The Evil Dead

Critics 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.

95%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 59

84%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 202,521
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Movie Info

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

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Critic Reviews for The Evil Dead

All Critics (59) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (56) | Rotten (3)

  • Has the energy of a fresh new film-maker really going for it.

    Oct 26, 2018 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Steve Rose

    Guardian
    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Sep 24, 2007 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Sep 24, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Short on characterisation and plot but strong on atmospheric horror and visual churns.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Steve Grant

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • ...what it lacks in narrative weight, it compensates for with a relentless pace, disturbing atmosphere, as well as some imaginative displays of dismemberment.

    Apr 17, 2001 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • To say that the Evil Dead movies are not for everyone is an understatement. A strong stomach is required.

    Oct 15, 1981 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Evil Dead

  • Sep 19, 2016
    It's always fun to go back and watch films with a mass-cult following. Perhaps no horror film in history has a bigger cult following than The Evil Dead, and rightfully so. Director Sam Raimi and the small cast made one of the most intense and original films to date. Sometimes it's hard for myself to go back and watch horror films from decades ago, especially those with a smaller budget. Most of the time the lack of sufficient funds to edit horror pictures make the end product a lot less re-watchable. With The Evil Dead, the one-setting and minimalistic story actually adds to the film and makes it all the more terrifying. Yes, 5 friends spending a night in a secluded cabin in the middle of the forest with little lighting is unsettling, but with Raimi's amateur directing style, it's horrifying. Of course, I mean amateur with the best intentions. This was essentially a film funded using what we call 'kick-starter' now, with a bunch of his friends. Bruce Campbell being the one friend who went on to do extensive acting. Although Raimi didn't have the proper funds necessarily, there's actually a lot more skillful directing than you may think. You imply just have to look at the effective camera placement in suspenseful sequences to know this guy had a future in the filmmaking industry. The first act of the film is played out a lot like an old Hitchcock suspense thriller. It's all about "what you don't see" that make the hairs raise on the back of your neck. Until the film changes into a contained gore fest for the last hour which is among the best slasher pictures of the 80's. The dialogue and acting isn't all that great but it makes for a solid B-movie atmosphere, which was common for plenty of horror films of that time. It's great on its own, but the story behind the making of the film certainly certifies this as one of horror-cinema's crown jewels. +You can already see Raimi's talent +One cabin, one forest, one friend group +Atmospheric -Dialogue 8.2/10
    Thomas D Super Reviewer
  • May 03, 2016
    Both equally funny and horrifying, Sam Raimi's horror classic is just the right amount of campy fun and ingenious scares to overcome it's (admittedly well used) low budget.
    Matthew M Super Reviewer
  • Oct 29, 2013
    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 M Super Reviewer
  • Oct 10, 2013
    Oh no, this isn't your honest-to-goodness, fetch you some tea from beyond the grave type of dead, this is some evil dead right here, I tell you what. You can here me with some kind of a thick southern accent with that sentence, and it would only be fitting, because this film does take place in Tennessee, seeing as how stuff like this is about what you'd expect from Tennessee... I think. They're lounging about on my beloved Alabama and I can't say that I care all that much about them, but Quentin Tarantino was born there, so I can safely presume that Tennessee is known for violent, bizarre happenings and a cult following with its entertainment. Seriously though, it's demons, a cabin in the wood and Tennessee, so you know this is going to be one terrifying thriller... or kind of morbidly funny, seeing as how this is also a Sam Raimi film. Well, you could certainly expect it to be gory, and sure enough, this flick is mighty messy, even if there is some disappointment in not seeing a scene in which Bruce Campbell kills a demon with his chin. "If Chins Could Kill..." is some serious false advertising there, Bruce, or at least as far as I know, but hey, this is still a pretty promising debut for Campbell and Sam Raimi, even if there isn't exactly interesting enough to have a whole lot of material to work into this opener. Yeah, I don't really know what to tell you, because as enjoyable as this film is on some kind of a morbid level, not all is intriguing, partly because the gore elements aren't the only messy aspects to this cult classic. Featuring some iconic characters, or at least an iconic leading man, this film offers characterization that is decidedly adequate, yet, more than that, questionable, because even though ambiguity is recommended in a film that is this driven by chills, and is often kind of ignorant of its characters, who aren't even all that interesting, there is hardly any kind of real development, and that distances you from the characters who may mostly be there for the sake of gory goodness, but are still instrumental in the "narrative". The lack of exposition proves to be distancing, make no mistake, but what may deliver an even harsher blow to engagement value is, of course, all of the blasted