ICONS FIRSTS: THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

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A while back, the ICONS OF FRIGHT team talked about the first time each of us experienced 1984’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (HERE). To coincide with the release of the Fede Alvarez-directed remake of Sam Raimi’s classic 1981 film THE EVIL DEAD, the team decided to once again spill our guts, this time regarding our first experiences with Raimi’s masterpiece of a film. Read on!

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ROB G: EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN is my favorite movie of all time. No, believe it or not, it’s not PSYCHO, although that comes in a very close second. It’s EVIL DEAD 2. And by saying that, I’m not acknowledging or stating that Sam Raimi’s remake/sequel hybrid to his classic horror flick ‘THE EVIL DEAD‘ is the best acted, best scripted, best directed movie ever; it’s just in terms of sheer entertainment value my personal favorite. It was the first film that really made me aware of camera tricks and gags to pull off really impressive cinematic fiction and it was also my introduction into the Evil Dead franchise.

It’s weird, because whereas I have a clear cut memory of discovering EVIL DEAD 2 and later seeing ARMY OF DARKNESS in theaters (I even have some bootleg camcorder footage of 2 scenes from the-then-titled Evil Dead III at a New York Fangoria Weekend of Horrors convention), I can’t for the life of me remember when, where or how I saw the original Evil Dead. But like the other films in the franchise, I have a tremendous amount of fondness and appreciation for what Raimi, Tapert & Campbell did with the movie. And the more I learned about their 4 year struggle to finish it, the more inspiring and encouraging that core group of filmmakers were to me. Just listening to Campbell and Raimi on the commentary reminds me of the rapport I have with my own close friends, also horror enthusiasts.

But I will say this about ‘THE EVIL DEAD‘, even though I own multiple editions of it across multiple platforms (VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray), it’s really rare I’ll break one of those out to watch it at home. In fact, every year or so, someone somewhere shows it on the big screen and that’s always my preferred method of viewing. Because while I can appreciate watching the original EVIL DEAD on my own, it’s truly the communal experience of seeing it with an audience on the big screen that truly illustrates the power of the film.

I also find it funny how often people mistake the original’s straight forward horror approach for the comical splat-stick version of EVIL DEAD that followed. The original had the tagline as “the most grueling experience in horror” for a reason! Bruce’s Ash character was just a secondary, kinda cowardly buffoon; he wasn’t the smooth talking, wise-cracking braggart of ARMY OF DARKNESS. In other words, he along with the other 4 cast members were just regular teenage kids. Like us.

And when horrible things start to happen to them, you can’t help but fear for them and wonder what you’d do in that situation. Plus, candarian demons, man. Creep me out. I can’t recall any other horror movies from my formative years having these types of demons that were actually scary and maniacal in trying to drive you mad. There’s a reason so many people have tattoos of Cheryl peeking out from the basement. It’s iconic. It’s scary. It’s one of those images that’s forever burning into your memory the second you lay eyes on it. And that’s actually what excites me about the new remake. At the very least, whether you like it or not, it’s a valiant effort (from the original filmmaking trio behind the original!) to bring it back to that scary experience the first one was. And above all, if it brings a few newbie kids back to discover the original EVIL DEAD, then I consider that a major victory.

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JERRY SMITH: THE EVIL DEAD holds a place in my heart, probably almost as much as the first HALLOWEEN does (that says a lot). I was already a pretty huge horror fan by the time I finally got around to watching Raimi’s masterpiece, and it is just that: a masterpiece. What THE EVIL DEAD did was open my eyes to a completely different kind of horror film, one that I had not experienced by that point in my life. It changed things for me, in the best of ways.

It was back in 1996, when I was just 16. All that I knew of horror at that point, was the typical, yet great films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or FRIDAY THE 13TH, pretty much the general slasher films associated with the genre. I had heard of THE EVIL DEAD via different shows on TV that showcased various clips from horror films, but the clips I had seen were taken from EVIL DEAD 2, which as we all know is a much more of a comedic take on the original. So, thinking that we were going to rent a slapstick feeling film that we had seen the clips of, my close friend Matt and I asked my dad to take us to the local video store and we rented it: THE EVIL DEAD. We rushed back to my house, and after going through two you-bake pizzas and about a case of Dr Pepper, my friend and I popped in the movie. Little did I know, I wouldn’t be sleeping much that night.

THE EVIL DEAD hit me hard, like a ton of bricks. I’m talking MARTYRS hard. I didn’t know how fucking INSANE it would be. It had such an all bets off attitude to it, that I found myself scared as hell and enthralled at the same time. How did the people who had made this movie get away with such a brutal, unflinching terror-fest?? It was a question I asked myself all night, and well into the morning. It was an instant obsession for me, I rushed out the next day and rented the second film, and then ARMY OF DARKNESS, becoming a massive fan of the series. THE EVIL DEAD is a film that I get giddy about, and when anyone I know tells me that they haven’t seen it, I go out of my way to change that IMMEDIATELY.

