It really is a wonderful world we live in, isn’t it? Who would have thought that by 2016 we would have two movie sequels, several video games, a musical,* a remake and a television sequel (which is awesome and disgusting and just got renewed for a third season) to Sam Raimi’s masterpiece The Evil Dead? The original film saw a wide release in 1983, but its world premiere was at Detroit’s Redford Theater back on October 15, 1981. Since that makes today the film’s 35th anniversary, we invite you to join us in celebrating this beloved horror classic!
*The musical is great. You should really listen to the soundtrack if you never have. It’s hilarious.
The road to deliver The Evil Dead to audiences was a long one. Raimi made the short 32-minute film Within the Woods (which serves as a prequel to The Evil Dead) for $1,600 in order to attract potential investors for a feature-length film. Raimi knew he needed to earn at least $100,000 in order to make the movie he wanted to make. Raimi and his good friend Bruce Campbell (who also acted as the lead in Within the Woods) wound up asking family and friends for money, eventually raising enough money to shoot The Evil Dead.
Shot on location at a remote cabin in Morristown, Tennessee (the cabin burned down several years ago, but you can still visit the site today), the crew had to stay in the cabin for the duration of filming, with some even having to sleep in the same room. Needless to say, this caused tensions to rise between them. Since it was many of the crew members’ first time filming a movie, there were many hiccups throughout the filming process. For example, they all got lost in the woods on the first day of filming. Talk about life imitating art. People were even injured on set (especially the actors, whom Raimi loved to “torture” to get realistic performances out of them). By the end of filming, the crew started burning the furniture in the cabin to stay warm. Filming completed on January 23, 1980 and editing took several more weeks. Fun act: Joel Coen (of the Coen Brothers) helped edit the film. The initial 117-minute cut of the film was cut down to the 85-minute version many of us have on our Blu-Ray shelves today.
The Evil Dead had its world premiere at Detroit’s Redford Theater (because Campbell grew up watching movies there) on October 15, 1981. Raimi eventually got the film to screen at Cannes with the help of one of that festival’s founders Irvin Shapiro. Lucky for Raimi, legendary horror author Stephen King was present at the screening and raved about the film. His quote (“The most ferociously original film of the year”) was even used in the film’s marketing materials. The film was eventually purchased by British film distribution agent Stephen Woolley who gave the film an international release in the UK. Eventually more critics began to take note of the film and New Line Cinema purchased the rights to release The Evil Dead domestically. In an odd move, they released the film in theaters and on VHS simultaneously (similar to how many films hit VOD the same day as their theatrical release today).
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of controversy surrounding The Evil Dead‘s release. This is a movie where a girl gets raped by a tree, after all. It received the notorious X rating rom the MPAA (and is still banned in some countries today) but somehow still went on to gross $2.4 million ($6.3 million in 2016 dollars) in just 128 theaters. The U.S. gross was a small fraction of that total (about $600,000), with worldwide distribution helping the film to recoup its budget. While $2.4 million may not sound very impressive, it ended up making almost eight times its production budget.
One can’t discuss The Evil Dead without mentioning Bruce Campbell. While the Ashley J. Williams as we know him wouldn’t really come around until Evil Dead II, the de facto leader of a group of college kids who visit a remote cabin in the woods. Campbell must endure much more of Raimi’s torture than any other actor in the film, and it shows on screen. His performance in The Evil Dead and its sequels is so iconic that it has become his defining role.
Since its release, The Evil Dead has become one of the biggest cult horror films of all time, and has inspired a countless number of imitators. 35 years later and the film still has the power to shock and terrify audiences. Modern audiences may find the film silly because of its budget limitations, but those who were young enough to see the film early on know how terrifying it truly is (and how impressive those practical effects are given the films budget). Get some friends together and give The Evil Dead a watch to celebrate this special day!