Retrospective: 40 Years Since we first Encountered ‘The Evil Dead’

By: Jesse Striewski

If ever there were a “little horror film that could,” it’s Sam Raimi’s 1981 gorefest, The Evil Dead. It took years of sweat equity and hustling with investors/distributors, but after non-stop persistence, director/writer Raimi eventually saw his vision realized.

The Evil Dead began as a passion project in the truest sense; Raimi and producer Robert Tapert recruited friends Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss to star in his 1978 short film Within the Woods, which acted as a promo for potential investors. The gimmick slowly but surely worked, and the film finally saw a worldwide release on October 15, 1981.

The plot was as straight-to-the-point as it gets; five college-aged friends (lead by Campbell in his soon-to-be iconic role as Ash Williams) travel to a remote Tennessee cabin for some down time. There they discover the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead, and quickly unleash a fury of demonic evil that consumes each and everyone of them one by one.

What ensues is an onslaught of stop-motion animation and practical effects so unseen up until that point that even horror master Stephen King himself became an early supporter of the film. Viewers are transported into a harrowing reality that never lets up until its eventual blood-soaked conclusion.

While only a modest hit at the time of its release, The Evil Dead would eventually spawn a franchise that continues until this day. Two direct sequels, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) continued the storyline of Ash with Campbell as the face of the dead before a reboot/sequel simply titled Evil Dead revived the series in 2013. Since then, Campbell has since reclaimed his rightful throne with the more comedy-driven series Ash vs. Evil Dead from 2015-18 .

But no matter where the series goes from here, nothing will ever top the rush brought on from popping a copy of the original film in the VCR in a shroud of darkness and experiencing the sheer thrill of it all for the first time. Thankfully, I’ve managed to hold on to my personal copy on VHS since high school, and can still do just that at any given time.

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