It was at some point during the mid 1980s that I first became aware of a film that would eventually become synonymous with horror in my estimation. My dad, a perennial fright fan and instructor on my road to the dark side, found it on the racks one day at the local mom and pop video store (remember those?) and brought it home. I wasn't allowed to watch it at the time, but I can still remember listening in my bed to my mom's screams of terror emanating from our basement living room as my parents watched it that night. Needless to say, there was no greater enticement possible. I knew right from the start that it was something I simply had to see.
My dad had a knack for picking out the best horror flicks back then, in those days of lurid VHS box covers and giant cardboard cases. He prided himself on finding this gem of a film, still rather obscure at the time. He was so blown away by it that he tried in vain whenever he could to properly convey its horrific intensity to friends and family. And I listened, trying to imagine a horror movie that could be so utterly harrowing. My experience up to that point, after all, was pretty much confined to Frankenstein and Dracula.
And so, when at last I came of age, one of the first R-rated movies I made sure to rent at the video store was Sam Raimi's classic. Well OK, I wasn't exactly of age yet, but let's just say I was old enough that the guy behind the counter at the store didn't care anymore (Hey, Video Reflections in Bensonhurst went out of business about a decade ago, I doubt anyone's going to get into trouble over this one.) I giddily and anxiously watched the movie with my very best friend, at last able to partake in the cornucopia of horror I had heard so much about.
At the time, I imagined The Evil Dead as being the most gut-wrenching, unthinkably terrifying horror movie imaginable. And I'd have to say that, at the time, my expectations turned out to be right on the nose. It was, in my teenaged opinion, exactly what the back of the box boasted--the ultimate experience in grueling horror. The gore was beyond anything I had ever seen before. Every moment seemed to be electrified with the stuff of pure, undistilled nightmares. In short, it was a teenage boy's idea of a perfect movie.
For some years thereafter, The Evil Dead became a sort of litmus test for me; I would use it to test out my friends, to see if they could get through it. It became a badge of honor for those around me to survive a viewing of the film. I would show it to my girlfriends within the first few weeks of dating, just to see if they were cool enough to handle it. And I never got tired of it.
Fast-forward all these years later, and even though I may not watch it as religiously as I used to, there is still a very special place in my horror-lovin' heart reserved for it. While I may no longer call it a "perfect movie" per se, and there are many horror films which the movie critic inside me recognizes as being far superior, nevertheless it still retains an undeniable amount of raw power which makes it a joy to watch every time I take it down from the shelf. In fact, I did so most recently with Captain Cruella, and was reminded all over again why it had captured my imagination in the first place.
The reason I chose to rewatch it for the first time in years is that I'm privileged enough to be hosting a screening of the film at Saugerties, New York's Sugartown Vintage Boutique this weekend as part of the 2nd Annual Village Invasion Zombie Crawl. Needless to say, the opportunity to introduce this movie after worshiping it for so very long is the latest in a long line of wonderful experiences which The Vault of Horror has made possible for me.
What is it about this film that reaches into the souls of so many horror fans, possessing them much like the Deadites themselves? You will find the movie included on almost anyone's list of favorites, and its influence cannot possibly be underestimated. In a word, the film is seminal, and I would even go so far as to say that it has joined that elite group of movies which literally embody the concept of horror in cinema. And despite the fact that so many of us have watched it so many times that it often teeters on the brink of being passe or played out, it is only because we can't stop going back to it.
The Evil Dead was an integral part of my horror coming-of-age, helping to define the genre for me from a young age. It has been with me ever since, a dear old friend covered in gristle and viscera. I hope to see some of you next weekend as I get to watch it once again. And if you can't make it, just take it down from that shelf one more time and watch it for yourself. I know it's got to be there somewhere...
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