Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cabin Fever

My first exposure to Sam Raimi's demonic debut The Evil Dead came through an article filed by Stephen King for Twilight Zone Magazine for its November 1982 issue. Having attended the Cannes Film Festival earlier that year on behalf of his collaboration with George Romero, Creepshow, King had seen The Evil Dead at a screening and wanted to share his discovery with stateside fans. King's TZ article was an excited love letter to what he would be widely quoted as calling "the most ferociously original horror movie of the year".

I encountered this issue of TZ at the local Stop & Shop supermarket where my mother did our weekly grocery shopping and when my mother came around to retrieve me from the magazine racks en route to the checkout, I begged her to purchase the issue. As TZ didn't have the same graphic pics that kept her from approving Fangoria, it was an easy sell. Once I got it home, I kept returning to that issue over the subsequent weeks and re-reading King's article, intently studying the grainy b&w pics that accompanied it (TZ ran few color photos and except for the middle pages, it was never printed on glossy paper). At the time, The Evil Dead hadn't been purchased for distribution in the U.S. and as King himself stated in his article: "Take a look at the accompanying stills, dear reader, because most of the large American film distribution nets have already passed on Raimi's independently financed film".

Eventually Fangoria kicked in its own Evil Dead coverage, finally providing glossy color stills revealing the truly putrescent sights of dissolving Deadites, and in time its U.S. distribution was secured (although my ability to see the unrated release as a thirteen-year-old horror fan was another matter) but for awhile my only connection to The Evil Dead was through King's three page article and the handful of stills that ran with it (including the famous publicity photo seen above of a blood-soaked Ash holding a chainsaw over his head as skeletal hands clutch towards him).

When I finally did see The Evil Dead on video at a much later date, I wasn't disappointed. Everything King said on behalf of the film was true as far as I was concerned - I was cowering in my seat during the entire running time. And several years later when I saw the first trailer for Evil Dead II in front of Witchboard, I was all in for another round of nerve-shredding terror. How far would Raimi take it this time, I wondered? But when I finally saw Raimi's sequel at a midnight showing on its opening weekend, I loved it but I was also taken aback - I had NO idea going in that this was going to be funny (yes, this was back in the pre-internet days when it was so much easier to be surprised by movies). I thought Raimi had made a great movie, but on the way out of the theater that night I had some explaining to do to the friend I went with who I had promised we'd be seeing a balls-to-the-wall horror film (things went much better for Alan and I when we saw Hellraiser together later that year).

Since then, and since most newer fans of the Evil Dead series have watched the series in backwards succession on video - discovering Army of Darkness first, then going back to II and then the original, the horrific impact of that first film has been lost to time. But the current comic book adaptation of the original, by writer Mark Verheiden and artist John Bolton (and published by Dynamite Entertainment) is a corrective swing of the pendulum back towards making The Evil Dead what King called "a black rainbow of horror".

Only two issues (out of four) have been released so far with Ash and Scotty currently in the midst of keeping their possessed girlfriends at bay but I can say that from page one, this has been an impressive adaptation. While Verheiden gives later-day fans some of the smart-Ash quips they've come to expect, it isn't a campy retelling and Bolton's vivid artwork (check above for the cover to issue 1) takes me back to looking with fascination at those stills in Twilight Zone Magazine so many years ago. It serves as a welcome reminder that all you really need to scare the shit out of an audience is to send some kids into the woods, put 'em in a cabin and let the demons loose.

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