Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead is often considered to be one of the great low budget-classics of the horror film genre, alongside such masterpieces as Halloween or The Fog (both by John Carpenter). Needless to say that it is then rather difficult to live up to such a hype. Still, The Evil Dead succeeds doing so in many ways.
The story is -as expected and maybe necessary- very simple. A bunch of youths spend their holidays in a small cabin in the midst of the woods. In the cabin's creepy basement they discover a tape on which a researcher recites some mysterious formula. This formula conjures up an anonymous evil from the woods, an evil which remains faceless throughout the whole film. All that is visible to the spectator is its offspring, amongst others zombie-turned humans.
A first striking characteristic of the film is its (intentional) B-movie-look. Not seldom does the film wander very close on the border to the realm of the risible, without ever falling completely into the ridiculous element though. This act of balance is truly remarkable, and certainly due to the very effective screenplay and the canny camera handling, giving the film its numerous tense and thrilling moments. Naturally along with this B-movie-flair comes the fact that the fiilm is utterly unsophisticated. Soon the thin story and the generally rather flat characters become secondary, and the film rambles from one shock moment to the next. As already mentioned, the evil remains name- and formless, and there is no further explanation given throughout the film. Anyone waiting for a logical solution will certainly be disappointed. The film's simplicity is refreshing though, especially when compared to many recent horror films where the desperate attempts to make the film seem more plausible and thus more serious have in the end just counterproductive effects, by chasing away all thrilling moments. Accordingly to its B-movie-heritage, The Evil Dead avoids those traps and delivers thus plain horror fun. That is it, and there was nothing more initially asked for.
Still, this does not inhibit that there are some interesting observations that can be made on a level that goes beyond blunt entertainment. The aforementioned and -applauded camera work is definitely one of the film's most fervent points. Especially the zombie perspective is a clever technique to create tension and allow an intriguing -because unusual- view on the events. Another remarkable element which sets the film apart the mass of low budget horror flicks is the excellent make-up. Although much cruder, it can easily keep up -concerning effectiveness- with genre-captain The Exorcist. The splatter and gore-moments are few (and for some maybe too few). Still the ones that are actually in the film are highly admirable when it comes to artistic quality. Especially the slow-motion-effects of the finale are memorable.
On the level of the story's characters, the only one worth mentioning is the protagonist Ash (Bruce Campbell) who will also be the main character in the two official sequels. Ash is an antihero though, at least at the beginning: coward and uncharismatic. It is only as the film progresses that he gradually grows into the role into which the evil/destiny/Sam Raimi- or however you may call it- tries to put him. This evolution is interesting to watch and mostly comprehensible too (and definitely atypical for the genre).
Evaluating it from a thoroughly conventional and narrow panoply of criteria, The Evil Dead is certainly everything but a "good" film. Still, the film's true qualities lie far beyond these superficial expectations (and must be sought there) and eventually unfold a surprisingly effective horror film and 85 minutes of fun and pure entertainment.