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Film / The Evil Dead (1981)

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"YOU WILL DIE! Like the others before you.... one by one, we will take you!"
We're gonna get you,
We're gonna get you.
Not another peep,
Time to go to sleep.

The Evil Dead is a horror film that marks the first chapter of the Evil Dead franchise. It was written and directed by Sam Raimi, and released on October 15, 1981.

The first film's story follows five Michigan State University students (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Rich De Manincor, Betsy Baker and Theresa Tilly) who decide to spend a weekend at a very dilapidated cabin in rural Tennessee. While they goof around, they find and play a tape, where an old professor recites parts of a demonic book of the dead (the "Naturom Demonto" also known as the "Necronomicon Ex-Mortis" in the sequels), a recitation that leads to members of the group becoming possessed and attacking the others.

Filmed on a very small budget, the film was a commercial and critical hit, kickstarting Raimi and Campbell's careers, and is nowadays considered a cult movie and a landmark of horror cinema.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: In contrast to the sequels establishing him as a manly badass, Ash here is a normal young man who is not Made of Iron, a One-Man Army or Gadgeteer Genius and has to suddenly fight off his friends being demonically possessed.
  • All Just a Dream: The Comic-Book Adaptation ends with Ash waking up in the car pulling up to the cabin with only Linda to explain the discrepancies between the first two movies. Ash vs. Evil Dead renders this non-canon, though, as it firmly establishes that everyone in the first movie was present at the cabin in the official continuity.
  • Arc Words: “It's not gonna let us leave.”
  • B-Movie: Definitely among the most famous B Movies ever.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The cabin might as well be a TARDIS.
  • Blatant Lies: At one point, Shelly and Linda play a psychic game with a deck of cards. Linda keeps guessing the cards wrong; Shelly doesn't tell her that though.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Cheryl (blonde), Shelly (brunette) and Linda (redhead).
  • Bloody Horror: Once Ash goes into the basement, the house starts to bleed. It pours from the plumbing, the electrical sockets, into a lightbulb, and drips onto a projector that paints a striking red image on the wall as Ash walks by.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: After everything he goes through, and having seemingly defeated the evil, the last shot of the movie sees Ash aggressively ambushed by the same Evil Force that possessed all of the other characters. Thankfully, we know from the sequels that he lives to kick all kinds of ass, but you'd have no reason to guess that from here.
  • Bowdlerize: The British Board of Film Classification would not approve the release of the film without some of the goriest moments being edited out, and after it became Public Enemy #1 of the Video Nasties controversy anyway, they demanded further cuts in order to allow it to return. While the censored version was still incredibly gory (there wasn't really any way around that), the impact of the violence was lessened somewhat by removing all moments where one character stabs or strikes another repeatedly, and all shots of blood gushing from wounds were edited out.
  • Call-Back: When Ash presents his gift to Linda, he pretends to sleep and only opens his eyes when Linda isn't looking at him. Later, when Ash digs a grave for Linda's Deadite, said Deadite is actually Playing Possum and only opens its eyes when Ash isn't paying attention.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The rickety bridge the group drives over to get to the cabin. A couple of planks fall off it as they drive - and sure enough it's either collapsed by itself or (more likely) has been torn apart by the Evil by the time Cheryl wants to leave.
    • That cheap magnifying glass pendant Ash gifts to Linda? Ash uses it to get ahold of the Necronomicon.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Dark Horse Comics published a four-issue adaptation in 2008
  • Covers Always Lie: Much of the promotional material for the film originates from a photoshoot (see images 326-341 here) from early 1982 - several years after actual shooting wrapped - in which Bruce Campbell participated but none of the other actors did, resulting in an Ash who is visibly older with different haircut, a female lead (actress Bridget Hoffman) who is clearly not in the movie, and situations which never occur- such as Ash fending off a Deadite with a chainsaw while his co-star cowers behind him, or most famously, the woman being dragged underground by a demonic hand.
  • Creator Cameo: Hinted at by the tape: "Saman sa'rob dar ees haikar dande roza", this being derived from "Sam [Raimi] and Rob [Tapert] are hitchhikers on the road." Sure enough, if you paid attention five minutes into the film, Scott drove the Olds past a pair of idiotic-looking hitchhikers in fishing gear, both of whom turn to wave as the car speeds by.
