In 1979 fledgling film-maker Sam Raimi and his long-time friend Bruce Campbell set about making a low budget horror film. Visiting drive-In cinemas across America, the two began looking into the audiences for horror films to see exactly what they wanted. With this knowledge they began work on a film entitled Within the Woods. A a short film that followed a group of four friends who accidentally unleash evil spirits while in a log cabin in the woods, it was eventually used as a means of raising funds for a feature film. The two managed to raise over $350,000 to produce, star in and direct one of the all time classic low-budget horror films of all time, The Evil Dead.
Based on the script of Within the Woods, The Evil Dead follows a group of friends from Michigan State University, including Ash Williams (Campbell), who visit a cabin in the woods in the hills of Tennessee. Upon investigation, they find a variation on the Book of the Dead called Naturan Demanto and once they’ve read it, they unleash evil spirits that begin possessing the friends one-by-one.
The Evil Dead is clearly an independent low-budget horror as you can tell from the opening scenes of the group driving up to the cabin. The acting is cheesy and the soundtrack a deafening synthesiser assault on your ears. But if you look beyond it’s lack of polish, what you find is a stunningly creepy and absorbingly tense horror film. It builds this tension from early on, using classic horror tropes like a rickety bridge and a mysterious ‘almost crash’ into an oncoming jeep, yet once the true horror begins, it fires on all cylinders, presenting one shock after another.
Raimi and Campbell had clearly done their homework on horror fans, because once the spirits are released, The Evil Dead never gives a moment for the audience to catch their breath. It’s one blistering assault on the senses after another. Considering the lack of the budget, the make-up is quite remarkable, with lashings of gore and excellent possessions throughout. Raimi’s eye for a shot, which would later help Spider-Man become a global film brand is at its rawest, but most brave.
Whether it’s anyone of the protagonists suffering as their limbs are pulled off, or the infamous ‘tree rape’ scene that earned The Evil Dead the title of ‘Video Nasty’ in the UK, there is no let up, no excuses made, just fully-formed and frightening horror. Both Raimi and Campbell should be immensely proud of the contribution that they’ve both had to the horror genre because other than George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and possibly The Blair Witch Project, there is no low budget horror film that comes close to the quality and historical impact of The Evil Dead.