Horror Myth Films #1: Evil Dead (1981)

Evil dead is considered a cult horror movie due to its ability to reinvent the codes of horror movies that Halloween has imposed at the time of time of release and the lack of funds from investment. This film would also serve as a source of inspiration to many metal bands though not because of its story telling methods nor narrative development. The outdated gore and the fact that the movie is clearly trapped in its time make this a fun movie for most but apart from some interesting lore there isn’t much to see here.

But the mainstream world would fall in love with this movie not for narrative or the lore contained within the film, but for the ingenuity of the special effects and the ability for the producers to depict gore in a realistic manner with such limited funds. The “shaky cam” which consisted of a long piece of wood with makeshift handles with the camera screwed in the middle was an invention for this movie that would then spread throughout cinema. This was then carried by two members of the crew in the most unprofessional manner to create the effect of a genuine being lurking behind the protagonists. The final shot consisted of using the shaky cam but this time on a moving bicycle to get the longest shot possible. When some of the cast injured themselves, the director would then start poking their wounds to cause more suffering. Supposedly the cast were purposefully kept in inhumane living conditions so that the discomfort would translate into better performances but in reality, this seems more like a technique to generate hype for a cult movie than any serious artistic idea.

The lore of this movie is taken from H.P Lovecraft and introduces the Sumerian Demons with the help of a Sumerian version of the book of the dead and a recording left over by an archaeologist who has cursed by reciting the incantation that summons these demons. An interesting novelty is the Castle Kandar which is barely mentioned as the being the home of these demons yet was influential to a lot of artists since there was so little material dedicated to the lore of this world and that created a need for different minds to fill the gaps presented by this movie in their own manner. Deicide and Death both reference the lore on their songs ‘Dead by Dawn’ and ‘Evil Dead’ respectively. Though Schuldiner retorted to simply narrating the process of controlling a host. Benton decides to explore the lore and further binds it with its main influence The Necronomicon and leads to a blasphemous conclusion. Unfortunately, the lore is only secondary in this movie and is only there to introduce the horror in the story and for Hessians this is basically all that should matter in this movie as the rest doesn’t offer much.

The character developments are minimalistic if not inexistent as Ash the main protagonist doesn’t have any particular endearing qualities nor do any of the characters as they are killed one by one. None of them progress beyond being typical teenagers. The only thing that separates Ash from the others is his loyalty and altruism. He does all he can to keep his group of friends united while they each panic and think of their own preservation, inadvertently killing themselves in the process. Ash survives at the end thanks to a gift of love for his girlfriend and ironically is the only one to make it to the final scene. The women just screech and scream hysterically or in the case of Ash’s sister get raped by tree branches and return home in a sexualized manner. Ash’s best friend is the stereotypical American jock and his death is a sigh of relief for the audience. The demons do not inspire fear and just seek to mock Ash throughout the movie. The demons are juvenile and are annoying in the same way that five-year-old children without the proper stimulation tend to be. Nothing is learnt about anyone in this movie and any character is completely replaceable and useless.

Evil Dead remains a good brain-dead movie if you have nothing else to do but for those seeking a truly horrifying experience or something resembling metal, you should turn elsewhere. The movie attempts to scare its audience with a constant ominous presence and cartoon like gore. Many bands may have had their start Sumerian mythology and Lovecraft from this film but those who could command their lyrical and musical material, expressed much great horror than this piece could ever do and this will remain a side note in both cinema and metal that provided the spark for far greater artistic expressions.

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25 thoughts on “Horror Myth Films #1: Evil Dead (1981)”

  1. Fangorn says:

    Horror myth films, I think the neo-Alien(Prometheus/Covenant) is great, although its plot is similar to ‘At the Mountains of Madness’

  2. ballsack melanoma says:

    Forget the “lore,” it matters about as much as the lore in Metallica’s H.P. Lovecraft songs (read: not at all, it’s thematic wallpaper for great songs and a great horror movie).

    The Evil Dead is unmatched at building dread. Maybe it’s because I saw it as an impressionable kid, but even when I revisit it now the atmosphere is suffocating. Eventually darkness itself becomes the antagonist–the darkness outside the cabin, the darkness in the cellar, etc. There are horror movies that let your imagination do the work, and there are horror movies that go for pure visual shock; this one stands out because it perfects both approaches, letting the two enhance each other. It “goes there” in terms of gore and effects, but doesn’t forget to build tension.

    People miss the black humor. Raimi went too far with in in the sequel (basically a splatter Three Stooges), but here it’s subtle and well done. The increasingly cartoonish, deformed demon makeup as the movie goes on? Ash’s decapitated girlfriend simulating sex on him while arterial blood sprays in his face? The whole “we’re gonna get you” nursery rhyme thing while his buddy’s life is draining out? Pure nihilistic mockery of mortality and the human form.

    Film is a visual medium, so there’s a lot more to characterization than what’s explicitly told to us, and there’s more to the art of what a film does than just unpacking a synopsis of the plot. It didn’t take Raimi long to move to hacksville but his command of mood was unimpeachable on this one.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      I second this:

      The Evil Dead is unmatched at building dread.

      1. Jerry Hauppa says:

        I wouldn’t say that. In order to encapsulate dread you have to hold back on gore and visceral reactions. Dread is existential, and while gore leads to an understanding of mortality is still relies on a cartoonish extremity to pull it off. For truly dreadful films:
        Don’t Look Now (1973)
        Funny Games (either version)
        Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1973)
        And for surprisingly close modern renditions-
        It Follows (2014)
        Get Out ((2016)

        1. Jerry Hauppa says:

          Also of note, The Wicker Man (original)
          I grew up on 80s horror and love Evil Dead, but if you want dread, 70s horror is where it’s at.

