Ginger Nuts of Horror
My Undying Love for the Evil Dead
Someone once said that the literary world is divided into two— those who have read The Lord of the Rings, and those who have not. I would say the same about the world of cinema— there are those who have watched Evil Dead II, and those who really should. Like, right now. Immediately.
I fondly recall my own abrupt introduction to the 1983 schlock horror classic. It started as many of the boring summer days of my adolescence did— digging for porn in my buddies parent’s VHS collection (this was still a couple of years before the internet would revolutionise the lives of bored perverts everywhere.) Anyway, we found a pirate copy of Evil Dead II (all the best movies were pirate copies back then) and set it to play, hoping at least for some errant side boob.
And then, just like that, my life changed.
The movie was cheesy, sure. So unapologetically cheesy that at first, in my prickly teenage self-consciousness, I almost turned it off. But then I eased in, and realised what a pretentious jerk I was being. The movie was a riot. A full on roller coaster. Plot took a back seat as our goofy protagonist, Ash Williams (played by the now legendary horror icon Bruce Campbell) made the mistake of reading from a haunted book, kicking off a long night of fighting evil spirits, zombie girlfriends, and even his own possessed hand. Quite an opening act by anyone’s standards.
But it wasn't all about the zany monster fighting. There were deeper forces at work— whether it was in the unabashed joy of director Sam Raimi’s open experimentation with set and camera, the ham-fisted charm of the cast, the haunting sincerity of the sound track, or the host of one-liners now hard-wired into the lexicon of any goofball worth his or her salt. Evil Dead II was a master work in camp; unapologetic and deeply celebratory, right up there with Flash Gordon in terms of Movies Who Do Not Care What Your Boring Ass Thinks is Cool. (In fact, it would be no surprise that Dino De Laurentis would go on to produce the much cheesier and camper sequel to Evil Dead II, but that’s a whole other article.)
I was a horror fan before Evil Dead II, the kind of kid who’d stare in wonder at the bad art on the fairground ghost trains and heavy-metal album covers, but Sam Raimi’s seminal classic really opened my eyes to what I loved about the genre— The fantastic. The absurd. The relentless defiance of the rational.
Speaking of the rational, or lack thereof, I often wonder if the movie going audience of today would take a chance on something like Evil Dead II. Or Phantasm, or Re-Animator, or any of those strange, wonderful films from the bottom of the VHS pile. It seems to me that when we roll our eyes at the ‘unnecessary’ crosspiece on a lightsaber, or complain loudly about there being too many superheroes on the screen at once, that perhaps maybe we’ve lost some necessary filter to take in the inexplicable, and with it the wonderful. Zombies now are ‘infected’, and the Force isn’t magic, it’s some kind of genetic space weevils. There is no room in our rational hearts, perhaps, for angry ghosts and the lumbering, invincible dead, nor their chainsaw wielding slayers (what idiot uses a chainsaw after all? What a stupid impractical weapon!) Maybe as an audience we’re just too darned sophisticated to even ironically appreciate this stuff anymore. Where are we now? Post ironic? Post-post ironic? I lose track…
And yet… Evil Dead the TV series approaches, and everyone’s favourite shotgun-toting zombie fighter is about to step onto our screens again, to fight once more (and perhaps there’s some significance to this,) an evil book. So maybe that ghost-train wonder, that nightmare-logic silliness, didn’t die at all. Or maybe it did… and it came back.
I have to admit that a part of me is a little nervous about my beloved cult classic taking to the small screen for mass consumption. Evil Dead was important to me— the day I saw that movie a seed was planted in me as surely as any corrupting spirit. It made me want to make movies, draw comics, write books. It made me want to boldly traverse that green and red lit nightmare-scape and make a piece of it my own. Unfortunately, making movies was expensive, and drawing comics require you to be able to draw, so I settled for writing Shoot the Dead— my own tribute to b-movie madness, and a novel that surely would never have existed if a group of kids from Michigan hadn’t decided to pick up a camera and unknowingly change my life.
Yes, the Evil Dead was a big part of my life, and now it’s coming back. Will I still feel the same about it? Will it still feel the same about me? Can we ever truly go back? Or is the past best left buried? Hah! Those are the wrong questions, jack— what are we, film noir? We’re talking about horror, and in horror, when the ghosts of your past come to find you, first you scream and then you grab a chainsaw and have some fun!
Steve Wetherell is a horror fan, humour writer and regular face at CBS’s Man Cave Daily. His horror comedy novel Shoot the Dead is his own personal love letter to grainy, pirated VHS movies.
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