The Evil Dead (1981)

Evil Dead

Written and Directed by Sam Raimi

Tagline: "Can They Be Stopped?"

Run Time: 85 min

“I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the book is through the act of… bodily dismemberment.”
– Voice on tape


Sam Raimi’s ground-breaking horror film, The Evil Dead stands as a classic gore-fest film that every horror fan is obliged to see at least once. Made nearly 25 years ago, the film still shocks and repulses due to the simplicity found in its delivery: Five kids go to spend a weekend at a cabin and unwittingly unleash an evil force that destroys them all. Although the plot itself has been employed countless times since, Sam Raimi’s ingenious direction, Bruce Campbell’s unforgettable performance as ‘Ash’, and the "Evil’s" blood-chilling brutality makes The Evil Dead stand head and shoulders above the other ‘evil spirit’ films of the same ilk.

Bruce Campbell Ash (Bruce Campbell)

Bruce has of course starred in all 3 "Evil Dead" films, and in my opinion just gets better and better with age. He has appeared in nearly 70 films spanning all the way back to 1975, the majority being sci-fi and horror, along with numerous cameo’s in larger Hollywood productions. Bruce has written an autobiography entitled "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor".

Ellen Sandweiss Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss)

Cheryl takes quite a beating through the film…but keeps coming back for my. Actress Ellen Sandweiss disappeared from the cinema after ‘The Evil Dead’, but made a brief reappearance in the 2004 film Satan’s Playground.

Richard DeManincor Scotty (Richard DeManincor)

Poor Scotty almost gets away, but is mortally wooded by the forest demons. He eventually dissolves into a mucky mass of snakes, roaches, and hellish goo.

Betsy Baker Linda (Betsy Baker)

Ash’s girlfriend in the film, Linda eventually gets her head whacked off with a shovel after being possessed.

Theresa Tilly Shelly (Theresa Tilly)

Poor Shelly. The Evil Forces took her away while getting ready for bed. Eventually beaten down and hacked to pieces with an axe.

The film opens with a POV shot of…well…the Evil Force that haunts the forest. As the Evil glides over a murky swamp towards an isolated cabin, we hear hellish laughter combined with moans and groans of the undead.

Cut to a car driving through the woods. Five youths, (two boyfriend-girlfriend pairs: Ash and Linda, Scotty and Shelly, and one girl going ‘solo’, Ash’s sister Cheryl) are making their way through the woods to the cabin that they have rented. Things go fairly well, at least until the Evil somehow tracks down their car and causes the steering to "lock up" just as a speeding truck is approaching in the opposite lane. (Standard horror stuff here, I bet Raimi had a laugh at that cliche. Oh yeah, by the way, they swerve Just In Time and avoid the oncoming truck.)

Ah yes, turning off the main road the kids come across Ye Olde "Dangerous Bridge" sign…warning bells should be sounding in everybody’s head by now. That’s the beauty of this film: the cliches that the viewer has seen over and over again crop up in The Evil Dead, but Raimi presents them with a wink-of-the-eye, as if you can hear him chuckling from behind the camera. However the film isn’t completely tongue-in-cheek, if it were then The Evil Dead would be a spoof. Raimi seasons the film with cliches, but the ‘meat and bones’ of the movie is still horror and extreme gore. In fact the film was nearly given an "X" rating because of the copious amounts of blood and violence.

The car makes it over the bridge, barely, and the kids continue driving along a truly isolated road in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. Now, I’m no ‘mountain man’, but I’ve done my share of hiking and camping, and let me tell you, this cabin is situated in BFE. (If you don’t know what ‘BFE’ stands for then ask your friends.)

Evil DeadAs they pull up to the cabin, they notice a porch swing swaying back and forth…but there is no wind. Just as Scotty reaches the front door, the swing abruptly stops swinging. (Yuch!) Anyway, Scotty opens the door and peers inside. The interior of the cabin is pitch black, foggy (?), and has an evil looking deer’s head mounted on the wall. (Those damned stuffed heads always creep me out whenever I see one mounted on somebody’s wall…it’s just damn macabre!)

Evil DeadAs the sun sets, Ash and the others sit inside the cabin and relax. Cheryl is free-hand sketching a clock on the wall, when all of a sudden the pendulum stops swinging. A wind blows open the curtains of the room and a ghostly voice commands, "Join us!" (OK, I would be outta there! Sorry. I’m no hero.) Cheryl’s hand suddenly turns ghostly white and begins drawing of its own accord. Terrified, Cheryl can only watch as her hand rips the paper with the pencil as it draws a demonic face on one of the sheets of paper. Regaining control of her hand, Cheryl watches in horror as the trapdoor to the cellar, located in the floor of the room, starts banging up and down…(Once again…I’m outta there!)

