It's a good thing I decided to watch today's movie during the day while my boys were at school, otherwise my youngest might have insisted upon watching it with me. You see, he loves Bruce Campbell, particularly his character Ash Williams. While geeking out over horror merch at a fan convention, a vendor doubted his knowledge and asked him why he was so interested in a particular piece of art. My son looked at the man and said, "Duh... it's Ash! Hail to the king, baby!" So far I've managed to keep him from seeing this movie and its first sequel, but one day he'll get his way. For now he has to be content with the campy, more tame sequel Army of Darkness. Most horror fans are familiar with Ashley J. Williams, chosen defender of mankind against demonic forces. But long before the one-liners, the chainsaw hand, the video games, and a three-season television series, one film started it all, and that film was 1981's The Evil Dead.
As the movie opens, five friends drive deep into the Tennessee mountains to a remote, rented cabin in the woods. Even before stepping inside, the cabin emits an unsettling aura that puts them on edge. While exploring the cellar, Ash and Scotty discover some strange items, including a tape recorder, an ornate dagger, and a book bound in human flesh containing gruesome illustrations and strange writing. When the tape they discovered is played back, they learn the book is called the Naturan Demanto, roughly translated... the Book of the Dead. The recording continues with the speaker reading passages from the book, which greatly upsets Ash's sister Rachel, and rightfully so.
The incantations awaken Candarian demons who lure Rachel into the woods and attack her. Rachel returns to the cabin and demands Ash take her to the nearest town. Ash reluctantly agrees, but is forced to turn back when they find the bridge leading back to the road ripped up. Back at the cabin, the demons take possession of Rachel, and she attacks the others, forcing them to lock her in the cellar. One by one, the demons come to take them until only Ash remains to fend off the Evil Dead.
Often considered to be the scariest entry in the franchise, The Evil Dead is almost entirely devoid of the humor that would make its successors so popular. While the makeup effects are remarkable considering the film's small budget, modern high-definition presentation spoils a bit of Sam Raimi's movie magic. In my opinion, The Evil Dead really shines on VHS. That's how I first experienced it, on a 13-inch TV in my pitch-black basement bedroom when I was seventeen years old. If you ask me, I think hi-def has unnecessarily sanitized some great classics. Sometimes that grain is part of the experience, you know? The Deadite makeup can go from effective and unsettling to comically bad in a mere scene change and back again. The best makeup effects went to Rachel as her possession and condition progress in the cellar. To this day, the most unsettling thing about the movie is when the possessed Linda giggles incessantly, even while Ash slaps her around. The film's finale features some of the most impressive and gut-churning claymation and stop-motion sequences of the era. Don't eat while watching The Evil Dead, folks.
Overall, The Evil Dead is an undisputed classic that kickstarted one of the most beloved franchises in horror and comedy. New fans coming into it after only seeing the Ash VS Evil Dead television series should be prepared for a little culture shock, but they'll find the over-the-top gore familiar and will no doubt appreciate it. Hail to the king, baby!