Evil Dead, The (1981)

Evil Dead, The (1981)

“But the trees, Ash — they know! Don’t you see? They’re alive!”

When a group of five college students — Ash (Bruce Campbell), his sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), his friend Scott (Hal Delrich), and Scott’s girlfriend Shelly (Sarah York) — go out to stay in a ramshackle rural cabin, they make the mistake of opening a book that conjures up evil spirits which soon possess most of the gang.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Horror Films
  • Possession
  • Zombies

Response to Peary’s Review:
It’s always a bit quaint to read Peary’s take on 1980s titles that went on to develop a cult following, given that he wouldn’t necessarily have known or guessed this back when publishing GFTFF. A case in point is his review of The Evil Dead, which has since been named one of the “1,001 movies you must see before you die” and spawned a fairly massive franchise. Peary writes that “it’s obvious that the people from Detroit who made this independently produced horror film are not without talent, particularly first-time director Sam Raimi, but it’s a shame that they wasted it in such a manner” — but then he goes on to immediately add in parentheses, “Of course, it’s hard lecturing filmmakers about using their film stock wisely and tastefully when their movies earn several million dollars profit.” He notes that The Evil Dead “starts out creepily, if conventionally” but quickly “becomes infuriatingly stupid”, given that “everyone’s getting murdered, yet people are left alone to rest, and women take solo nocturnal walks in the woods.” He writes that at this point, the “story goes out the window and [the] onetime movie [!!] turns into [a] gore fest, in which ‘possessed’ characters take turns hacking off each other’s limbs and coming back from the dead.”

I’ll admit to not really understanding the next line in Peary’s review, in which he writes: “Anyone would love to have the blood-and-spare-parts concession” (?). And I disagree with Peary that “It would be fun to trip over the overly mobile cameraman during one of his too frequent tracking shots” (meaning, I don’t think this technique is overused for the genre). Peary concludes his review by conceding that this is a “cult film for the gore generation — but only the most bloodthirsty wouldn’t trade in a few splatter effects for some substance.” While I’m no fan at all of gore-fests — and most definitely not an Evil Dead devotee — I think Peary’s missing the “bad movie” element of this film. The dialogue is at times humorously lame (“You bastards! Why are you torturing me like this? Why?!”), and I can easily imagine sitting around with a group of friends having fun at this film’s expense (“Those creepy white eyes! Those dang possessed bodies that just won’t stop reviving no matter how much they’re hacked up! No, don’t — don’t trust the temporarily-human-zombie!!!”) while simultaneously admiring 22-year-old Raimi’s clear moviemaking genius.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Consistently creative camera angles

  • Creepy special effects and make-up

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical status as a cult favorite that started Sam Raimi’s career and an enormous franchise.


  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


3 thoughts on “Evil Dead, The (1981)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A classic of the era and one that holds up very well; certainly – for me – the best of an enjoyable franchise and the only one to be genuinely unnerving, even frightening, and funny at the same time. Highly regarded and highly influential so an obvious must see for FFs and tins of fun.

  2. Having just rewatched this – and Raimi’s reimagined version with the sequel, ‘Evil Dead 2’ – I find I don’t consider it must-see.

    While I don’t agree with Peary that it “becomes infuriatingly stupid” neither do I think it has all that much by way of ‘bad movie’ appeal (~ though I would agree that, with a group of friends, it might be a different story). I do, of course, see the obvious appeal for fans of the genre – esp. those who will appreciate Raimi’s particular take on this kind of material. I just don’t see it as a film that the average ff must see. It’s not entirely successful, it has way too much ridiculous gore as it reaches its conclusion, and I don’t really think the ending works.

    Raimi would learn a lot from having made this film, though – and ‘Evil Dead 2’ is better (even though that is also not must-see). In the sequel, Raimi moved on from being so completely dependent on all things related to sound design (for effect) in order to combine that with some genuinely frightening visuals. And his humor is more pointed. (Part 2 also has a more satisfying – and mind-bending – conclusion, as it points the way to ‘Army of Darkness’.)

    Raimi would continue to grow as a filmmaker, along the way making some films that are much more accomplished.

  3. You have this listed as 1983 in your chronological list but 1981 here. It was first released in October 1981.

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