The Evil Dead (also known as Evil Dead, The Book of the Dead, Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead: The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror) is a 1981 cult classic horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker. The film tells the story of five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods. Their vacation turns into a nightmare when they find an audiotape that is the key to unlocking evil spirits.
The film was extremely controversial for its graphic violence and gore, being initially turned down by almost all U.S. film distributors until a European company picked it up. It was finally released into theaters on October 15, 1981. Although its budget was just $375,000, the film was a moderate success at the box office, grossing a total of $2,400,000 in the U.S. upon its initial release. Despite getting mixed reviews by critics at the time, it is now widely accepted as a classic of the horror genre and has a dedicated worldwide cult following. The film also spawned two sequels entitled: The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.
When the film was submitted for a rating in 1994 the MPAA classified it with an NC-17 rating. When the distribution company Elite Entertainment released the film on DVD in 1999 they retained the NC-17 version. Anchor Bay Entertainment has since acquired the DVD rights to the film, and their subsequent releases have surrendered the rating to allow them to release the film unrated.
While searching the basement of the cabin, the students find and play a tape recording of demonic incantations from the book, unwittingly resurrecting the slumbering demons that thirst for revenge. The characters are then possessed one by one, beginning with Cheryl (Sandweiss) after she is lured into the forest by the Evil Force at night. Alone and far from the safety of the cabin, the woods come alive in a snake-like fashion and Cheryl is brutally raped by the evil force in sequences of intense, bloody violence and horrifying voice-overs. Cheryl makes it home to the cabin but nobody believes her. Her brother Ash then decides to drive her into town where she can stay the night. They discover that the only road bridge is completely destroyed and the supports are bent into the shape of a hand. Soon thereafter, Cheryl becomes a demon and stabs Linda in the ankle with a pencil. They lock her in the fruit-cellar, but afterward Shelly becomes possessed and attacks Scotty, who dismembers her with an axe. They wrap the dismembered body-parts in a blanket and bury them, after which Scotty leaves to find a trail out of the woods.
Ash goes to check on Linda, but finds her to be possessed also. Scotty returns, but has suffered massive injuries inflicted by the trees. Before losing consciousness he tells Ash there is a trail in the woods. After Linda tricks Ash by (seemingly) returning to normal, Ash drags her outside. He goes back to check on Scotty, but finds that he died from his injuries. Linda later returns and tries to stab Ash, but she is stabbed through the chest by a dagger.
Ash drags her outside to cut her up with a chainsaw, but finds that he cannot bring himself to do it, and simply buries her instead. She rises from the grave and, after a violent struggle, Ash beheads her with a shovel. He returns to find the cellar door flown open. He hears a noise from Shelly and Scott's bedroom. With the shotgun, he goes in to investigate and suspects Cheryl may be in the closet. Cheryl jumps at the window of which a demon had earlier broken through to possess Shelly and tries to take the shotgun from Ash, grabbing at it wildly. Ash shoots her in the chest, but it seems to have no effect. Ash then proceeds to barricade both the front and back doors. He runs back into the cellar to find a box of shotgun shells and experiences a strange series of events including the cellar filling with blood and hearing illusive voice-overs in his mind. Cheryl tries to attack Ash through the door, but he shoots her and then slides a bookshelf in front of the door.
Meanwhile, Scotty's dead body suddenly revives to reveal that the evil spirits have now possessed him as well, only to have his eyes gouged out by Ash after a brief struggle. Ash notices that The Book of the Dead has fallen near the fireplace and is starting to burn. Ash notices that Scotty's body is starting to burn as well, giving an allusion that disposal of the book into the fire will also destroy the demons. Before he can reach it, however, Cheryl successfully breaks in through the front door and easily knocks him to the floor. Scotty then pins Ash to the floor while Cheryl grabs a fireplace poker and repeatedly hits Ash in the back with it. Ash manages to grab the book after several attempts, using the necklace he had given to Linda earlier in the film, and throws it directly into the blazing flames just as Cheryl raises the fireplace poker to hit him again. The demons immediately stop, almost completely inanimate, and begin to rot away as dawn breaks, leaving Ash to be the only survivor. He heads outside and stands there for a while, thinking he has survived the ordeal; but the last remaining demon in the forest behind the cabin speeds through the forest, breaks its way through the cabin doors, and we see Ash turning around, screaming in terror, just as the Evil attacks him.
Actors Richard DeManincor (Scott) and Theresa Tilly (Shelly) both went under different "stage names" during the shoot, since they were members of the Screen Actors Guild and wanted to avoid being penalized for participating in a non-union production. They are credited in the credits as "Hal Delrich" for Richard and "Sarah York" for Theresa.
According to Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, Richard acquired his stage name by combining his short name with his roommates' names, Hal & Del.
Joel Coen, who later became a part of the Academy Award winning Coen Brothers filmmaking duo, served as an assistant editor on the film.
In January 2008, Dark Horse Comics began releasing a four part monthly comic book mini-series based on Evil Dead, written by Mark Verheiden, with art by John Bolton, who provided art for the Dark Horse Army of Darkness comic. The comic miniseries has several noticeable differences from the film, such as Cheryl being only a friend of Linda, and not Ash's sister.