Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Within the Woods - the original Evil Dead

I had high hopes that the Blu-Ray edition of The Evil Dead would include Sam Raimi's 1978 short Within the Woods a dry run for Raimi's most celebrated film. Sadly, it wasn't to be, and this wonderful 30min artifact of Evil Dead mythology still remains unseen and unavailable today, in any official channel that is...

Shot in 1978 in and around producer Robert Tapert's family home (a far more agreeable place than the rustic cabin in The Evil Dead), Within the Woods concerns two couples vacationing in the woods. One of the couples, Bruce and Ellen (played by Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss, yes, they keep their names) unwittingly choose an Indian burial ground for a picnic and unleash a force seeking revenge for their desecration of hallowed earth. After Ellen discovers the mutilated dead body of Bruce in the undergrowth, she runs back to the cabin to warn Shelly and Scotty (played by Intruder director Scott Spiegel). In the meantime, Bruce it seems is not so lifeless after all and his body is now possessed with the spirit of the evil dead...

Within the Woods is a fast paced, energetic little horror film and is surprisingly intense and gory for its meager means (shot on Super 8 to drum up much needed funds to shoot a feature length project). Tom Sullivan who engineered the amazing fx work for The Evil Dead was on board for this film and provides plenty of blood and gore here. The scene where Shelly is stabbed by Bruce in the neck is especially savage and Bruce Campbell himself spends most of the film drenched in splatter. Ellen Sandweiss is particularly excellent here, a little more robust than the character she would play in The Evil Dead, acting her socks off, tumbling through dense woods and streams, and all the while screaming the house down. Bruce Campbell is of course effortlessly cool even at this early stage in his career. The score for the film is composed of some recognizable cuts lifted from other films, and the end credits features a Tangerine Dream piece. No doubt, an official release of the film would be problematic...

Absolutely required viewing for Deadheads, Within the Woods features a number of ideas and motifs that would live on into the film's next incarnation. The striking roaming camerawork was already established here, so too the shot of the ghostly swing chair, the gag where Ellen struggles with the key to the cabin only to be grabbed by a hand, the shot of the ritual dagger in the back, the scene where the possessed Bruce bites off his hand, were all reused for The Evil Dead.

Dawn of the new generation - George Romero and a youthful Evil Dead-era Sam Raimi
Within the Woods is hugely enjoyable stuff and its a shame it could not be included on one of the countless Evil Dead editions issued on home video over the years. Sadly, the current version circulating, sourced from a mangled VHS copy borders on unwatchable - the version I have is so degraded, I could not get any usable screenshots for this post. Apparently Raimi is strongly opposed to an official release citing his film as amateurish. Whatever shortcomings Within the Woods may have, I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than his Spiderman films.


  1. I've got a very limited German Hardbox release of the Evil Dead that has Within the Woods as an extra, but it's a terrible quality VHS rip, with a helluva lot of damage shown.

  2. I've seen some pics of those German Hardboxes and they are beauties. Yeah, I'm sure all versions of this short originate from the same source. I couldn't even post a screenshot the VHS muck was so bad. It's a shame Raimi won't make this available, I thought it was very good, far more accomplished than a thousand feature lenght backwoods slashers...

  3. Between Raimi's reticence and the music rights issues (though that could easily be remedied - slap some different music on it) - will mean there's probably no chance of this ever being officially released. I had to watch it of course - that same crappy transfer - but it was wild to finally see it.

  4. Craig, I'm sure the same shit-quality bootleg was put out on a European Evil Dead DVD recently, which because of its inclusion I must assume this DVD is unlicensed. There's a pretty definitive page on the film and it's availability on the comprehensive Book of the Dead website. Worth a visit...