        2. D.A.R.G. says:

          Thank you for those recommendations, I will definitely check them out.

          I think Evil Dead is unmatched in very precise moments, if you “let it” do it to you, if you can “catch the wind” in that moment, and exist in that moment only. I don’t know how else to explain it. One of the early scenes, the first possession scene when one girl draws a rectangular character on a piece of paper, the moment and the strange childish drawing, are a moment of eerie dread for me.

          Apart from that, yes, the gore in itself is over the edge, although I also think there is a weird eerie feeling in that too.

          1. Jerry Hauppa says:

            It’s an effective movie for sure, and the atmosphere is top notch. Of the ones I recommended I highly suggest Don’t Look Now as an absolute must, as aside from what appears on the surface to be a left-field ending it really is a truly dreadful masterpiece. When you think of what the ending means and how it looms in the background for the movie’s entirety, another lair of hopelessness is added. It’s brilliant.
            Not a horror movie, but the most over the top nihilistically dreadful movie I’ve seen in a while is Melancholia (2011). Arthouse film warning in advance, however.

            1. Johan P says:

              The subtle yet all-engulfing sense of foreboding in Don’t Look Now remains unsurpassed.

              1. D.A.R.G. says:

                I looked this movie up, and now I remember having seen it.

                I thought it was a very good movie, bt didn’t have much of any kind of effect on me except that I thought that it was a well-made and rather pleasant movie.

                Not horrific, scary or anything of the sort. Rather “enigmatic” and “pleasant,” in a dark and yes, foreboding way.

        3. Johan P says:

          Agreed, and good examples

        4. Thewaters says:

          “Funny games” is great! Very nihilistic….

        5. D.A.R.G. says:

          To add to this list, I would recommend the French psychological horror (and a bit of gore and violence, but that is only the surface of the movie) called Martyrs. Some people around here raised their monocles at me for hinting at that as a good or excellent movie, thinking that some obscure artsy-fartsy films would be better. But the direct moments, the implied cruelty, the immediacy of the desperation, are all profound Bataillean moments of mindless states not only played by the actors, but transmitted to the audience, or at least that is the effect if there is empathy: something that does not happen with the average horror, psychological or “intelligent” (philosophical) movie. In particular I dislike “philosophical” movies.

          1. Thewaters says:

            I second the recommendation of “Martyrs”.

        6. whatever is dead says:

          I loved It Follows when I first saw it. I’ve watched it several times now and of course the initial scares don’t do anything, but it’s so beautifully shot and the music is so good I’ll just put it on in the background, like where I’m at with The Thing.

          I can only speak for the German version of Funny Games but that’s a great one too.

          One of my favorites is Possession by Andrzej Zulawski, 1981.

          1. S.C. says:

            I did not enjoy It Follows, having seen it twice. The teen angst was overwhelming and the awkwardness constantly disrupted the tension. It had potential but I had no sympathy for the characters. They were all irritating. I will agree that the soundtrack was excellent though.

            1. whatever is dead says:

              You’re right, all the characters sucked. Except for the girl reading The Idiot throughout the movie. She was kind of detached and easy going.

  3. Anndra says:

    the author is forgetting about two key elements of any horror film, both of which this film executes perfectly: atmosphere and pace.

    aside from these two massive oversights, the author seems to think that a horror film can’t be fun, camp, or kitsch and still have merit. in fact, many canonistic horror films, going back many decades, have had these qualities.

    1. ballsack melanoma says:

      And of course, today’s “legitimately scary, serious” horror is tomorrow’s camp/kitsch. I guarantee you all these serious “psychological” horror films coming out now will feel way more dated and restricted to their era than The Evil Dead in 10 years.

      Campiness and guttural horror are not antithetical to each other, at any rate. Danse macabre, you know? Fear of death and the unknown contextualized in a mischievous way just makes them more jarring.

  4. ihateeveryone says:

    Dide spent way too much time on this article and totally missed the point of the movie. Some things just ain’t that deep even if you persist on digging.

    1. Lee says:

      Agree. Deepness of lore and character development, while great elements of what make good films, wasn’t the point of this movie at all.

  5. S.C. says:

    I love this movie for reasons already stated. A couple random horror films I highly recommend that aren’t frequently mentioned:
    The Devils (1971)
    Dead Ringers (1988)
    And recently more recently
    The Voices (2014)

  6. The Nut Cutter says:

    Check out Cemetery Man from 93 or 94, it’s like a black metal Repo Man. Sardonic, nihilistic horror comedy that does everything shockingly right, and is gorgeous to look at.

  7. Anndra says:

    “But the mainstream world would fall in love with this movie not for narrative or the lore contained within the film, but for the ingenuity of the special effects and the ability for the producers to depict gore in a realistic manner with such limited funds.”

    i don’t see how this is a bad thing and, in fact, i think this parallels quite closely all the best metal bands. from Black Sabbath to Beherit, nearly all the best metal has been made by youths with no formal training, scant technical knowledge, and very little money. instead, metal has always relied on vision, passion, and intuition.

    1. saying this is a parallel to metal is pretty much saying that underground band A got the same sound as mainstream band B but for a fraction of the price. No one cares as production is just a tool amongst others

  8. whatever is dead says:

    For lots of blood, screaming and demonic possession, check out Alucarda (1977)

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