I have always admired the goal behind many so called “cult” films. These are usually the films furthest removed from the Hollywood clutches. There is no talk of demographics, there is no talk of “how the film plays.” It is filmaking at its most raw, and in some cases, at its best.
The Evil Dead franchise may be the most beloved cult franchise next to George Romero’s Dead saga. It acts almost as the perfect counterpart to that zombie franchised. While Romero was bleak, Raimi always kept the tongue so firmly planted in his cheek that it was ready to impale his face at any moment. Raimi somehow knew that there was no way the material could ever be taken seriously and resolves not to take it seriously himself.
This review shall concentrate on the first film. I am sure that a review of the other two will be forthcoming. Anyway, I am sure everyone knows the plot. A group of kids from Michigan State University rent a cabin out in the middle of the woods. While there, they uncover a recording that can summon demons. They play the tape, it summons demons, and most of the people in the cabin are slowly possessed and dismembered.
Why does the film work as well as it does. Is it because the surprisingly effective special effects? The tight sscript that actually does contain some genuine scares? No, ultimately, it is because the people involved were so passionate about the project. The passion shines through like a burning light (or specifically, a burning light bulb that soon fills up with blood).
This is why cult classics have been so appealing. This is where you find the passion projects and the films that filmmakers love to make. Raimi here appears to be trying many things just for the sake of trying it. The film is almost the perfect experimentation. He includes liberal uses of stop-motion and the aforementioned gore effects. In addition, this was the film that introduced the Coen brothers just as much as Mr. Raimi. Plus, the gore almost takes on a new level. It is never gratuitous. It is instead…well, it almost reaches a level of Argento style surrealism. Yet it is not a direct copy…while Argento was bright and colorful, Raimi is dark and moody.
Alright, alright. I have so far done nothing but gush over this film. Obviously, I am not trying to merely fall into fan rhetoric and declare this among the brightest examples of American cinema. It is not. Most of what the film has to say is right up there on screen. There is none of the subtlety that crept its way into the other films, and definitely none of the fun. But still, for what was essentially a beginner film, this was quite good. But nothing too deep. It was a cult film simply for being “unusual” rather than for being deep.
For example, consider the scene in which Ash buries his girlfriend after dismembering her. As a horror scene, it is quite effective, but what does it mean? It does not address the loss or the suggested difficulties of love. No, it is just a man burying his girlfriend after dismembering her. It certainly looked good (or rather, grotesque) but never went for that extra level.
That is minor though. The Evil Dead managed to be so fun that I didn’t mind it being only skin deep. This is the sort of fun I wish Hollywood strove for. Maybe then, we wouldn’t all proclaim that Jerry Bruckheimer was terrible.