Five teens cross the Tennessee border to vacation in an old log cabin in the woods. The setting is immediately creepy, wasting no time with setup: the shoddy structure features a dark, dusty interior, animal skulls, lights that seem to emanate incorrectly, a mysteriously rocking swing, a broken clock, and a cellar containing some sort of evil entity. Within the first five minutes, Scotty (Richard DeManincor) descends into the inky, humid, subterraneous housing to investigate – leaving the others bewildered at his lengthy absence. Of course, he’s only fooling around for the sake of a momentary scare; in the basement they discover an old recording of the previous resident’s notes on his research of Sumerian relics – including the Book of the Dead, the demonic possession of his wife, and the solitary solution of bodily dismemberment.
While listening to the tapes, the fivesome accidentally unleash angry demons that begin attacking the students. Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) carelessly wanders into the fog and darkness and is the first to encounter the archfiend, which takes control of some gnarled vines to bind and rape her. She escapes back to the cabin, but the others are skeptical of her wild story; Ashley “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell) reluctantly agrees to drive Cheryl to a nearby hotel, but the bridge they originally crossed to get to the cabin has collapsed. When they make their way back to the others, Cheryl undergoes some drastic transformations, including rotting flesh, glazed-over eyes, levitation, and a throaty voice. And the rest are soon to be targeted for supernatural possession.
Eerie violin music (alternating with light-hearted romantic riffs), echoing voices, quick zooms, extremely tight close-ups, jump scares, loud noises, and tons of gore comprise The Evil Dead, a film wholeheartedly trying to be horrifying, but unfortunately mixing in the most ineffective acting and scripting. Twice Ash is trapped underneath a fallen bookshelf; blood and goop comedically splashes into Ash’s open-mouthed gaze; the characters are so slow to move that it frequently appears as if the paralyzed victims are simply refusing to react; and all insist on daringly venturing into the woods alone. There’s also an inconsistency in details, with the gudgeons being entranced without definition. The dialogue is incredibly unconvincing as well, counteracting the moments of fright with spoken absurdities.
But for all the elements that don’t work, there are more that do – The Evil Dead is at times genuinely terrifying. Camera angles, creatures lashing out from the blackness, stop-motion animation, and screeching sound effects are quite effective. The makeup effects are spectacular, creating truly ghastly zombie-like monsters, and the utilization of gallons of blood and guts makes this one of the most bloodthirsty of all horror films. This is noteworthy considering the surprisingly low budget and lengthy production. It was originally given an NC-17 theatrical rating, and thanks to the practical effects, it remains incredibly graphic and visually alarming throughout the years – a real treat for horror enthusiasts and the first of a profitable franchise spanning two sequels, a musical adaptation, comics, toys, and more.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)