dragging, because even though this film, at just under 90 minutes, doesn't have a whole lot of time to drag its feet, it makes time, filling expository holes, and even building some holes to fill, with excess filler that drags the film out as repetitious, maybe even kind of aimless. The film is very atmospheric, so I understand the extensive meditations upon minimalism, but much too often, Sam Raimi wastes time, and that pill would be easier to swallow if his atmosphere was frequently effective, rather than with plenty of effective moments that essentially punctuates long stretches of dry quietness that blands things up and makes pacing issues all the more glaring. When the film slows down, it limps out, and it cannot afford to be doing that with an 85-minute runtime that it partly achieves by meeting slow spells with expository shortcomings, though that's not to say that this film was ever to be that effective. The issues that I just covered are serious, sure, but it's natural shortcomings that do this film in as underwhelming, and really, they shouldn't be able to do that, because beyond all of the minimalism of this subject matter, this narrative isn't especially interested in its substance, at least in comparison with the style, which is ultimately overplayed enough to further thin out weight in the premise. I understand the hype, I do, but I'm not particularly eager to jump on praising this film, because natural shortcomings are considerable, as are developmental and pacing issues, and at the end of the day, that's enough to craft an underwhelming final product that would perhaps be forgettable were it not for its importance in horror history. For me, this isn't too much to cry home about, but like I said, I understand the hype, quite well, because as flawed as this film is, it's quite enjoyable, and anchored by then-refreshing and now-iconic elements that can even be found within a story concept riddled with shortcomings. Pacing problems and whatnot, perhaps even some lapses in originality, undercut the potential of this thriller's story concept, which is limited to begin with, as this is a minimalist premise that may even more wrapped up in its style and mythology than its actual plot, and yet, with that said, this premise is far from shabby, carrying an intriguing and unique mythology that helps in getting you through the flawed characterization, which, even then, is sold about as well as it can be by the performances, which are quite underwritten, as you can imagine, but passable, with leading man Bruce Campbell being particularly charismatic in his portrayal of the iconic Ash Williams characters. Campbell, when given the opportunity, does a good bit to get the film by, but like I've been saying, the characters are kind of just there, being ultimately less significant in the driving of thriller than the tension, which is even sold by such seemingly little touches as the technical value. Shot in 1979 on a somewhat small budget, this film's effects, courtesy of Tom Sulivan, have become dated over the years, but even to this day, they're adequately buyable, and certainly impressive in concept, particularly when it comes to the gore, for although all of the gratuitous and over-the-top splattery gets to be either too disturbing or, well, kind of silly, the audaciously brutal attention to violence that this film makes is not only morbidly nifty, but adds to the selling of intensity within this thriller's conflict, while the intense atmosphere is partly sold by some aesthetic touch-ups. Now, Joseph LoDuca's score isn't all that impressive, partially because it has a tendency to celebrate those blasted late-'70s/'80s electronic sensibilities that cheese up the tone of this thriller, but on the whole, LoDuca's often minimalist, sometimes broodingly atmospheric score compliments the effectiveness of the tension, though not quite like Tim Philo's cinematography, whose definition is questionable, but with some sparse lighting plays that catch both eyes and nerves in a claustrophobic environment, into which you're most drawn by Sam Raimi's camerawork. The handheld camera style that Raimi explores in this thriller may seem a bit amateurish at times, yet its stylish playfulness, combined with a certain intimate tightness to framing, immerses you in the environment and reflects inspiration in Raimi's direction, not unlike the atmosphere. The film is too atmospheric for its own good at times, in that Raimi has a tendency to meditate quite a bit on not a whole lot, and that blands things up, probably something fierce, yet when those long stretches of nothing become tight and realized enough for meditativeness to be reasonable, Raimi really does a fine job of soaking up an intense air, inspiring anything from a fair deal of tension, to all-out chills. The film is pretty scary at times, and while the effective moments are not enough to fully justify the ineffective, or at least the somewhat questionable moments, they still stand, punctuating a consistent degree of engagement value that stands as adequate enough to get you by, even if its sharpness on a general standard, outside of the realm of significance in the horror industry, is debatable. To seal the book for now, underdevelopment is considerable, as is the dragging in filler that gets to be repetitious, if not aimless, and is made all that more glaring by dry spells in atmospheric pacing, while simple natural shortcomings, anchored by an attention to style over substance, secure the final product's underwhelmingness, which goes challenged enough by an intriguing and unique story concept, complimented by decent performances, - particularly the one by Bruce Campbell - strong and often effectively gory effects, brooding score work, and immersive camerawork and atmosphere, courtesy of director Sam Raimi, "The Evil Dead" stands a decent horror classic that offers a fair deal of blood and chills, regardless of the shortcomings. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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