The Evil Dead (1981)




Critic Consensus: This classic low budget horror film combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, giving The Evil Dead an equal amount of thrills and laughs.

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This auspicious feature debut from Sam Raimi -- shot on 16mm in the woods of Tennesse for around $350,000 -- secured the young director's cult status as a creative force to be reckoned with. The nominal plot involves five vacationing college kids -- Ash (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), and their classmates Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scott (Hal Delrich) and Shelly (Sarah York) -- making an unplanned stopover in an abandoned mountain cabin surrounded by impenetrable woods. Before settling in for the night, they come across an ancient-looking occult tome filled with dense hieroglyphics and macabre illustrations, a dagger fashioned from human bones, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The taped message, dictated by a professor of archaeology, describes the contents of the Sumerian "Book of the Dead," filled with incantations used to bring otherworldly demons to life, giving them license to possess the living. The message goes on to explain that those possessed by these demons can only be stopped by total bodily dismemberment. When played among the group later that evening, the professor's recorded translations of the ritual chants traumatize the strangely prescient Shelly ... and simultaneously release an ominous presence from the depths of the forest. The evil spirits take to their dirty work with gusto, first assuming control of Shelly and transforming her into a cackling, murderous hag with superhuman strength; the others imprison her in the fruit cellar and chain the trapdoor shut. The spirits then begin to possess the other women, including Linda -- who immediately turns on Ash with a barrage of punches and sadistic taunts. Unable to bring himself to chop up his lover's corpse, Ash gives her a more customary burial in the woods -- which proves to be a big mistake. As the others succumb to demonic influence, Ash's horrific predicament becomes increasingly grim until, when all hope seems lost, he stumbles upon a final, desperate solution to the ghoulish onslaught ... well, maybe not. Despite the shoestring production values, Raimi has fashioned a tight, lightning-paced fever dream of a movie, filled with operatic overacting and outrageously gory effects that give the project a comic-book feel. Based on an earlier 8mm short titled Within the Woods, this feature version was fraught with distribution difficulties before finding its first audience overseas. After considerable word of mouth (and a glowing endorsement from horror author Stephen King), the film became a hit on home video, where it achieved further notoriety thanks to its highly-publicized banning in Britain amid the notorious "Video Nasties" censorship campaign. Raimi, along with producer Robert Tapert, writer Scott Spiegel and much of the same crew, cranked up the story's comic aspects several dozen notches for the rollicking semi-remake, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. ~ Cavett Binion, Rovi
R (for substantial graphic horror violence and gore)
Horror , Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
New Line Cinema

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Bruce Campbell
as Ashley J. Williams
Betsy Baker
as Linda Williams
Hal Delrich
as Scott
Sarah York
as Shelly
Theresa Tilly
as Shelly
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Critic Reviews for The Evil Dead

All Critics (56) | Top Critics (4)

Sam Raimi directed this 1983 horror feature fresh out of film school, and his anything-for-an-effect enthusiasm pays off in lots of formally inventive bits.

Full Review… | September 24, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

While injecting considerable black humor, neophyte Detroit-based writer-director Sam Raimi maintains suspense and a nightmarish mood in between the showy outbursts of special effects gore and graphic violence which are staples of modern horror pictures.

Full Review… | September 24, 2007
Top Critic

Short on characterisation and plot but strong on atmospheric horror and visual churns.

Full Review… | January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

To say that the Evil Dead movies are not for everyone is an understatement. A strong stomach is required.

Full Review… | October 14, 1981
Top Critic

...a striking debut from a filmmaker who would go on to much, much better things.

Full Review… | August 11, 2016
Reel Film Reviews

The movie plays like an entry point into the infectious minds of ambitious overachievers, who do exactly what they want and offer no apologies.

Full Review… | October 10, 2015

Audience Reviews for The Evil Dead

Hate it.

Nicki Marie
Nicki Marie

Super Reviewer


It has its moments, but it's largely unimpressive. It is too campy and too silly to be taken seriously or to be scary. The premise is interesting, but the plot feels too restricted. This movie had potential, but was executed poorly.

Matthew Samuel Mirliani
Matthew Samuel Mirliani

Super Reviewer


Linda: We're going to get you. We're going to get you. Not another peep. Time to go to sleep. "Can they be stopped?" The Evil Dead is truly a great example of how a small budget can make a horror film great. The success of The Evil Dead doesn't have everything to do with a low budget, but there's no denying that it doesn't help a lot. Also a very clever filmmaker like Sam Raimi just make things all the better. The way the film is shot is amazing and it adds a lot to the creepiness and atmosphere of the film. The angles are well thought out. Plus you have to love all the little horror details that Raimi through in. Blood dripping from every pore of the house, a bench that swings as if someone were in it, the decrepitness of the cabin. Every little detail is does basically to perfection. The film falls off slightly with the details of the characters, but it honestly doesn't even matter.  Five friends venture into the woods for a trip to a cheap cabin that is secluded there. After narrowly missing a big car crash and barely making it over an old bride, they arrive at the cabin and believe they are safe. After finding a cellar, Ash comes across a tape and tape machine and decides to play it. The tape is of a doctor that lived there years before with his wife, and he he speaking about strange things. All of a sudden when he reads something in Latin, all hell breaks loose. Soon the friends find themselves slowly being picked off by a force that is beyond their comprehension. Sam Raimi obviously turned the horror world on its head with this film and gave a whole new spin on the flesh eating zombie/demon possessing sub-genre. There's no denying the influence this film has become on the horror genre, especially the low-budget horror films. It's as close to a masterpiece as a film like this can come, and it's definitely one every horror buff and film fan needs to see. 

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

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