  • Deadpan Snarker: While nowhere near the jokester he'd be in future installments, Ash still has his moments — such as dryly remarking "Truly amazing" after Linda "guesses" a card in the psychic game she and Shelly play.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Early on, Scott is the most heroic and proactive of the characters, and Cheryl is the one who most clearly fits the Final Girl archetype. Ash, meanwhile, is a next to useless Distressed Dude who gets trapped under falling bookshelves and overall looks like prime Red Shirt material. This quickly changes.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: All Ash and Scott did was find the book and a tape deck and played it. Because of that, they summoned demons from Hell to possess everyone and almost everyone dies.
  • Dramatic Curtain Toss:
    • Scottie slowly lifts every curtain in his girlfriend's room after she goes he missing. Each time, he anticipates her being there, only to find nothing.
    • In the finale, Ash starts to catch wise and aim his rifle at the curtain in the same room when he thinks one of his demon-possessed friends is hiding there. They're actually hiding right outside the window near the curtain.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The professor refers to the book of the dead as "Naturom Demonto" rather than "Necronomicon". The 2013 remake thus called it by its original name.
    • This is the most straight-laced horror film of the series aside from the remake with very little comedy to be found, if any at all. The sequels, plus the tv series would utilize wacky, Three Stooges-esque comedy to balance out the horror.
    • Ash is much more humble and down to earth in this movie, a contrast to the cocky, one-liner spewing Genius Ditz in the sequels, though he does get in a touch of his familiar sarcasm. Furthermore, he doesn't utilize his iconic weapons in this film: while Ash does rev up the chainsaw, he never properly uses it as a weapon until the later films. That said, he does use a shotgun in this film, but said shotgun is an unmodified single-barrel shotgun unlike the signature boomstick, which is a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun.
    • The Deadites themselves are much, much less Laughably Evil than later films, being played completely straight as horrific demonic beings intent on killing and possessing the human cast, as well as the fact that one of them even asks why they were woken up, as though they were unwillingly released, whereas later installments emphasize they want to be free in the mortal world to cause chaos.
    • Deadite possession is implied to be fatal to its victims, with the Deadite versions of Cheryl and Scotty disintegrating into goo when they're freed from the demonic influence. In most future Evil Dead entries it's possible (albeit very rare) for people to be freed from possession, though Evil Dead Rise would later depict Deadite possession in a manner more akin to this film.
  • Endearingly Dorky: In this movie, Ash is nerdy and constantly trips over his words, puts his foot in his mouth, and isn't much of an action hero, but Linda seems to like him for all these reasons.
  • Ending Fatigue: Invoked in this movie. The book is destroyed, the deadites are disintegrated and Ash is bloodied up, traumatized and exhausted from all the things he went through. The music even crescendos to the point where we think it's all over, but then the unseen evil finally gets to Ash, paving the way for Evil Dead 2.
  • Ethereal White Dress: Linda is possessed when she's wearing a white nightgown, creating this effect.
  • Eye Scream: Ash saves himself from being strangled by driving both his thumbs into deadite Scott's eyesockets, messily rupturing both eyeballs.
  • Fake Shemp: As the other four actors had left by the time the film was only half-done, the rest had to be shot using Bruce Campbell and stand-ins. Sam Raimi coined the term "fake Shemp" while making this movie, though the trope itself is obviously much older.
  • Final Girl: Subverted. Cheryl looks like she'll be something of a Final Girl as she's the one who senses something off about the house and warns the others not to do anything. She's also the only one not in a relationship. But then she's the first one possessed by the demons, and it's her brother Ash who's the survivor. If you want to get technical though, Cheryl is the final demon to die.
  • Fly-at-the-Camera Ending: Inverted. The camera flies at Bruce Campbell at the end.
  • Foreshadowing: While sketching a picture of the clock, Cheryl is forced to do a drawing that resembles the book found in the cellar.
  • The Generic Guy: Shelly has very little characterization outside being Scott's girlfriend and filling the screaming woman role once Cheryl is possessed.
  • Gorn:
    • The very graphic shot of Cheryl stabbing Linda in the ankle with a pencil.