I hold the first EVIL DEAD film with such high regard that I have it tattooed on my knuckles and wear that ink proudly. It exposed me to a whole world of video nasties that I had no idea even existed prior to that great night, full of me laying there, staring at the ceiling, terrified. THE EVIL DEAD changed my life, in the greatest of ways, and though I enjoy the second and third entries into the series, none of them left as much of a mark on me as the original.

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JUSTIN EDWARDS: Up until about 10 years ago, I had absolutely no knowledge of THE EVIL DEAD. 1981’s ultimate experience in grueling terror was a phenomenon completely unbeknownst to me. Growing up in small town Georgia will do that to you. Where football is a religion and playing outside is akin to winning the lottery, movies in general were the last thing on my mind. I’d no idea what a cult film, deadite, or Bruce Campbell was.

This all changed the night I decided to stay up till midnight on a school night.

Armed with a portable DVD player connected to my DirecTV satellite box via trusty component cables and some headphones, I hid under the covers every night well after my bed time to catch what television had to offer around 9pm and beyond. Mostly porn and Nick At Nite, but after an hour or two of stop-watch-turn channel surfing, around the midnight hour I saw a listing for a film I’d never heard of. It was on IFC. It was Rated-R. It was THE EVIL DEAD.

The following 84 minutes were those of complete terror. No exaggeration, I was stone cold & white knuckled. I’d never seen anything like this in my life. Was that a tree branch being demonically thrusted into a vagina?! I immediately wanted to run out of my room, wake my Dad up, and have him console me back to reality. But I wasn’t supposed to be awake, and I’d be grounded for sure. I had no choice but to sit in my room and try to get some sleep before the school bus pulled up to my stop. But I couldn’t, no way I was getting a wink of sleep after that. I had fell head first down the stranger side of cinema, and there was no turning back.

THE EVIL DEAD was my foray into cult cinema, the gateway drug to decades worth of celluloid classics that I didn’t even know existed. It was like discovering an all new world, and I let myself tumble down the rabbit hole head first and willing. 10 years later, I still feel the same way. Sam Raimi’s theatrical debut is one of the most seminal & important of the genre, but it’s much more to me than that. It’s personal, sentimental, and reminds me of a much more simpler time in my life. THE EVIL DEAD was my first, and you never forget your first.

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AARON PRUNER: I’ve been sitting here now for an hour staring at the computer screen trying to get myself to write about my first experience viewing EVIL DEAD and all my brain keeps going to is my first time seeing EVIL DEAD 2. More importantly, I keep thinking about Tony. So, fuck it, I’m deviating from the path…

It was 1992, and much like every introduction to a classic horror film, my EVIL DEAD 2 experience happened with my best friend. But what’s different about this experience was the fact that the film was introduced to him by his stepfather Tony. We were 15 years old and this was the first time in my memory that an adult had shown us the way with a film like this; a film that most parents would hide their child’s eyes from.

I remember Calvin telling me the night before, Tony showed him “the most fucked up film”. Then, for the next two hours, my senses were overloaded by the insanity and mass amounts of bloodshed that unfolded on the television screen in his living room. It was a bright sunny afternoon, but that didn’t matter. I was being inducted into a cool little club and it was pretty safe for me to say that no one else in my school was seeing, or could see what I was viewing!

As I write this, I’m reminded of the sheer joy and shock we continued feeling while watching Ash go through that mass amounts of hilarious slapstick torture in Sam Raimi’s classic. I’m also reminded of the respect his stepfather gave us. In his eyes, we were mature enough to view this film and I feel rather proud we were able to experience this proverbial rite of passage.

Now what you have to understand here is that Tony had a sick sense of humor. He was obsessed with pigs in any context. He would put baby doll parts in potted plants throughout the house and had a rather weird fascination with Pogo The Clown. His influence in my life was more relevant than I knew. There were a lot of “firsts” I can attribute to Tony’s influence: the first time I saw a Monty Python sketch, the first time I viewed BLADERUNNER, the first time I was freaked out by Dennis Hopper sucking air through an oxygen mask in Blue Velvet, the first time I heard The Violent Femmes, Big Black, The Dead Kennedys…

I met with Calvin this past weekend for beer and revisited this EVIL DEAD experience with him. This led us to reminisce a bit about Tony. Tony was a white kid born in South Africa to affluent parents. He somehow ended up homeless on the streets of Hollywood in his late teens, a true definition of “Gutter Punk”. He ended up getting clean and became a rather successful owner of a film restoration company and through the mid 90s until 2008, things were fantastic.

But then, the economy tanked. That and the looming threat of digital replacing 35mm had started causing ongoing headaches and lack of projects coming through his company. In 2011, after a series of very unfortunate events I’d rather not go into here, Tony died of Cancer.

I never had a father growing up, and it was only in that moment that I learned of his passing, that I realized Calvin and I being the best friends we’ve been since preschool, being two boys who never knew their real fathers, we had another huge thing in common. And that was Tony was our father, more-so for him than myself. But if ever there was a male figure in my formative years that I looked up to and that shaped my sense of humor, my tastes, and my passion for films, music and writing, it was him.

