Released October 15, 1981, Sam Raimi’s Devilish death was a force to be reckoned with.
Movies like the years 1963 The haunting, 1968s Night of the Living Dead and 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had already gathered unhappy protagonists in isolated places to fend off evil beings; Likewise, filmmakers such as Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Herschell Gordon Lewis have already pushed the boundaries of gruesome murders and excessive gore in horror. But Raimi’s steadfast DIY approach – in conjunction with the film’s bold camera work, special effects, and atmospheric, demon-infested cabin decor – made it possible Devilish death to rise above its equally cheap competitors.
Decades later, this humble horror odyssey remains chillingly charming, spawning not only its own sprawling multimedia universe, but its own subgenre as well. Additionally, his underdog tenacity, ingenious techniques, and huge cult success paved the way for modern independent horror, motivating countless other hopeful directors to develop relatively characteristic cinematic voices.
After familiarizing himself with amateur comedies, director Raimi decided to change gears and try something scary. So he, executive producer Robert Tapert and executive producer and lead actor Bruce Campbell studied the genre as they prepared to create a “prototype” short, In the woods, to “show investors what kind of movie they would buy in” (as Raimi Recount John Gallagher in 1982). It worked, giving them a much larger budget (around $ 375,000) with which to bring back Campbell, costar Ellen Sandweiss and makeup artist Tom Sullivan. (This tactic alone has proven to be influential: Devilish death associate editor Joel Cohen made something similar to get 1984 Simple Blood from the ground, as David F. Sandberg did for the years 2016 Curfew.)
Watch the trailer for “The Evil Dead”
Initially called Book of the dead (referring to HP Lovecraft Necronomicon), Devilish death stretched out on In the woodsconcept in every way. Centered on a few hapless students who succumb to demonic possession, his bewildering audio palette, smelly-efficient carnage, and imaginative direction were so visceral, confident, and refreshing that Stephen King the judge the “most ferociously original horror film of the year”. Such notable endorsement helped him achieve wider international distribution, including simultaneous theatrical and VHS release in the United States. Pain that Raimi and his company resisted behind the scenes suddenly paid off.
Devilish death was popular with critics and the casual audience at the time, earning a valued 29.4 million worldwide while garnering high praise from major selling points such as Fangoria, NME, the Los Angeles Times and Variety. Pretty much everything in the movie – including his endearing, inexperienced acting – comes across as extremely useful, creepy, and innovative. Mainly, Raimi’s idiosyncratic shot methods are still ingeniously effective in grasping the prospect of the ever-lingering evil presence.
Likewise, Sullivan’s incredibly impressive use of stop-motion animation, unsettling contact lenses, and copious amounts of decaying bodies and blood (created by combine food coloring, corn syrup and coffee) rival the work of any of his peers or proteges. Combine all of that with some truly terrifying sound design and you’ve got an inventive genre classic that deserved to generate several direct and indirect followings and followers.
Watch scenes from “The Evil Dead”
And that’s precisely what he did, from the years 1987 The Evil Dead II. Part sequel and part remake, it continued things in a narrative and structural way. That said, it also incorporated more elaborate sets while fully embracing the Three Stooges-style metacomedy and slapstick that the original alluded to. Five years later, Army of Darkness adopted Raimi’s original medieval plan for Evil Dead II while delving further into self-aware Screwball antics. Campbell’s Ash Williams finally concluded her saga with the TV show Ash vs. Evil Dead, which lasted for three seasons between 2015-18.
Meanwhile, Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake, evil Dead, and 2022 Evil Dead Rise are tangentially linked cinematic entries. Beyond that, the franchise has logically ventured into other forms of pop culture, including a slew of multigenerational video games, dozens of comics (in which Ash meets Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, the superheroes Marvel or Barack Obama) and an official musical.
The franchise has also left its mark on the broader Hollywood spectrum. We wouldn’t have gems like Shaun of the Dead, Undead, Cabin in the woods, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Cabin fever and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, to name a few, without it. While the ‘final girl’ slasher trope was barely established in the early ’80s, the fact that Devilish death ending with a ‘last guy’ (Ash) is also notable, as it set the stage for a host of similar protagonists (ranging from Jesse to A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Charley in Night of dread to Alex in Final destination and Cole in The babysitter).
Devilish death has become even more beloved and important since its release, spawning one of the biggest modern horror brands while influencing the creation and making of countless other genre films. Even its oldest and most amateur elements play into its allure, just as its creepiest sights and sounds still provide – as famous marketing professed – “the ultimate experience of exhausting terror”. He has been strongly imitated but never equaled, ensuring that he continues to swallow our souls for generations to come.
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