Five Michigan State students venture into the hills and mountains of Tennessee to spend a weekend in an isolated cabin. There they findThe Book of the Dead (a fictional Aztec/Canaanite text, unrelated to the Egyptian Book of the Dead), otherwise known as the Nyturan Demonta. While searching the basement of the cabin, the students find and play a tape recording of demonic incantations from the book, unwittingly resurrecting “Kandarian” Demons. The characters are then possessed one by one, beginning with Cheryl Williams (Ellen Sandweiss), after she is hypnotized by the song of a Demon and lured into the forest at night. Alone and far from the safety of the cabin, theDemon proceeds to possess the trees of the forest, which come to life in a snake-like fashion and brutally rape her. Cheryl escapes the trees and is chased by the Demon all the way back to the cabin, where no one believes her story and assumes that she was attacked by a wild animal. Her brother, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), decides to drive her into town where she can stay the night. They discover that the only bridge is completely destroyed and the supports are bent into the shape of a claw-like hand.
Soon thereafter, Cheryl, having been infested by a Demon during the rape, dies and becomes a deadite (a corpse that is used as a vessel for the Demon that has possessed it) and stabs Linda (Betsy Baker) in the ankle with a pencil. Scotty beats her with the blunt end of his axe and kicks her in the cellar; he then locks her in the fruit cellar, but afterward Shelly (Theresa Tilly) enters her room and is killed and possessed by a Demon that crashes through the window; now a deadite, she becomes psychotically vicious and attacks Scotty (Hal Delrich), who dismembers her with an axe. Scotty then leaves to find a trail out of the woods.
Ash goes to check on Linda, but finds that she too has become possessed by a Spirit. Scotty returns, but has suffered massive injuries inflicted upon him by the possessed trees. Before losing consciousness he tells Ash there is a trail in the woods. Linda revives momentarily from the possession & Ash drags her outside and locks her out of the cabin. He goes back to check on Scotty, but finds that he died from his injuries. Linda later returns as a deadite and tries to stab Ash, but Ash stabs her through the chest with a dagger. Ash drags her outside to dismember her with a chainsaw, but finds that he cannot bring himself to do it, and simply buries her instead. She rises from the grave and, after a violent struggle, Ash beheads her with a shovel. He returns to find the cellar door open. He enters the cellar, to find shotgunammunition and returns to the upstairs. He hears a noise from Shelly and Scott’s bedroom. With the shotgun, he goes in to investigate and suspects Cheryl may be in the closet. Cheryl jumps at the window a demon had earlier broken through and tries to take the shotgun from Ash, grabbing at it wildly. Ash shoots her in the chest, but it does not seem to have any effect. Ash then proceeds to barricade both the front and back doors. He runs back into the cellar to find a box of shotgun shells and experiences a strange series of events including the cellar filling with blood and hearing voices. Cheryl tries to attack Ash through the door, but he shoots her and then barricades the door.
Meanwhile, Scotty’s dead body suddenly revives to reveal that he has been possessed by a Spirit, only to have his eyes gouged out by Ash after a brief struggle. Ash notices thatNyturan Demonta has fallen near the fireplace and is starting to burn. Ash sees that Scotty’s body is starting to burn as well, giving an allusion that disposal of the book into the fire will also destroy the Demons. Before he can reach it, however, Cheryl successfully breaks in through the front door and easily knocks him down. Scotty then pins Ash to the floor while Cheryl grabs a fireplace poker and repeatedly hits Ash in the back with it. Ash manages to grab the book after several attempts, using the necklace he had given to Linda earlier in the film, and throws it directly into the blazing flames just as Cheryl raises the fireplace poker to impale him. The Demons leave the bodies of Cheryl and Scotty, and their corpses become inanimate and fall apart over the course of several minutes just as dawn breaks, leaving Ash as the only survivor. He heads outside and stands in front of the cabin for a moment, thinking he has survived the ordeal. An Unseen Evil speeds through the forest, breaks its way through the cabin doors, and descends upon Ash, who screams in terror as the film ends.
This is truly a classic low-budget film that relied on performances from the actors in makeup and creative camera work. Sam Raimi, who we love his directorship for the first two Spiderman movies, (there is no third Spiderman movie, right?) shows how masterful he truly is in creating a unique story with wonderful gore and blood feast for the eyes. This is not one of those typical teens stuck in the cabins out in the woods that most horror movies rely on. The Evil Dead takes it one step further to create scenes like the demon rape in the woods and one of the best dismemberment with an axe and with a shovel and hell, there is even decent claymation where the demons were being destroyed.
Other horror movies are rarely as creative and innovative as The Evil Dead. However, many years later in 1992, there is Dead Alive (a.k.a. Brain Dead) by pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson. Talk about have some great fun watching gore on the screen. Both films showcase each director’s talents with over the top action. Going back to The Evil Dead, we get two more sequels which were played more for laughs, which is still great, but this movie was able to spawn off a musical treatment. Take a look at the video below.
Next, the great thing about The Evil Dead is that we get Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, who is not the strong male lead we have come to love in the next two sequels. Normally, the horror genre rarely has a male protagonist which is interesting to note. We have seen countless times where the antagonist would be male like Michael Meyers (Tony Moran) in Halloween going after Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) the protagonist or Freddie Krueger (Robert Englund) going after Nancy Thompson (Heather Lagenkamp) in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Having Bruce in the reverse position really breaks from the stereotypical female role which stands this film apart from all other horror movies. ( I can’t think of another movie with a male protagonist, can you?)
And to put this all in context, here is another theater that I would visit in the Bronx was called The Palace. Talk about a rundown theater in the Bronx – sounds like a double negative but actually, I had some great times there. Never mind that the movie was rated R and I was underage. Just as long as I had money and didn’t cause much of a ruckus there was never any problems. At this theater, I watched the original Halloween in 1978 (more on this later), Cat People (more on this as well) and Caligula in 1982. Yes, I saw the unrated version of Caligula on a date with a girl (Josephine B.) who transferred with me from the same junior high school to the same high school. What sucked was that she had to take her younger brother with us. This was so wrong on many levels but hey, we got to kiss once but after the movie was over.