Before Ash (Bruce Campbell) was...well, Ash, with his wisecracks and his boomstick, he was just some guy who had to contend with a zombified sister locked away in the basement and a zombified girlfriend who wanted to kill him- and who wouldn't stop giggling. Ash became something of a horror icon and went on to star in two sequels (as well as a series of comic books) in which he kicks deadite ass and delivers zingy one-liners, but it's the first film that works best for me. Sure, Evil Dead (1981) is chock full of black humor, but it's also chock full of scares. The terrifying poster (complete with an endorsement from Stephen King!) was enough to get me intrigued, and the spooky cabin and white zombie pupils were enough to get me hooked.
Maybe it was the low-budget grainy film stock, maybe it was the dabbling in demon resurrection, or maybe it was all the blood and guts in the film's final act (and that's a lot of blood and guts), I can't say for sure. There's something about The Evil Dead, however, that just feels wrong. It was sort of like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to a young Final Girl- I felt naughty for even watching it...which, of course, means I loved it all the more. Simply put, it scared the life outta me. I remember watching it with a friend and it scared her so badly that she refused to take the tape out of the VCR- she didn't even want to touch it.
At this time in my life, I still have a soft spot for the film, but it no longer keeps me up at night...although I still get the willies when things go to hell and Cheryl levitates and gets gross and demonlicious. I find even more enjoyment, though, in watching Evil Dead to study Sam Raimi's direction; sure, the movie was made for about $3, but he does some amazing stuff with that three bucks. Like most of the great horror directors, though (like Carpenter and Romero, say), Raimi made a bonafide horror classic without much more than his natural abilities. There's some fantastic, innovative filmmaking going on, and it's no surprise that Raimi has gone on to an extremely successful career.
What's most amazing, though, is that the film still feels fresh 25 years after its release (omigaawwwwwwd that makes me feel really really old...gah! my bursitis is acting up again!). A cast of amateurs, unknown filmmakers...sometimes, I guess, all you need is a creepy cabin and a little moxie. Sounds easy, right?