I always had mixed feelings about this movie. Maybe it’s because I watched this entire trilogy backwards the first time. I first encountered Army of Darkness, which immediately became one of my favorite movies. After that I watched Evil Dead II, simply because it was the only one that was available in my country, and I liked that one a lot too.
See, Switzerland doesn’t have a ratings board and we don’t really get individual releases specifically for Switzerland. They get localized for Germany and Austria and since a lot of businesses where you can buy movies from are German businesses, these Swiss subsidiaries also usually abide by the rules of their parent companies with regards to what stuff they carry. And since Germany has really harsh laws dealing with movies, especially very strict child and youth protection that make the MPAA ratings look like child’s play, a lot of movies are either only available in a censored format or banned altogether.
Now there are two different ways of banning movies. One is that it’s put on the index, which means that it can’t be displayed openly and you cannot advertise it. You as a customer have the ability to explicitly ask for it in shops and if they have it on stock and are willing to sell it to you, they can do that. For obvious reasons almost nobody does that because the chance of someone coming up to you and asking if you have movies available that are on the German index is far too low for them to even consider carrying stock, which means that effectively they’re banned, but not illegal. So you can simply import them from Austria, which doesn’t have these draconian laws and you’re generally able to obtain them in Germany and Switzerland.
The second way a film may be banned is that it’s nationally confiscated. This means that it’s explicitly illegal to even own the film. I as a Swiss person am not subject to this law but it makes it considerably harder to obtain the movie since I’m required to import it form Austria, whereas sometimes I get lucky in the shops owned by Germans and find an uncut movie that is on the German index. And guess what, The Evil Dead is on the list of nationally confiscated movies. Along with Friday the 13th Part 3 and The Final Chapter, Halloween II (the original), I Spit On Your Grave (original and remake alike), Maniac (original), Mother’s Day, the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the original Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and a few others.
Never mind that there are tons of movies that feature more gruesome content than these movies, that seem comparatively tame by modern standards. Heck even the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was on that list despite the fact that there’s almost no gore in that movie and only a few depictions of actual violence. They took it off that list in 2011 and you could buy that movie in a variety of cool special editions which chronicle the tumultuous back-and-forth in courts almost immediately.
Long story short: The Evil Dead is not a movie you can casually buy around here, which is why I saw it last. And that meant that I was somewhat surprised by the serious tone, since obviously the other movies are a bit more on the comedic side and as a result I was kind of disappointed by it. But after having seen it again today, I have to revise my conclusion a fair bit. It’s not really a masterpiece and looked at today it’s filled with clichés that I’m not sure were new when the film was released, but keeping in mind the time when it was made helps mitigate these concerns.
As it stands, it’s a decent little cabin in the woods film that manages to keep the action tight by never really straying far from the cabin itself and confining everything to the main room of said cabin. But it also takes on quite a surreal quality since in spite of the fact that people are obviously possessed and violent, time and again people just stand around and do absolutely nothing. I can understand it the first time, because of shock, but come on, every single time this stuff happens they’re completely immobile and every single time the demons manage to trick the humans into coming closer in order to hurt them.
There are two things that elevate this movie. The first is just the sheer amount of competence put into it. There’s an amazing amount of creative camera work in here as well as great use of lighting, shadows and blood, of all things. The second thing that clearly elevates this film is the sequels. The Evil Dead as a standalone film is not great and in my eyes does not deserve the cult that surrounds this series. No, that’s mainly due to Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, which retroactively elevated The Evil Dead.
The funny thing about this is that while the sequels imitate the original quite a fair bit with often used segments (planting of the cross on a grave accompanied by lightning and thunder, mid-air decapitations, the moon getting obscured by fog, heavy use of fog and smoke machines in general, first-person chase scenes, etc.) the one thing that they did change was that they made Ash a badass. Because in the original, he’s a whiny little pussy whose only role in the plot is to clench his asshole as tightly as possible without doing much of anything.
But again, overall it’s a decent little movie. Nothing really ground-breaking but also not as bad as I initially thought.