Cut to everybody having dinner. Ash raises his glass of strawberry margarita and proposes a toast. Once again, the pesky cellar door flies open and everybody rushes into the living room to see what the commotion is. The kids agree that it’s probably "just some animal". (Uh, huh.) Understandably, nobody wants to go down and see what it is, so Scott, armed with a flashlight, volunteers to go down and investigate.

After a few minutes, Ash calls to Scotty, but there is no answer. Reluctantly, Ash takes a lantern and descends the dark stairwell into the cellar.

Needless to say, the cellar is dark, wet, and creepy as hell. (Kudos to the guys that lit the scene…brilliant!) Ash calls out again…still no answer. CRASH! A loud noise from behind a closed door…Ash approaches and turns the knob. The root cellar. Ash takes a couple of tentative steps inside the room when suddenly Scotty jumps out of the shadows and shouts, "Boo!" (I would have punched him in the face for that stunt!) Scotty cackles at his oh-so-funny prank before showing Ash what he has found in a corner of the room, namely a desk with a tape recorder, a shotgun, and a strangely bound book….mwu-ha-ha-ha!

Ash browses through a few pages of the grotesque book…pages filled with obscure symbols and drawings of demons, eyeballs, dragons, and other creepy topics.

Even better, Scotty finds a two-foot long dagger whose hilt is a bizarre skull-like carving.

Evil DeadEvil Dead

Really now…what if you found this stuff in some rundown cabin in the middle of NOWHERE? I think you know my answer by now.

Well, Ash and Scotty decide to "take this stuff upstairs" (Doh!), thus sealing their fate. (Ash finishes by browsing to a page in the book showing the same demon that Cheryl’s possessed hand drew earlier that evening. (I always get a chuckle out of this scene. I mean, the book and the dagger are just so obviously Not Something To Mess With, yet they take them upstairs to show the girls and "check them out". Classic!)

Back upstairs Ash plays the tape while everybody is gathered around:

Evil Dead"It has been a number of years since I began excavating the ruins of Kandar with a number of my colleagues. Now my wife and I have retreated to a small cabin in the solitude of these mountains. Here I continued my research undisturbed by the myriad distractions of modern civilization and far from the groves of academe."

I believe I have made a significant find in the Kandarian ruins: a volume of ancient Sumarian burial practices and funerary incantations. It is entitled, ‘Naturan Demontos’, roughly translated ‘Book of the Dead’. The book is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood."

<Thunder grows louder…storm approaches…narration continues…>

It deals with demons…demon resurrection, and those forces which roam the forest and dark bowers of man’s domain. The first few pages warn that these enduring creatures may lie dormant but are never truly dead. They may be recalled to active life through the incantations presented in this book."

<Man, talk about a buzz kill…turn this crap off and have some more margaritas! Sheesh!>

"It is through recitation of these passages that the demons are given license to possess the living…"

At this point, Cheryl is completely wigged out and turns of the recorder. Scotty calls her a wimp, fast forwards the tape, and plays a little bit more of the recording. Unfortunately, Scotty stopped the recording during one of the aforementioned "incantation rituals"…when it rains, it pours, eh?

As expected, demonic forces begin to rise from the forest floor, hungry for the feast.

As the recitation playing on the tape recorder reaches its climax, a tree branch smashes through the front window and puts an end to that little party, to put it mildly.

Later that evening, Ash gives his girlfriend, Linda, a locket on a silver chain. Unbeknownst to them, an Evil Force is watching from outside the cabin. We see the Evil’s POV as it floats about outside in the darkness, moving from window to window, seeking a victim.

In another classic horror movie cliche, Cheryl, the only one sleeping alone, hears voices outside her window. What does she do? She puts on her bathrobe and goes out into the forest to investigate! (Of course, horror movies rely on people doing unbelievable things in order to maintain a steady flow of victims.)

We next see a scene which was actually edited out of the film in several countries. Cheryl is suddenly attacked by vines and weeds, which wrap her up and bind her to the forest floor. She is then raped by the vines before she manages to pull herself free from the plants. If you’ve never seen this film, the above description might sound somewhat absurd, the scene is still creepy and quite revolting.

Cheryl is chased through the woods by the Evil Force which Just Barely Misses Her as she runs back to the cabin. Ash opens the door upon hearing her screams and she collapses into the living room, weeping hysterically. Cheryl insists on being driven back to town, and often much arguing, Ash agrees to take her.

Evil DeadCheryl’s dreams of escape are quickly stymied upon reaching the dilapidated bridge. As you might have guessed, The Only Bridge Back To Town is completely and utterly destroyed. The massive steel beams are actually curled back as if exploded upwards from below.

