Sunday, October 14, 2012

Making Monsters #13: The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead became a horror classic that spawned two sequels, a remake, comic and video game spin-offs and an extremely loyal fanbase on the strength of a shoestring budget, lots of homemade monster makeup and an insanely hardworking and creative group of then-amateur filmmakers. The "Hey! Let's put on a show!" spirit that infuses director Sam Raimi's first film is infectious - a makeshift Steadicam rig (basically the camera mounted between a pair of 2x4s) allows for some very visceral POV shots, Raimi calls upon his love of The Three Stooges to pile one gory and inventive gag on top of another, and star Bruce Campbell's incredibly committed performance was the beginning of one of the most beloved characters in the genre. And while the effects used to bring the demons who possess the unlucky vacationers to life are far from state-of-the-art even in 1981, thanks to the ingenuity of effects artist Tom Sullivan and pure chutzpah of Raimi and his crew (who stayed on many weeks after principal photography, using doubles and dressing up as the demons themselves, to cram in as many gags as possible), they remain creepily effective. I saw a 35mm print of The Evil Dead a few years ago at a horror marathon, and while all of the movie's rough edges were magnified on the big screen, they only added to the film's grungy appeal.

This is especially true in the movie's showstopping finale, when Ash (Campbell) manages to destroy the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the ghouls inhabiting his friends' bodies quickly turn into a sticky pile of decaying flesh, guts, snakes and fluids of every color. The sequence is clearly accomplished with stop-motion animation and is about as photo-real as a California Raisins commercial, but that's completely beside the point. Raimi and Sullivan are so totally committed to going for the gross-out and bringing this disgusting tableaux to life that the sequence works brilliantly on the level of B-movie showmanship (keep in mind that a movie that leans heavily on Claymation was effective enough to be labelled a Video Nasty in the UK and banned for many years). As with all of Raimi's best subsequent work, it goes sublimely over the top. And the best thing about Raimi, as a filmmaker, is that even as he's become more respectable and works with budgets about five hundred times the size of The Evil Dead's, he's never lost his mischievous love of putting on a good show.

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