The Evil Dead is a 1981 horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi, starring the then-unknown Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, and Betsy Baker. Despite its low budget and the melodramatic, bad acting due to the actors inexperience, the film grossed over $2.4 million at the box office and launched the careers of Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert, who collaberated on films for years afterwards.It is based on the short film Within 'The Woods, which served as a 'prototype' that allowed Raimi to secure $90,000 to produce the film. The film was a hardship for the cast and crew, being filmed at an actual cabin in Morristown, Tennessee, secluded from the nearby town. Despite the hardships, the film was released to positive reviews, including a rave review from Stephen King, calling it "the most ferociously original horror film of the year", allowing it to secure an international distributer, the then-unknown New Line Cinema. The film currently holds an 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered to be one of the largest cult films.
Ash Williams (Campbell) and his four friends - girlfriend Linda, sister Cheryl, friend Scotty, and his girlfriend Shelly - go to a secluded cabin in the woods, where they plan to stay for the weekend. Scotty claims nothing is wrong with it until he and Ash decide to investigate the cellar, where they find a one-barrel shotgun with shotgun shells, a taperecorder, and the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Natureo Demento in this film), or translated Book of the Dead. They take the items upstairs, and Scotty decides to play the taperecording. However, Professor Knowby - the man who had previously had the cabin to translate the book at the cost of his and his wifes lives - had the translations of the passages recorded onto it, which awaken the evil spirits from the book. The first victim is Cheryl, who, after hearing some noise outside, is attacked and raped by the trees. Despite no one believing her, she insists Ash drive her into town, but are unable to due to the bridge being destroyed by the spirits. Later, Cheryl becomes possessed by the spirit and stabs Linda in the leg with a pencil before being locked in the cellar. Afterwards, Shelly is attacked and possessed by the spirits, attacking Scotty before he hacks her to death with an axe. After burying her, Scotty goes to find another route through the woods while Ash goes to check on Linda, where he sees the spirit spread through the wound in her foot, becoming possessed in front of his eyes. At the same time, Scotty returns with cuts and bruises all over and tells him theres another way out of the woods, but passes out. Linda attacks him twice, but is unable to bring himself to dismember her, and instead buries her. However, she bursts from her grave and attacks him again, where he lobs off her head with the shovel. Once back inside, however, Ash discovers Cheryl has escaped, who attacks him through the window, forcing him to blast her in the shoulder with the shotgun, and forces him to shut the front door. With no hope for his friends, Ash decides to makes a last stand against his former friends, going into the cellar to retrieve the last of the shotgun shells. Finally, Scotty becomes possessed and attacks him, but stops him by gouging out his eyes. Ash then sees the Necronomicon has fallen near the fireplace, and is begining to burn, causing those possessed to smoke. After almost getting killed by Cheryl and Scotty, Ash uses Linda's locket to hook onto the book and grab it, and throw it into the fireplace, thus setting the possessed free, causing them to rapidly decay away. Ash walks out just as the sun begins to rise, the nightmare finally over. Suddenly, the spirit, flying through the cabin, comes hurling towards Ash, who turns around and screams.
Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert had collaberated on several short films in college, which were mainly comedies. However, the shooting of a suspense scene in one film, It's Murder!, got Raimi interested in shooting a feature-length horror film. The trio decided to film a short film to spark interest after researching low-budget horror films at the local drive-in. Filmed on a budget of $1600, Within The Woods was created as a 'prototype' to look for financers. After gaining, and even "begging", for money, Raimi, as well as Campbell and Tapert, finally managed to gain $90,000 to produce the then titled Book of the Dead.
Raimi, with his production company Renaissance Pictures, managed to secure a budget of $350,000, and with the cast and crew - found via a local ad, as well as being made up of family and friends of Campbell and Tapert - headed for a wilderness cabin in the woods near Morristown, Tennessee. The movie was " a comedy of errors" due to the cast and crew's inexperience, which made many of the cast and crew abandon the production. Raimi used 'shemps' or 'stand-ins' to replace the actors who had left. The only actor loyal to the project from the beginning was Bruce Campbell, who went through torturous circumstances as Ash. According to the DVD commentary, he would often return home after a night of shooting in the back of a pick-up truck, as he was usually covered in fake blood made from a mixture of corn syrup, food coloring, and non-dairy coffee creamer. He also broke his ankle while filming, which Raimi and Tapert poked at repeatedly with a stick found out in the woods.
Actors Richard DeManincor (Scotty) and Theresa Tilly (Shelly) both went under different "stage names" during the shoot, since they were members of the Screen Actors Guild and wanted to avoid being penalized for participating in a non-union production. They are credited in the credits as "Hal Delrich" for Richard and "Sarah York" for Theresa. According to Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, Richard acquired his stage name by combining his short name with his roommates' names, Hal & Del.
Because of its graphic violence, the original version of the movie was banned in several countries, including Finland, Germany, Iceland and Ireland. The "tree rape" scene in the movie was also described by some as being misogynistic. In Germany, the movie's release was hindered by public authorities for almost 10 years. Original 1982 cinema and video releases of the movie had been seized, making the movie a hit on the black market video circuit with pirated copies abounding. Several high-profile horror enthusiasts publicly criticized the German ban on the movie, including author Stephen King (who gave it a rave review in the November 1982 issue of Twilight Zone). A heavily edited version was made legally available in 1992. In 2001 an uncut German DVD version was released, but the Berlin-Tiergarten Court ordered seizure of the DVD in April 2002 (Case Number 351 Gs 1749/02). In Finland, The Evil Dead was later released uncut on DVD by Future Film, and rated K-18. In the United Kingdom, the movie was one of the first to be labeled a video nasty in the mid-1980s and was finally released uncut in 2001.