Cheryl freaks, but Ash has no option back to take her back to the cabin. Returned to the cabin, Cheryl sits zombie-like by a window, staring out into the darkness while Ash puts in an earphone and continues listening to the tape.

"I know now that my wife has become host to a Kandarian demon. I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the book is through the act of… bodily dismemberment." (A theory that will be put into practice later in the film!…)

While Ash listens to the tape, Linda and Shelly pass the time by trying to guess cards, that is, Shelly holds up a card from the deck and Linda tries to ‘telepathically’ guess what it is. She misses card after card after card, but Cheryl, with her back turned and staring out a window, begins naming the cards in a soft voice. Her voice grows louder and takes on a strange tone, until she quickly turns around and reveals that she has been possessed.

As she floats a few feet off the ground, the demons inside Cheryl boast that the others will all die…"Like all those before you…one by one…we will take you!" With a loud groan, the demon collapses to the floor. In shock, Ash and the others gather around the motionless form, when suddenly the demon grabs a pencil from the floor and jams it into Linda’s ankle. (Another scene that was removed from a few overseas releases as being too gory. And yes, it’s pretty gruesome.)

Evil DeadAfter a brief struggle, the demon is overcome and tossed into the cellar. Scotty quickly secures the trapdoor with a chain and padlock, while the others attend to Linda’s wound. (By now Cheryl has transformed into a horrible demon, not even recognizable as Cheryl anymore…grey skin, a mass of knotted hair, blank, yellowish eyes…)

Let’s see…who’s next…ahh yes, Scotty’s girlfriend, Shelly. She goes into their bedroom to change, while we see the Evil Force staring into her room from outside. The windows shatters and she screams. Hearing Shelly’s shouts for help, Scotty runs in to see what’s the matter. Alas, Shelly is gone. Scotty goes from room to room looking for her and is suddenly attacked by a freshly-possessed Shelly who rakes her nails across Scotty’s face, ripping open his skin and sending blood pouring down his face.

Scotty crashes through a door and back into the living room with Shelly latched onto his back and biting his neck. Somehow Scotty manages to dislodge Shelly and mistakenly tosses her into the fireplace. Acting quickly he pulls her out of the flames, at which point the demon thanks him for saving her "pretty flesh", which is now the same putrefied grey color that Cheryl has.

Evil DeadShelly and Scotty, once lovers, now fight to the death. In a particularly gory scene, Scotty manages to partially cut off Shelly’s hand at the wrist: Shelly completes the job by chewing her own hand the rest of the way off. Eventually, Scotty dispatches Shelly by stabbing her with the creepy Skeleton-Dagger that was found in the basement.

As Shelly lies on the floor, covered in blood and other disgusting fluids that she puked up during her death throes, Scotty gingerly walks over to take a closer look. As expected, Shelly jumps up and grabs Scotty again. Enough is enough, Scotty grabs an axe from Ash and chops the demon to bits. (Another very gory sequence of scenes to be sure, especially when the camera pans over all the dismembered ‘bits’ of Shelly, each of them still quivering and shaking…yech.)

Scotty and Ash bury Shelly’s bits in the woods and Scotty decides to take off on his own in order to get the hell out of there. Ash refuses to leave Linda behind, and since her leg is too injured for her to walk, he stays behind to care for her.

As Ash is checking on Linda, she of course becomes possessed and Ash reels back from the room and stumbles out the front door in shock. From out of the darkness falls Scotty, mortally wounded by the demons in the forest: a battered, bloodied collection of broken bones, cuts, and wounds. Ash helps Scotty to the sofa while Linda sits cross-legged in the hallway, laughing with a demonic cackle. Cheryl, still imprisoned in the cellar laughs too while mocking Scotty’s desperate pleas for help and moans of pain.

Just as Ash is about to blast Linda in the face with a shotgun, the demons play a dirty trick and pretend to have released both Linda and Cheryl. While Linda pleads with Ash not to let the demons take her again, Cheryl begs Ash to let her out of the cellar. As Ash carefully leans over to peak into the cellar to verify that she is in fact human again, Cheryl-Demon grabs his head and almost pulls him down into the gloom. Linda too, has reverted back to demonic form, but Ash doesn’t have the courage to chop her to pieces like Scotty did to Shelly. Instead, Ash simply drags Linda out into the forest and leaves her.

Back inside Ash is starting to lose his marbles. He pours water into Scotty’s mouth which runs down his face because he’s now obviously dead, but Ash pretends not to notice and keeps pouring while talking to himself about how everybody is going to be OK in the morning…"…well, not Shelly…", Ash says, as he suddenly remembers the fact that she was hacked to pieces and buried in the woods.

