Wednesday, April 10, 2013
ONE FROM THE VAULTS: The Evil Dead (1981)
I have a confession: the first time I saw The Evil Dead I did not like it.
Cue the dramatic music and horrified gasps now.
The first time I ever heard anything "Evil Dead" was a TV spot for 1987's Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. That skull with eyes at the end of the commercial was instantly burned into my memory, but more so was the disclaimer: WARNING: THIS FILM CONTAINS SCENES WHICH MAYBE TOO INTENSE FOR PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN. That was the kicker for me in wanting to see it, but I quickly assumed that would be the kicker for my mom in not allowing me to see it. I didn't think much about the film after that, but I do remember seeing a couple of clips of it on TV which got me curious again, but I didn't think a video store in my crummy small town in the middle of nowhere would carry it. Sigh, assumptions, assumptions.
Six years later, Army of Darkness arrived in theaters. I knew it was my kind of flick, having enjoyed Sam Raimi's previous movie, Darkman, but I had no knowledge whatsoever that he had anything to do with Evil Dead (or Crimewave, a film I used to watch on cable quite a bit a few years earlier). As I was watching the prologue, it dawned on me pretty quick there was another movie before this one. After a little bit of research (those thick video movie guides were my IMDb in those days), I discovered that the previous films were, in fact, The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2.
I did find Evil Dead 2 in a video store in my crummy small town in the middle of nowhere, and my reasoning for picking that up first was- at least to me- obvious: that was the movie that led into Army of Darkness. I don't remember if I watched it alone in my room or with my brother in the living room, but I remember how I felt first witnessing Evil Dead 2: holy fucking shit! It was the wildest picture I had ever seen. No movie had me both, sometimes at once, completely terrified and rolling the floor laughing. It was an upliftingly unhinged work of imagination that, for me, has remained second to none since.
Which is why I initially thought the first Evil Dead sucked.
It took awhile, but I managed to quiet my adoration of Evil Dead 2 long enough to finish the trilogy with the shocker that started it all. I came back from the video store, put the tape in the machine, and awaited more of Raimi and Company's grotesque, maniacal mayhem. What I got was a grotesque yawn. It was dank, the sound was lifeless, I could barely see anything, and it seem to drag on and on. It was a rather painfully dull 80 minutes compared to the raving, loony 80 minutes of Evil Dead 2. Wow, was I disappointed. I severely questioned that endorsement from Stephen King on the cover, and was set on avoiding the original Evil Dead forevermore.
A couple of years later, I was hanging out at K-Mart (pretty much the only place for a kid to hang out in Coalinga), and came across... The Evil Dead? Imagine how shocked I was to find something like this at a K-Mart:
Price tag: $6.99. Ah, what the hell, I'll give it another shot, I thought. Besides, I noticed the home video company, Anchor Bay, were the same guys that put out that great Halloween tape I got earlier. I guess I could trust them. I needed more horror tapes for my late night movie-watching, so it seemed like little risk.
Do you know what's more shocking than The Evil Dead? It's being blown away by The Evil Dead the second time around when you thought it blew the first time around! My jaw was on the floor; the film looked and sounded great. For the first time, I really was witnessing "The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror". Of course, the question arose, "Why?" Why did I not like this movie before? Looking back on the last time I watched the film, the answer came instantly: it wasn't the movie itself. The cassette I rented was one of the old Thorn-EMI tapes from the early-80's. Trust me, it had seen better days. Well, there's your problem! The Evil Dead soon became a staple of my VHS collection, and thus also began my love affair with Anchor Bay Entertainment.
I lost count of how many times I've watched The Evil Dead in the last 15 years. I can count on one thing: it never gets old. Jennica and I viewed it this past weekend, in prep for the remake Friday night. It still works. It's still gross. It's still scary. Even Scotty's fake scare in the cellar still works. Yes, the original film is more straight-ahead horror than the ones that followed, but there is also that splash of candy-colored carnival fun that brings fans back for more. The best part is, after all the commentaries, bonus features, interviews, websites, books, panel discussions, and every possible tidbit you could soak up about the history of this film, all of that goes away once the movie starts. When you see that title, and the camera emerges from the mist, scanning over the bog, you are immediately in its creepy, backwoods, funhouse grasp until that little ditty eerily fades away at the end of the closing credits. Even its various technical flaws- yeah, even the crew guy in plain view in the background as the Oldsmobile begins to cross the bridge- provide no distraction at all from the carnage displayed. In fact, for long-time fans like us, that only adds to the charm of- and our respect for- the DIY nature of the picture. The Evil Dead was made by a bunch of kids from Michigan more than 30 years ago, and it still packs an illicit punch. If that's not a textbook definition of genius, I don't know what is.