EVIL DEAD 2 was his favorite movie. R.I.P. Tony. I still miss you, ya bastard.

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NORBERTO AGUIAR: I believe the first time I experienced THE EVIL DEAD I was 8 years old. I had already been exposed to quite a few horror movies by then, all due to my free-spirited father, who spoiled me by taking me to rent multiple movies on school nights. My dad would usually rent action or kung fu flicks or anything with big-breasted women on the cover holding guns and I would always rent horror. Oh, the excitement of walking into the horror section in a video store back then was a joy.

THE EVIL DEAD was the first VHS horror movie my dad purchased for me. I remember finding it in a $5 VHS bargain bin in a Kmart around the Halloween season. That night, after my father finished his rental of the night, I took over the VCR and I experienced THE EVIL DEAD for the first time, alone in the dark, next to my snoring, slumbering father that would rarely make it through awake on my movie choices. I remember being completely petrified. The music, the insane camera angles, the outrageous gore, and the building dread never letting go. It was the one time I had wish my dad had stayed awake beside me. Even my fathers sudden, loud, spontaneous snores would make me jolt as I sat there tense and paralyzed at the horror unfolding before me on the TV screen. I didn’t sleep much that night. I felt like I had just experienced a nightmare. When I went to bed, sounds of the night and the darkness in my room played tricks with my eyes and imagination. Everything about THE EVIL DEAD is magical and genius to me in a horrific way. From the hanging bench banging against the cabin, creating an impending doom to the unsettling pupil-less, white eyed deadites that till this day still scare the shit out of me!

Watching THE EVIL DEAD was a life–changing experience for me. I became obsessed with horror! I wore the hell out of that VHS as I would watch it over & over again. I would show it to everyone who came over. It was the coolest damn thing Id ever seen. THE EVIL DEAD is a big part of the reason why I fell in love with horror movies and became such a fan today. Horror is definitely like a drug, a good horror movie is the best high ever. You keep watching more and more horror movies until you experience that high again.That rush. Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD is one of the most potent, purest, uncut, dankest horror ‘highs’ out there.  I cant wait to experience the high of its ‘Rebirth’, Fede Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD!!!

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KALYN CORRIGAN: Believe it or not, I was a late bloomer when it came to the horror genre. I always enjoyed scary movies, and watched several growing up, but mostly, I just had a few gems that I liked, such as THE LOST BOYS. It wasn’t until high school, when I began working at a local independent movie theater, that I really developed a deep love for film. I began spending countless hours catching up on the entire cinema that I had missed for so long. As a kid, I reveled in the occasional adrenaline rush. I played sports, rode roller coasters, and even (stupidly) did back flips on swing sets. After being exposed to a wider array of film, I soon realized my thrill seeking nature could be satisfied in my very own living room with a horror movie. Soon, I was buying as many scary movies as I could get my hands on, watching a different horror movie every day, and reliving the terror in my dreams every night. All of the pieces fell into place, and I knew that this was a morbid love that would last forever.

Just when I felt that I had covered nearly all of the classics, my boyfriend suggested that I watch THE EVIL DEAD. After explaining the premise, I was very intrigued, and agreed to try it out. At the time, I had heard of the movie, but didn’t know much about it, other than the fact that other genre fans praised it. Together, we drove to the only Blockbuster left standing in town, and sought for the movie.

Upon finding the film in the horror section, I took a moment to absorb the impact of the cover. A girl in a grave, with her hand reaching up into the sky, in what seemed to be an act of pure desperation and agony. I immediately became fond of the artwork (the poster now hangs over my bed), and wondered what it was that could have made that woman so afraid. My positive inclination heightened when I saw a quote from Stephen King on the DVD that read “the most ferociously original horror film of the year“. If King had recommended this movie, then it had to be worthwhile.

Within the first thirty minutes, I felt my whole body tighten up with tension. From the moment Scott walked up to the cabin, and the decrepit wooden swing pulsated against the wall, uneasiness crept into my stomach, and held me until the credits rolled.

Sam Raimi’s direction created an original piece of work that gave me a reason to fear the woods. The POV shots provided an in-depth experience, reminiscent of Halloween, which made it feel as if there really were spirits toying with the group. The image of the paranormal entity gliding over the swamps and through the woods was a way of filmmaking that I had never seen before, and one that I still adore to this day.

The “deadites” fascinated me with all of their grotesque debauchery. The idea that a spirit could take hold of you, and cause you to mutilate yourself and others, only to temporarily leave your body and trick your friends into believing that all is well was an innovative concept that brought new meaning to the term possession.

I knew as I struggled to sleep that night, that THE EVIL DEAD was already one of my favorite movies. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell created a horrific masterpiece that was not only unsettling, but also overwhelmingly inspiring. After watching and reading about the film, I learned how little the cast and crew had to work with, and it made the film all the more memorable. I’m looking forward to the new EVIL DEAD remake, but the original will always hold a sacred place in my heart, because it managed to overcome the myriad of odds and become one of the greatest movies of all time.

*What are some of your experiences with THE EVIL DEAD?? Sound off and let us know Fright Fiends!!*