    • Blood splashing from the stumps of Shelly's limbs as Scott chops her up.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Shots from a shotgun do little more than bother the demons, forcing characters to rely on axes and blades that can dismember the demons until they can't fight back.
  • Happy Ending: Subverted. All appears to be well for Ash at the end, until he's suddenly attacked by an evil presence. See Ending Fatigueinvoked above.
  • Hope Spot: There is a moment where Linda seems free from the possession and Cheryl too, asking Ash to open the cellar to let her out. But they soon get possessed again - leaving it unknown if they actually were free or the deadites were just trolling Ash.
  • The Hyena: Deadite Linda constantly laughs, to everyone else's annoyance.
  • Ironic Echo: Ash flirtatiously peeks at Linda while pretending to be asleep, shutting his eyes when she looks back at him. After she's possessed and apparently killed, her "corpse" does the same thing to him.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Although Ash and his friends don't realize it at first.
  • Metafictional Title: Evil Dead was originally named Book of the Dead after the book of the same name, which appears in the movie. The name was changed because the executives didn't want people to think it was a movie about a book.
  • Monochromatic Eyes: The deadites all have purely white eyes.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the shock ending, we're treated to some upbeat credits music.
  • Neck Lift: The possessed Scott lifts Ash by the throat and the latter is only able to escape by gouging out Scott's eyes.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The "living dead" here are possessed by evil spirits, and aren't out to eat brains as much as they are to wreak havoc.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The film makes extensive use of the classic version with a dash of the third version, especially during the climax. An incredibly paranoid Ash is all alone, slowly wondering around the cabin with nothing but a single shot shotgun to defend himself. It becomes difficult to tell what's real anymore as Ash is assaulted by bizarre noises and visions.
  • Possession Levitation: Sheryl gets possessed by a Kandarian demon and floats as she threatens everyone in the cabin.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: We have the slightly useless Ash who gives his girlfriend a thoughtful gift contrasted with the alpha male Scotty.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sole Survivor: Ash Williams, although his fate is left ambiguous since the first film ends with a Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Twice; jazz music from a possessed record player when Ash is in the cellar where blood starts leaking from everything. Cheerful big band music also plays over the end credits, and then begins to slow down.
  • Surreal Horror: As if having demons possess your friends wasn't freaky enough, reality slowly begins to disintegrate as the film goes on, from the trees attacking and raping Cheryl to Ash sticking his hand inside a mirror as if he was dipping his hand inside a pool of water.
  • Take That!: A fun, non-malicious example. When Ash and Scotty are in the cellar discovering the Naturom Demonto, there’s a torn up poster of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977), as if to suggest that this movie is much scarier than that one. Also doubles as a Shout-Out as Wes Craven did a similar thing in Hills Have Eyes with a ripped up Jaws poster. Craven would later fire back in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), when characters watch Evil Dead to stave off falling asleep.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Naturom Demonto, the Book of the Dead.
  • Unexpectedly Real Magic: The main characters accidentally summon the evil dead by jokingly reading out from The Book of the Dead.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The first scene of the movie shows the unseen force flying over a lake, swerving past a run down car, and into the woods.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Ash escapes from Deadite-Linda, she disappears from the movie, not even being shown decomposing along with Cheryl and Scotty after the book is destroyed. While her head was chopped off, we know by that point that it's not enough to stop a Deadite. Evil Dead 2 confirms that she's still undead and kickin'.
  • When Trees Attack: One of the movie's most infamous scenes is of Cheryl getting raped by trees.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Scott has no problem kicking Cheryl and knocking her into the cellar once she starts attacking everyone.
    • Ash also hits the possessed Linda to try and make her stop laughing.


Video Example(s):


Deadite Cheryl

The first to get possessed by the Evil is Cheryl Williams.

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Example of:

Main / DemonicPossession

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