Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Evil Dead: part 1 of 4: The first movie

This is a new 4-part series of posts about my second-favorite film franchise of all time, Evil Dead. They won't be posted consecutively, but rather over a period of a few weeks.

In all genres of film there is always one series of movies that stand out as the face of said genre. Science fiction has Star Wars. Fantasy has Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter (depending on your age). Action movies have Indiana Jones. But in the small, fantastic genre of "zomcom" movies (a term meaning "zombie comedy") there is only one definitive trilogy:Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series. Like I said above, this trilogy of movies changed the way people looked at zombie films, essentially creating a new genre.
But I'm here to talk about the first movie and the first movie only. In 1980, a fresh-faced 22 year-old actor named Bruce Campbell started shooting a movie with his friend Sam Raimi and Sam's brother Ted.

Premise (click here for the IMDb page)
The film centers around five University of Michigan students that are going to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. As they settle into the abandoned cabin, they start to find things from its previous owner, including an old leather-bound book and tape recorder. Unwisely, the leader of the group, Ashley "Ash" Williams (played by Campbell), decides to play the tape that was left in the recorder, and it begins reciting passages from said book.
The book, covered in human skin, turns out to be the book of the dead; or the only way to bring bodies back to life. After the tape recites some of the verses in the book, an evil spirit in the woods outside starts stirring. Soon, members of their troupe are posessed, maimed, or otherwise hurt. I (obviously) won't spoil it for those of you that haven't seen the movie, but shit goes down, and it has one of the most brutal ending scenes ever.

The Raimi brothers and Campbell put together a short film called Within the Woods to show to potential production agencies. It was shot on 8 MM film and shown to a few, and one picked it up. They were given a few months to record their film, along with a bunch of no-name actors and $120,000. After a year and a half of shooting in the woods of Tennessee, spending $375,000, and replacing every actor on set (besides Campbell, of course), they released their movie. Given an NC-17 rating and banned in many countries, I'm sure they had no idea that the cheap, corny film that they made for fun would soon become a world-famous cult classic.

Fun facts (some found on Wikipedia, some on IMDb, some on Neatorama)
The cabin used in the film was actually an abandoned cabin in the woods, and was burned down shortly after filming. Sam Raimi claims that he did it, whilst Bruce Campbell hasn't said a word. There is a box buried in the vicinity of the burned-down cabin, and is said to contain props and notes from the cast. No one in the production has revealed the former location of the cabin, but Raimi claims fans keep stealing bricks from the old chimney.
-During some of the "possession" scenes, creamed corn dyed green was zombie guts; corn syrup, coffee creamer, and food coloring was blood; 2% milk was "zombie barf," and Alpo dog food was meat and other forms of viscera.
-The car in the movie is Sam Raimi's own, a green 1973 Oldsmobile Delta. He has since incorporated it into every movie he's made.
-The movie is banned to be shown theatrically in Germany, and 16 minutes were cut from it when it was originally released. It was finally released uncut on DVD in 2001, 21 years after it was originally released. It is also one of the first movies to be rated "video nasty" in the UK, and is still banned in over ten countries.
-Since the movie took so long to finish, every actor besides Campbell was bored with the project by the time it was released. They had to hire a bunch of people as stand-in actors for scenes when Ash would be talking to someone whose head or body was still in the shot.
-Stephen King lists Evil Dead as one of his favorite movies of all time, and was a frontrunner in the fight against censoring it in other countries.
-The movie was originally titled The Book of the Dead, but the producer didn't want people to think the movie had any sort of literary value.
-When the tape is being played, "Sam and Rob, Das ist Hikers Dan dee Roadsa" is said. It actually means "Sam and Rob are the hikers on the road" in Latin, referring to the opening scene in which Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert are hitchhiking on the road the kids are driving on.

Expect part 2 of these posts (about the sequel) to be posted in a week or two. And don't forget to give me feedback using the check boxes below.


Alex F said...

Did you know that there is a musical based on this? It's pretty amazing! I have some of the songs, if you're interested in listening.

T. Walters said...

Yeah, that's what part 4 is going to be about. All of the spin-offs and the future of the franchise.