This marks the first in a series of articles. Throughout the month of October PCI members will be sharing some of their favorite horror films.
In the late winter between 1979 and 1980, during the weaning days of an overwrought production, with most of the actors injured, ill, and exhausted (having all slept in the infamous cabin of its filming), the crew of The Evil Dead were on last legs – they began to burn furniture for warmth. These were the conditions under which Sam Raimi, the very same who’d catapult superhero films into the spotlight with his mammoth Spider-Man franchise, began his career at the ripe age of 20. There’s something about The Evil Dead, a certain aura, a realism even, that when you watch it, you can’t help but be hypnotized by every ounce of bloodshed, on-screen and off. In a sense, it’s this very realism that makes The Evil Dead dually horrific and inspiring. Every squib of blood was painstakingly set up, not by a trained professional, but by a group of kids who read the instructions out of some old, water-damaged book, if any. Raimi, an avid magician, made a name for himself with innovative camera work, tracking shots achieved by bolting the camera to a wood board or bike, and practical special effects, gouging an actress through the ankle with a pencil. He was also somewhat a masochist; several crewmembers injured themselves running cameras through the knotted Tennessee woods and the lenses used to achieve the ‘possessed’ effect have been compared to sticking Tupperware in one’s eyes – leaving it in for more than fifteen minutes risked serious optical damage. By his own admission, he liked to see the actors bleed.
This is what we see on screen; passion and pain mark the story of The Evil Dead. It’s easy to romanticize Raimi’s successful career: an upstart, enterprising kid starts out making Super 8 films with his friends and ends up heading one of the most financially successful films of all time – it’s the dream of any aspiring filmmaker. But here we see the birth of that career in all its gruesome detail – and oh, what a bloody birth it was. At the end of the day, perhaps The Evil Dead is so effective because it’s built like a professional’s film, but it’s made by students: there’s an endearing quality to the overexposed film stock, something’s off about those practically real effects - it straddles the thin line of uncanny between that of a fiction woven for our enjoyment to glimpses of an anguished reality cut to a story. When an actress screams at the possessed, we too scream at the monster; we scream with her, and she screams from a place of personal torture - from the terror of being in a cabin in the woods, winter 1980.