There are lots of cult hits in the horror genre but the film that reigns supreme over all cult classics is The Evil Dead. Every real horror fan has seen the film at least twice and many can quote entire scenes. From the inception of the film to the last edit it is the kind of film that the term “cult classic” was coined for. The Evil Dead was the brainchild of Same Raimi and his friend Bruce Campbell, one of the greatest horror cult actors of all time. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell had been friends for many years when Raimi came up with the idea for The Evil Dead and enlisted Campbell’s help. Campbell helped write and produce the film as well as starring in it. His character in The Evil Dead, Ash Williams, goes on to appear in several sequels including Army of Darkness. Several other notable filmmakers were involved in the film in various roles including Joel Coen. Joel Coen is most famous for his work with his brother Ethan and the creation of films like Blood Simple, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski. Joel Coen helped Sam Raimi with the editing of The Evil Dead.
The Evil Dead was shot on a shoestring budget like other great low budget horror films. The actors who were brought into the production to star with Bruce Campbell were found by placing newspaper ads. The entire cast shot on location in a tiny cabin in the backwoods of Tennessee. There was no budget for effects or stunt doubles so the actors lived in the cold cabin, went for days without showering, and were subjected a lot of unintended injuries that went on to be used in the film. Sequences that were filmed showing the actors possessed had to be done in one take and very fast, because the heavy contact lenses used to give the impression of demonic possession were so thick and clunky that it wasn’t safe for the actors to wear them for longer than fifteen minutes at a stretch. By the end of the shooting the conditions were so rough and Raimi was so broke that the crew was burning the furniture in the cabin to stay warm.
The premise of the film is that Ash and his girlfriend, along with some friends, are spending spring break in the remote wilderness of Tennessee in a cabin. In the basement of the cabin they find a scary looking Book of the Dead featuring a lot of arcane symbols and writing. They also find a cassette that has a lot of chanting, incantations, and spells on it. When they play the cassette they summon demons who begin to possess them one by one. The possessed ones prey on the ones who are not yet possessed and try to kill them. Ash comes out as the last minute standing, after having to kill Linda, his girlfriend.
Because of the lack of funds in the budget for any special effects makeup or any fancy editing everything was done as cheaply as possible. The crew created buckets of fake blood using karo syrup and food coloring, which stuck to all the members of the cast for days. When the actors appear to be uncomfortable, dirty, and injured in the film it’s because they really were all those things. While they didn’t start out to be method actors they were driven to it by the conditions of the shoot. But it’s clear that they are all having a good time, and that camaraderie carries over into the film.
After the film was finally edited Sam Raimi had to shop the film around to get distribution. He would notoriously show it to anyone that would watch it hoping they could help secure distribution. Because it was the mid-80s and the black comedy horror film genre was just emerging the film was picked up for distribution by the company that distributed Night of the Living Dead. The film was an immediate hit with fans, although not with critics. From the beginning horror fans recognized the genius of this cult classic film. It remains the most popular cult classic horror film with fans to this day. In 2013 Raimi and Campbell remade the original film but managed to keep the campy quality of the original.