What makes some horror films more successful than others? Is it more scares? More blood and gore? The biggest, baddest, most hulk-like villain? Sometimes those things help, but it can also be great to have a vision — or visions — to guide the film into a powerful, lasting presence. Such appears to be the case with Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, which can still stand on its own as a classic horror film. Despite its flaws (and yes, there are some), The Evil Dead still has a way of grabbing viewers, and it no doubt has roots in Raimi and crew’s commitment to the project, and its underlying concepts and processes. The movie never takes itself that seriously, yet it is not quite as bonkers as some horror comedies (including other entries in The Evil Dead franchise).
The movie features a decent cast, featuring the now-iconic Bruce Campbell, and Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly. However, the first movie largely delivers through its concepts, which combine for a blood-soaked, mind-bending, and surrealistic journey that transforms a cabin into hell. Although you can tell the production budget was limited, the average horror fan can easily glide past those limits and into the warped entertainment of it all.
Style Over Substance? Actually, Sometimes Style is Substance
Sam Raimi brought a distinctive style to The Evil Dead, with an obvious ability to get things done. It’s said to have been a rough film to shoot, which probably only added to the film. If you wish to see a key moment of Raimi’s style, note the burial scene where Ash throws dirt onto the camera. For a moment, Ash can be seen through part of the dirt, then he conceals his own image with the next throw. It’s such a great transition! Granted, the audio commentary reveals it to be a happy accident of sorts. Still, had no one decided to shoot the scene in a creative way, it would simply be a different movie. It would most certainly be a more boring experience.
So, basically, a good filmmaker has an eye for those little things which makes their approach different. If you look at so many other films (horror or otherwise), they often have a “by-the-numbers” feel to them. Some of those movies are still okay, or even good, but nearly all great movies have a catchy style to them. Also, let’s face it: Most good movies have some manic moments thrown it. For horror that might mean a comedy edge or even outright slapstick.
A Unique Vision Can Transcend Flaws
Another part of what makes a film great is that it captures the imagination. Horror can do that, and so can science fiction. Sometimes those domains crossover, too. In an odd way, stories about demons and spirits are still kind of like sci-fi tales. You do end up with some of the same elements, just approached differently. That’s why, at least in my mind, a movie like the 1950s War of the Worlds has some of the same moods as The Evil Dead, at least occasionally.
If you watch War of the Worlds, you’ll see the main scientist guy, Dr, Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) nearing his wit’s end, seemingly overpowered by the alien invaders. In The Evil Dead, Ash experiences a very similar mental collapse, overcome by forces he doesn’t fully understand. Both characters see their enemies defeated by dumb luck more than anything else. Additionally, both demons and aliens can bend the rules of known reality, allowing for some cartoon physics.
The two movies are also similar in that, in the end, both types of invasive forces die oddly; The aliens are killed by bacteria, the demons are thwarted by the burning of a magic book (in a classic claymation sequence). These films are obviously not identical, but they both have that sense of a visionary force behind them, almost like they had to be made.
What are your thoughts on The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi, and War of the Worlds? Let us know in the comments!