director Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead from 1981 put him on the map, certainly. But it wasn’t until his own re-working of the film in Evil Dead II (1987) that really secured him on my radar. Quite frankly, back in the murky days of VHS horror films, the one key thing that had stuck out for me in The Evil Dead was the “tree rape” scene. So suggestive that it seemed to be more than it really was. Certainly, it stood out in my mind more than it really was.
And frankly, since having seen Evil Dead II multiple times over the years, I’d never gone back to watch Raimi’s original film, despite it having a reputation of much value.
The funny thing is how inseparable to the two films really are. Both star the inimitable Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, both have the same scenario, young people out in a cabin in the woods with an ancient text “The Book of the Dead” being read from reel-to-reel and unearthing ancient evils that turn everyone into crazified zombies? And much is literally the same in tropes and story bits, and the crazed camera movements and perspectives are all cartoonishly in place in the original flim.
The only real difference is that Evil Dead II is played strictly for laughs while The Evil Dead is trying maniacally to keep a straight face while the gore and super horror and gore commence. I guess that is what is so funny about the first film is that it’s almost hilarious itself. Campbell makes some of the same sharp bug-eyed faces that are such utter crack-ups in the latter film. It’s really, really hard to watch this first film with such familiarity with its sequel without seeing all the comedic possibilities over anything actually frightening or shocking.
I mean, there is some gruesomeness, but it’s also wonderfully near slapstick. I’d say it would be impossible for me to try to see it with the same eyes that I had at some point in the 1980’s. The tree rape scene isn’t nearly as graphic as I’d recalled, actually much more suggestive, no less perverse. It is funny to think how much that had stood out for me at the time. So many of the other gorings and dismemberments went the way of mental mishmash despite the fact that there are many excellent sequences and effects. And that the whole thing is nearly hilarious.
I guess it’s expectations-related. If you’re looking for a gross-out scare-fest, you might have been pleased, bored, or horrified. Looking at it now with retrospective vision, it’s infinitely a mixed breed relation to its more successful progeny, impossible for me, at this point, to see uniquely. But you know, that is just fine.