And now comes what may be my favorite part of each Halloween Horrors series…. Introducing a debuting contributor!
Chris Whissen is the first of 8 fine folks making their series debut this year. However, unlike most of the others, I have a rather long history with Mr. Whissen! Over 25 years long, to be exact, as Chris has been one of my best friends for….. well, for longer than anyone else I know. We first met back in high school, and although Chris moved away shortly after, we have remained fairly close ever since. As I frequently tell him, he was the only one still willing to tolerate my crap after graduation.
Throughout our long friendship, I’ve never considered Chris much of what one might label a “horror fan”, despite the numerous films that I’m sure I helped shovel down his (as well as a few other members of our high school circle’s) eyeholes way back when. So, imagine my surprise and delight when he threw his name into the ring for this year’s series. More importantly, imagine my laughter when we later talked about this piece.
In all seriousness, Chris provided a rather fun entry for this series! I appreciate his “not an expert’ viewpoint, not only because it’s honest, but because it also serves as a reminder that all levels of fandom are welcomed here. We all started somewhere. And as Chris is someone who has always been there for me, his thoughts are deeply appreciated! (Love ya, brother!)
The Evil Dead
By Chris Whissen
“I love The Evil Dead!”, I have proudly declared since I could confidently declare such things. There were certain things, high-school-me believed, that made you cooler among a certain crowd and I wanted to be cool with that crowd. A love for The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell were high on that list.
The truth is, I might have even watched and loved the movie back then. It fit right in with my group’s diet of Hellraiser, Night of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator, Third Cousin Twice Removed of Re-Animator, and such. I definitely convinced myself I had seen it and counted it among one of my favorite horror movies.
So, when the opportunity came to review a horror film beginning with “e,” I knew what I was going to watch. And I watched it. And… I’m not sure I’ve ever seen The Evil Dead prior to 2019. I remembered the movie as a slightly cheesy, tongue-in-cheek romp…but it’s not. I remembered an Ash delivering one liners with a cheeky grin and swagger. I remember to “Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.” All those memories are the right series, wrong movie.
The Evil Dead, as any horror fan worth way more salt than me knows, is not its sequels. It’s not winking at you and asking you for some sugar. It’s an edge of your seat – or, for me, pressed as far back away from the undead-accessible edge of the couch as you can get- type of movie. It’s something so much better than I had built in my head. Honestly, I’m happier for having seen it.
Without going into too much detail – you either know it already or should see for yourself – let’s just say the story is… kids go to cabin for a weekend getaway, as one does. Two couples and the lead’s sister. Um, okay. They find a book of the dead and read it, also as one does? Unsurprisingly, they unleash horror, do some things no one outside a horror movie would do, suffer the consequences, movie ends.
One thing to get out of the way – this movie is almost 40 years old. If this isn’t obvious the second you see a young Bruce Campbell, there is no doubt after the effects. Blood, once it flows, is plentiful and fake. The backwoods and root cellars of Tennessee are abnormally bright in the middle of the night. Hacked limbs are suddenly waxen and immediately misshapen.
None of that matters. It’s not the monsters that will leave you pressed tightly into the corner of the couch, it’s the tension. Moments into the film, you’re waiting for the big bad. The thing to go bump in the night. The scare. When it finally comes, it’s almost a relief. A brief relief as you realize there’s still more scares to come. More story to follow.
Sam Raimi, who is now probably more known for Spider Man than his dozens of other films, has a skill for building a story. In The Evil Dead this skill is applied, of course, to stretching our nerves taut and then breaking them. Little things like the Big Bad POV shots, close ups of the actors eyes, sparse dialogue, and more contribute to achieving this goal. The techniques Raimi and crew employed were, by many accounts, born out of the necessity of tight budgets and poor filming conditions. They are employed expertly though, and are essential to the overall film. They even make it easier to gloss over the acting.
The Evil Dead is definitely a classic horror film. It embraces the tropes of the genre – including a few it probably started. Yet, it’s not the B-film most non-fans and casual-fans associate with horror. It’s a master class in doing a lot with a little and realizing a vision. It’s gory and tense and pure pleasure to watch.
Shortly after (re?)watching the movie, I messaged a friend. I told him that while watching The Evil Dead, I just wanted it to end, in the best way. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the film – I was. Not because it was dragging – if anything, it flew by. Because I was tired. My chest was sore, my fingers were leaving bruises, my legs were vibrating. It was an adrenaline high that I needed to end.
Then it did, and I was wrung out, sweaty, and bouncing off the walls. I can’t remember the last time a movie has had such an effect on me. I thought I had become too jaded for that to happen, but a nearly 40-year-old film from a young director had me scared. And it was fun as hell!
Chris Whissen is not a diehard horror fan. He was scared and scarred by a little werewolf film at 5 years old and had a good friend who introduced him to some great horror classics in high school. Since then, he occasionally views horror movies. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where he designs and develops stuff for web and print while trying to raise a decent human being. He has encountered fewer zombies than you’d expect.