A horror dubbed ‘the number one nasty’

The Evil Dead, along with other video nasties, was then put on a list of films deemed to be “obscene”, and its VHS distributors Palace Pictures found themselves prosecuted. They successfully defended themselves, but the following year a new piece of legislation changed the game once more. The Video Recordings Act clamped down further on the distribution of “video nasties”, with the act’s author, Conservative politician Sir Graham Bright, declaring among other things that he believed research was taking place that “will show that these films not only affect young people but will affect dogs as well”.

In light of this, The Evil Dead had to be resubmitted to the BBFC for VHS classification, who refused to give it one (as it was still potentially threatened with further local prosecutions), and so it was withdrawn from sale and didn’t appear again until 1990. Even then, the BBFC still required further cuts beyond those undertaken for the previously passed cinema release. After several attempts throughout the following decade to get the film released uncut, in March 2001 the BBFC conceded that tastes had changed in the intervening years: the film was finally released uncut with an 18 certificate.

The film also ran into trouble in other countries. The original video was quickly banned in Finland after its initial home release in 1984. West Germany also took great exception to the film, and banned it not long after its theatrical release in 1984, in spite of initially passing it. When Britain released the film uncut in 2001, it took German authorities only a few months to again ban this new restoration. It wasn’t until 2017 that the film was finally released there uncut. Even then, it took criticism of Germany’s response from author Stephen King to change things.

Reflecting  on the treatment of The Evil Dead, 40 years on, it’s interesting to note just how misunderstood the film was. The film’s knowingly over-the-top tone was lost on the censors, who deliberately approached it with the sort of po-faced, obtuse seriousness often present when demanding the banning of artwork on moral grounds.

Its remarkable artistry

The Evil Dead is a conjuring trick of a film, as well as a shocker. With the help of cameraman Tim Philo and special effects artist Tom Sullivan, Raimi utilised an array of low-budget techniques to create a gut-wrenching experience. The film’s shoot was arduous, made difficult by its low-tech effects, limited budget and an isolated location in very cold weather. “It was freezing,” Raimi told IGN in a 2015 interview. “When you’re in that cold for 16 hours… I started to die. There was no food, and everything was covered in Karo syrup in that temperature.”

The violence in the film is visceral and memorable, but it is the creativity on show that is arguably its main draw. Aside from the effective jump-scares and the occasional button-pushing gore, the film is an effective post-modern enterprise that fully embraces absurdity and horror history.

Inside the cabin, fragments of dead creatures hang from the ceiling in an ode to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A sound effect of clocks chiming is the same stock sound heard in George Pal’s horror-tinged adaptation of HG Wells’s The Time Machine (1960), and the stop-motion animation of the demons’ messy demise certainly feels like a nod to the famous stop-motion death of a Morlock in Pal’s film by special effects artist Wah Chang. In the basement, a torn poster for Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) can be seen, itself a nod to Craven’s use of a poster for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) in his own film. Raimi and Craven would continue referencing each other’s work, with The Evil Dead seen playing on a television in Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

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