The Evil Dead is an icon. A horror legend. Not too many movies have such a deserved status as a true classic of horror, but every now and then something comes along that's so ground-breaking upon release, that it sets a benchmark - influencing all that follow in its footsteps. Sam Raimi's 1981 debut feature is one of the most respected movies of all time. This is a film that consistently lands in top positions in "Greatest Horror Movies" lists – and with good reason. It's an innovative, influential, incomparable horror classic that takes itself completely seriously – despite its low budget. A classic that, even amongst other highly regarded horrors of its time, still holds its own as a unique, well-crafted fright-fest.
The Evil Dead is a cabin-in-the-woods story. Five young adults are taking a vacation to an isolated cottage in Backwater, USA. No one in the group seems to know anything about the cabin – just that it was cheap – and everyone is shocked and surprised when the little shack is creepier than bad taxidermy. So our band of twenty-somethings spend a night and all sorts of crazy nonsense starts happening, eventually leading them to unwittingly awaken a demonic force within the woods, preventing them from escape.
What works so well in The Evil Dead is its build-up of tension and atmosphere. You have no real idea of what's going on at the beginning. Creepy voices, mysterious trapdoors, an unseen force making its way through the woods. It's all very secretive, keeping you on edge as to what happens next. The thing that makes it so brilliant though, is that even amidst the low-budget feel of the film and the campy acting and effects, there's a straight face behind it all. The Evil Dead takes itself very seriously and the payoff is brutally genuine fear – something that was lost in the sequels, which played on the quirks and pushed towards comedy. And while that worked perfectly for those films (hell, they're classics in their own right), the fact that the original sticks to its guns and delivers a straight-up horror story is the reason its tension and scares work so well.
The Evil Dead is such an iconic film, too. It establishes so many concepts and fresh ideas that they are basically horror staples – even today. The quintessential cabin in the woods, the overly latexy (yet still unsettling) effects and make-up, the quirky-but-tense atmosphere and the energetic and exciting camera-work – it all defines The Evil Dead. The finale in particular, where the last of the demons are wilting away is frighteningly disgusting with a spectacularly gross and masterfully created stop-motion sequence that turns the stomach.
With its legions of dedicated fans, two successful cult-hit sequels, and a place at the top of horror's finest, The Evil Dead is unmistakably – a classic. Its unique blend of campy fun and intense horror provide comfort and great unease in equal measure, while the kinetic camerawork and crazy gore and make-up makes things exciting and keeps you watching. Having been aped for years but never quite duplicated, The Evil Dead deserves its status as a true icon in cinema history.