Eventually Ash does realize that Scotty is far past the point of holding a conversation and reels back in horror. From behind him, Linda appears with the Skull-Knife, cuts open Ash’s arm, and licks the blood from the blade. In the struggle that ensues, Linda is stabbed with the knife and "dies" on the floor in a gout of blood and mucus.

Evil DeadAsh takes Linda’s body out to the tool shed, shackles her to a bench, and prepares to dice her up with a chainsaw. The job is not that easy you see, for she has reverted to her human form, and Ash just can’t get the nerve to put the saw to his girlfriend’s body. Turning off the chainsaw in a What-The-Hell-Am-I-Doing moment, he carries Linda out into the woods in order to bury her in toto.

As Ash is digging the hole, Linda peeks up at him with devilish eyes, until he turns around and she quickly closes them again. This happens a few times in a cruel twist on the same type of game that Ash played on her when he was giving her the locket on the silver chain earlier in the film.

Finished burying Linda next to Shelly’s grave, Ash turns and wipes his brow. He looks down and notices the Linda’s locket laying beside the grave. As he bends down to pick it up, Linda’s hand explodes out of the grave and grabs his ankle while her other hand tears the flesh away from Ash’s leg. Ash manages to pull himself away, picks up a huge piece of wood from the ground and begins bashing the hell out of the demon. (If you look closely, you can see that the wood is actually styrofoam, and in one of the blows to Linda’s head, the styrofoam breaks in half and Bruce Campbell is trying desperately to hold the whole thing together in one piece while he continues whacking her!)

Anyway, Linda leaps into the air but Ash manages to grab the shovel and decapitate her as she lands on him. With her head laughing from a few feet away, Linda’s neck spews blood and gore onto Ash’s face until he finally manages to escape from under the corpse and run back to the cabin.

Evil DeadOnce inside, Ash sees to his horror that Cheryl has escaped from the cellar. In a great sequence of nightmarish shots, Ash stalks through the cabin with the shotgun looking for Cheryl while he slowly loses his mind. He does eventually run across Cheryl and blasts her in the face…with no other effect then spewing more blood onto the walls.

Evil DeadFrom behind jumps up Scotty, the newest possessed member. As Ash struggles for his life in the living room (a very bloody battle I must say), the Book of the Dead is accidentally cast onto the floor beside the fireplace. While Cheryl and Scotty bite, scratch, beat, and batter Ash, our hero finally manages to crawl across the floor and toss the book into the fire itself.

Next comes a great sequence of scenes showing the remaining demons falling into putrefaction and decay: a scene over 2 minutes long employing chiefly stop motion photography, roaches, snakes, maggots, mushy, unidentifiable substances, and lots, lots, lots of blood and gore. This scene will remain a gore-film classic for a long time to come.

Ash struggles up from the gore of the demonic remains and notices that the clock has started working again, the sun has risen, and all is well. Covered in blood, Ash stumbles out the front door to face a new day, and the long trek home.

Cut to the Evil Force POV. The demon glides across the forest floor, smashes through the cabin. Ash turns and screams.

Cut to black.

Dennis Grisbeck (August 2005)

Afterthoughts

I love this movie. Bruce Campbell is one of my favorite actors, and is always a joy to see, especially when he "loses it". Sam Raimi’s direction and camera work is dynamic, creative, and keeps the atmosphere tense. Although the special effects may seem a bit dated, they are still effective and at times, absolutely repulsive. As I said before, every horror fan must see this film. Have a six pack on a rainy Saturday night, pop in the DVD, and buckle up for a fun ride through a quintessential gore fest!

Read more about The Evil Dead at

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6 comments to The Evil Dead (1981)

  • guts3d

    I liked this movie as well, it had such over the top writing that I just couldn’t stop watching it, even if I had wanted to. The rape scene with the vines gave me the willies.

  • Zach

    If movies today had brains they would probably be as good as this. Love the stop motion scene! Love the Stop Motion scene. A++ and 2 thumbs up.

  • If movies had brains, then this site probably wouldn’t be here 🙂

  • popzombie

    I was lucky enough to meet everyone that was in the movies at a couple of Horror conventions thru the years. They really didn’t know what impact the movie was going to make. All were great to talk to and Bruce Campbell really is a nut.

  • GAPeach

    This was my very first horror movie. I must have been about 9, when I snuck out of bed–found mum fast asleep in front of the telly–and this movie was playing on the oldies channel. We were at the “steering wheel getting stuck” scene. It seemed pretty “cool” and a very adult thing to do. So I sat down to watch. BIG mistake! Scared the you-know-what out of me. Didn’t want to be alone in the dark for weeks after that! But the funniest thing was, I was SO scared that I had to wake mum up to put me to bed!

  • Guts3d

    The follow up movie “Evil Dead II” was pretty darn funny.

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