The central idea of the Evil Dead sees five vacationing college students (GO SPARTANS!) who rent out an isolated (and might I add incredibly shady) cabin in the middle of the Tennessee woods. There, they uncover research carried out by the cabin’s former occupants into the "Book of the Dead", aka the Naturon Demonto (It wasn't the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis until the sequels). This book is not only gruesomely bound in human flesh and written in blood; but also possesses the power to raise evil spirits that then possess the living, thus creating The Evil Dead. However, the existence of the book itself isn't what brings the demons about, it is the recitation of the passages. As the kids inspect the house and drift to the basement of the cabin, Ash and the gang find (and stupidly play) a tape recording of demonic incantations from the book, unwittingly resurrecting the slumbering demons that thirst for takeover. The obvious place to bring praise is to the performance of Bruce Campbell as the iconic Ashley J. Williams. The character of Ash has been now iconisized as the chainsaw armed, wit-talking, demon battling, blood inducing, heart-throbbing, sawed-off shotgun wielding, S-Mart working, bad ass. However in the first installment of the Evil Dead, we see Ash as sort of a wimp. Raimi allowed him to have this god awful fluff hair-do, and make some not-so-bad ass choices. Most of the film we see Ash running around from the unseen demons (aka rushing camera) and being drenched in blood that never stains his shirts. What makes Ash such a fabulous character though, is the fact he actually has emotion. Could you imagine how difficult it must have been for him to watch not only his sister, but his girlfriend, and two best friends turn into these demonic creatures? I would have just offed myself right then and there. However Ash uses not only his wits, but his passions to keep himself alive and to destroy the Evil Dead....and to be dead sexy.
The first Evil Dead film, is more of a showcase of the women than it is of Bruce Campbell. The most famous scenes from The Evil Dead all include the women. The raping trees, the pencil in the ankle, Linda's ridiculous laugh, the biting off the arm, THE CELLAR, the JOIN US, all of it, LADIES OF THE EVIL DEAD. This movie is so infamous because of their performances. The thing I love most about these ladies, is the fact that this film was put together so informally. Betsy Baker (Linda) really DID meet Sam, Rob, and Bruce in a Detroit area restaurant. Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl) had been friends with Sam, Bruce, and countless others since they were in the 10th grade. She appeared in Sam & Bruce's Super8 Films so she had previously worked with them before. Sarah York/Theresa Tilly (Shelly) was spotted at on 0ff-off-off-off broadway venue of suburban Detroit. When you really look at it, these girls were basically "nobodies" before this film.
This is also the film that introduced us to what I like to call the "Raimi" style of filming. He brought us his distinctive camera shot where the camera follows a moving object (such as an arrow or a projectile weapon) at high speeds creating a first-person point of view from the object itself. The most apparent use of this technique is the "demons" of the film. Whenever a person is about to be possessed the camera seems to chase after the character and in some instances, knocks down doors and really does chase you down. He also does a rapid dolly zoom to bring a far-off object suddenly into the center of the shot or to pull back from the main focal object to show what is happening around the perimeter. IE: a lot of the raping tree scene. He's also got a ton of montage sequences with overlapping close-up shots to establish a set of similar actions over elapsing time. IE: when you see what the kids are doing around the house it jumps around to the same time frame just in a different room of the house.
However what I find to be most magical about the film is the makeup and special effects. It seems that in this day and age, we're all way too CGI happy. Blood doesn't look real, floating people look green-screened, and makeup has lost its touch of reality in order to look extravagant. The effects and ESPECIALLY the makeup in The Evil Dead is some of the best I have ever seen. I will tell you right here and now that Cheryl Williams is by far the SCARIEST demon/monster/what have you, I have EVER seen. It doesn't matter that she's bickering about being let out of the cellar, she's extremely frightening and definitely haunted my nightmares when I was younger. I've never seen a finer use of corn syrup and latex in my entire life.
To put it simply, The Evil Dead is fabulous. It completely embodies everything a cult classic film should posess. It's creepy, it's funny, it's over the top, and yet it holds a place near and dear to our hearts.