What's 'Groovy' About Evil Dead? From Cult Horror To Horror Comedy

By | October 28, 2020

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A couple guys go into the woods -- director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell, to be specific -- make a movie called The Evil Dead, then remake that movie years later, and in doing so create a comedy-horror masterpiece. And somehow the punchline to this strange cinematic saga is:


We'll step back. The original 1981 movie, The Evil Dead, sees five friends going to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun, but when they find the Necronomicon, a mysterious book bound in human flesh, their world is turned upside down by unspeakable horror. The Evil Dead became a cult classic; its plot was recycled for Evil Dead II (and arguably the movie that followed), again directed by Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead isn't the biggest horror franchise -- it's not Friday the 13th, Halloween, or Nightmare On Elm Street -- but it's arguably the most interesting because it switches from gruesome horror to slapstick comedy at the drop of a hat, or chainsaw.

The Evil Dead's gestation lies in the 1970s, with a friendship forged in the suburbs of Detroit. Along the way, the Raimi brothers and Bruce Campbell found help from Stephen King and the Coen Brothers before bringing Ash Williams to the masses, remaking their beloved masterpiece into something much more groovy.

Within the Woods

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Growing up in Michigan in the 1960s and '70s, Sam Raimi was obsessed with two things: filmmaking and the Three Stooges. After his father brought home a Super 8 camera, Raimi began making short films with his brothers Ted and Ivan, and his ample-jawed friend Bruce Campbell. They made several comedies together before Raimi got the idea to make a horror film as his first feature.

Raimi didn't jump into The Evil Dead headfirst. Instead, he and his brother's college roommate, Robert Tapert, went off to a farm house in Marshall, Michigan, with Bruce Campbell to film the proof-of-concept short "Within the Woods" for $1,600. Made with props picked up from a Halloween store, the film essentially tells the same story as Evil Dead, but shorter and somehow with more of a downer ending.

Within the Woods was never commercially released, but after screening prior to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show it gathered a cult following and it helped Raimi raise about $90,000 to fund a feature version of the film. Raimi told IGN in 2015:

[Within the Woods] was made to be a tool to help us raise money from potential investors. So it wasn't really a prototype, like a 'pilot' or anything like that, for Evil Dead. It was really just something that we could show investors... So it's really a tool for these kids -- Bruce Campbell, [producer] Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi, me -- to show potential investors what we were doing. Because, in Detroit, the idea is so insane to ask somebody for money to invest in a movie -- especially 30 years ago. They had no idea what we were talking about. So we needed something to show them.