‘Evil Dead’ terrifyingly funny and nightmarish

Bruce Campbell is speaking on the Hastings College campus Saturday, so it seemed fitting to review the first film Campbell had a starring role in, “The Evil Dead.” “The Evil Dead” was directed in 1979 by Sam Raimi, now famous for the “Spider-Man” trilogy.

Campbell and Raimi grew up together and directed low-budget Super 8 mm films. “Evil Dead” was released in 1981 to strong reviews; author Stephen King called it the “most ferociously original film of the year” when he saw it at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. Years later a rabid fan base has transformed Raimi’s original vision into a cult horror/comedy classic.

Don’t sit down to watch this film with comedy in mind, though. “The Evil Dead” may not have aged well because of the cheap effects used, but it still has a serious scare factor. This component of the film is due mostly to Raimi as director and his cinematographer, Tim Philo. The labyrinthine paths that the camera races through are terrifying, but add the movie monsters and “The Evil Dead” resurrects with new horrifying life.

One of the most truly terrifying scenes is one in which all the characters are being observed by a demon of the night. This voyeuristic composition of shots creates an environment that is entirely creepy and manages to hold its own with recent horror shlock that’s being spewed out week after week.

This particular scene is one among so many more that will certainly terrify any and all. Even though the effects might not stand up to the current technology, “The Evil Dead” still manages to strike a harsh chord of fear.

The film’s effects work predates another film with which the Hastings College campus is familiar: “The Thing,” which was screened during HC activities last semester. There is no doubt in my mind that some of what Raimi does with the camera and visual effects is practiced in John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.

In addition to the “cheesy” effects work, the actors aren’t particularly good. Much of the time they are mugging for the camera and overstating their emotions. The one standout performer — and the only one you’re likely to recognize — is Bruce Campbell. Campbell plays into the campiness sometimes, but primarily is subtle when on screen.

“The Evil Dead” is a fascinating film to watch because the intent was to make a horror film, but the result is a mixture of accidental comedy and intense colorful horror. Raimi surprises constantly with what he’ll do to his melodramatic actors.

Raimi acts as puppet master and he manipulates his actor puppets. He makes them dance around in terror while monsters do a twisted waltz with their fear. Raimi successfully transforms his horror film into a masterful classic with B movie flair. This puppet master understands how to torture not only a group of 20- somethings, but also an audience by playing with the conventions of horror cinema.

I highly recommend this film to individuals wanting to introduce themselves to Campbell’s work, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself trapped in a nightmare afterward.

Patrick White

Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.

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