CANNON MONTH 2: The Evil Dead (1981)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was on the site for the first time on June 5, 2021 and has been revised for Cannon Month. The Evil Dead was not produced by Cannon but was released on video by HBO/Cannon Video.

Yeah, I have no idea how we haven’t covered this yet.

Actually, we try to avoid movies that everyone has seen and said things about, because I often worry, “What else can I add to the conversation?”

In truth, I’d seen Evil Dead II before the original and preferred the comic take on the same story. And Army of Darkness takes that goofiness, mixes in some peplum and Harryhausen and gets even cooler. I’ve ever seen — and been coated with gore during — the stage play.

What can I say about this movie that’s new and different? Do you want me to say something like, “It’s a less claymation version of Equinox?” Because, yes, I absolutely believe that to be true but I’m still pretty amazed by what Sam Raimi and his skeleton crew were able to get out of this movie.

How great is it that Raimi’s career started here, mounting a camera to a board and running through the woods chasing people to try and get the perfect shot? Evil Dead is infused with a heavy metal energy and blows through 85 minutes like a band blasting as many songs as it can in one set so it can rock your face off.

Where the later movies lose their edge slightly — there’s no way Ash is getting killed — everyone in this movie is fair game. It feels dangerous and unhinged, as only the best horror movies can be.

To generate funds to produce the film, Raimi approached lawyer Phil Gillis and showed him his proof of concept film. Within the Woods. Gillis may not have been impressed by the short film, but he offered Raimi legal advice on how to produce the movie by getting funds from individual investors. Raimi didn’t raise as much as he wanted, but still had $375,000 to make this movie.

Much like the original short, Raimi was going to shoot in his hometown of Royal Oak, Michigan, but instead chose Morristown, Tennessee. The crew found a cabin literally in the woods and all stayed there — 13 crew members! — and it was incredibly tense.

It’s amazing that this quality of movie emerged, as there were so many accidents and misadventures, like the entire cast and crew getting lost in the woods during the first day of shooting and a horrifying incident when Betsy Baker, who played Linda, lost her eyelashes when her makeup was removed.

Bruce Campbell claimed that filming was “twelve weeks of mirthless exercise in agony.” An example of this is after he fell and injured his leg, Raimi would poke him in the leg with a stick. Over and over again.

After a successful Detroit premiere — complete with William Castle ballyhoo-like wind noises in the lobby and ambulances parked outside — Raimi got the film picked up by Irvin Shapiro, who was one of the founders of the Cannes Film Festival. That’s where Steven King saw the movie, gave the quote that appeared on every poster and VHS cover — “most ferociously original film of the year” — and New Line picked up the movie for simultaneous theater and VHS rental. Raimi achieved something few directors do: he was able to pay back everyone who loaned him money.

Today, we take The Evil Dead for granted. But in 1982, it was a burst of splatterpunk insanity, coming not from Italy — where it was released as La Casa — but from right in the Rust Belt. Fangoria got on board by 1982 and then the film just took over. They’re still making sequels today — Evil Dead Rise is next — but we should pause, reflect and remember where this all got started. Evil Dead did more than gross people out; it inspired so many to make disgusting movies all their own.

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