil Dead franchise, when it comes to playing Ash? Accept no substitute!
With his role in Burn Notice and the latest incarnation of the ED franchise, Ash Vs Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell is finally the fully fledged star that we always knew he should be. In the latest round of promotion for AVED season 2 it's insane how hard he is working. No one attends this many events, goes on this many talk shows, signs this many autographs or shakes this many hands. Hardest working person in show business? He would take some beating!
Some of us were early to the party, some of us joined in the middle and a lot of people are only now catching up but whatever stage of fandom you are for the star or the series, you should always revisit where it came from. There have been many pretenders to the throne since 1981 but only one The Evil Dead. It's as fresh, vibrant, creative, different, weird and wonderful now as it ever was. If you must laugh at the acting or point out flaws in the effects then so be it. I personally think if you're doing that, or using the movie as a drinking game, you are massively and sadly missing the point. Shut up, turn the lights off, crank up the volume and let The Evil Dead nail you to the back of your seat with it's relentless and madly artistic carnage.
It's one of the few truly independent films where the phrase "let's see if you could do any better" really rings true because, many have tried since and, in my mind, none have come close.
Happy 35th Anniversary The Evil Dead!
There's lots of Evil Dead related content on the site so please check out:
Our interview with the cast of The Evil Dead
Our interview with Tom Sullivan, special effects artist on The Evil Dead
Our article about Evil Dead Fandom
and all the Ash Vs Evil Dead stuff you could possible EVER want!