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The Evil Dead (1981) (Video Nasty review #1)


Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker

“Kill her if you can, loverboy!” (Cheryl, The Evil Dead)

Since a large part of this blog is my quest to watch and review all 72 video nasty films, it makes sense for me to start with arguably the best and inarguably the most famous of the lot. Of course, had the Director of Public Prosecutions not been on the arsehole pills in 1984 I probably wouldn’t be reviewing The Evil Dead as part of this list because, as anyone who’s seen it will agree, there’s no way it should have been considered a notorious and dangerous video nasty. After all, it’s far too silly to be taken seriously.

For those still to enjoy its daft delights, The Evil Dead tells the story of five young chums who decide to spend the weekend in a cabin in the woods (sound clichéd? That’s because this created the cliché). When they get there they find the Book of the Dead, a book that when read can summon sleeping demons to possess the living. The good news is that nobody can read the book, the bad news is they also find a tape recorder with a tape of an old historian reading the book’s contents aloud. As they listen to the tape the demons are summoned and it’s up to the five friends to survive until daylight.

As the film progresses and the various teens are possessed, it becomes clear that the hero of the day is to be young Ashley, the shy and innocent one of the bunch played by Bruce Campbell in his first role. Nowadays Campbell is a bit of a cult icon among horror film fans and this is more or less solely thanks to the Evil Dead films and his performances in them. Ash takes a kicking throughout the majority of the film and there’s something satisfying about seeing the underdog getting splattered with gallons of blood, getting pinned under bookcases that are apparently much heavier than they look and generally not having a nice time of it. Even the movie’s final scene shows that he just can’t get a break.

What’s perhaps most impressive about The Evil Dead is that so many people look on it with fondness despite it on paper being, for want of a better word, nasty. One character is stabbed in the ankle with a pencil, after which the viewer is treated to the sight of them twisting it around in unflinching detail. Another has their head caved in with an axe. Then there’s the film’s infamous ‘tree rape’ scene, in which Ellen Sandweiss’ character wanders into the woods to investigate a noise she hears, only to be assaulted and violated by the woods themselves (this scene was cut for a long time by the BBFC and was only recently allowed to be shown uncut). Yet despite this, the film’s charmingly low budget and its combination of likeable characters and laughable creatures means it’s still fondly remembered as a fun movie.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing The Evil Dead yet I urge you to hunt it down, along with its sequels Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn and Army Of Darkness. Ash is one of the greatest heroes in horror history and this film shows the seeds of his creation. I guarantee laughter, I guarantee entertainment and I guarantee you’ll feel smugly satisfied when you tell your mates “I’ve seen a video nasty” while conveniently forgetting to tell them the one you watched was probably the least nasty of the bunch.

HOW NASTY IS IT? – It’s not terribly nasty but the tree rape scene, in which Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is violated by some branches, is a little uncomfortable if a little silly in theory. Anyone who watches it though will probably come to the conclusion that it should never really have been banned because it’s far too daft to corrupt.

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