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Censoring The Evil Dead
I watched ‘The Evil Dead’ only the other night, not on VHS, not on Blu-Ray or even DVD, but on T.V. It wasn’t edited, it was in tact – everything. That’s what makes the story of the movie that more interesting to me. All that fuss over this film and now practically anyone can view it. Not only is ‘The Evil Dead’ one of the most famous horror movies ever made, it is also one of the most notorious. It made the infamous ‘video nasties list’ and due to censorship laws in the U.K was originally banned. (Though like most of the banned films, it is actually pale in comparison to recent horror movies.)
The film tells the story of five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods. Their vacation becomes gruesome when they find an audiotape that releases evil spirits which start to possess them.
‘Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead’ was released back in 1981 after an arduous three year pre/post-production and shooting schedule. Sam Raimi (now, obviously a hugely popular director with movies such as the ‘Spider-man’ trilogy and ‘Drag Me To Hell’ under his belt ), Bruce Campbell and producer Robert Tapert never saw their horror movie doing anything except the rounds on the drive-in or grindhouse circuit, but when prolific horror writer Stephen King gave them one of the best endorsements that money-couldn’t-buy (‘...the most ferociously original horror movie of the year’ ), it rocketed to international infamy. His quote even made the movie poster. Of course, they never expected the treatment it got in the U.K either.
In 1983, ‘The Evil Dead’ was submitted to the U.K censorship board, the BBFC, for classification. According to Tom Dewe Matthew’s book ‘Censored’, it was close to being passed uncut, however several members of the viewing board objected in strong terms to the comic violence and cartoon gore.
Britain’s Mrs Clean, Mary Whitehouse, a pseudo-religious, anti-horror activist moron decided that ‘The Evil Dead’ was the most despicable thing ever put to film. She used the movie as the dubious flagship in her ‘video nasties’ campaign. ‘The Evil Dead’ was dragged through various courts and at one point had a massive 40 different litigation cases against it. These were eventually dropped (as the movie had actually been approved), but the point was made and when the Video Recordings Act of 1984 came into power, ‘The Evil Dead’ was removed from distribution. The film was extremely controversial for its graphic terror, violence, and gore, being initially turned down by almost all U.S. film distributors until a European company finally bought it in the Cannes Film Festival marketplace.
The BBFC called for the movie to be cut with the intention of toning down the level of violence. This involved trims to scenes such as the pencil-in-the-ankle sequence. A further issue was the rape of Ellen Sandweiss’ character, Cheryl, by a possessed tree. The movie was ‘cleaned’ up a lot, and the final branch jab completely removed from Cheryl’s scene. The final tally was about 60 seconds of cuts and an 18(X) rating was given. From this moment on, the movie was legally allowed to be shown in U.K theatres.
At the beginning of the 1990s, ‘The Evil Dead’ resurfaced, after owner’s rights and censorship issues were resolved and it was then re-released on VHS, still in its censored state however. It wasn’t until 2001 that viewers in the U.K were able to watch ‘The Evil Dead’ in its entirety, when it was re-released for the first of many times on DVD.
Fans are spoilt for choice today as there are many different DVDs available. Both Region 1 and Region 2 discs should be uncut (provided it is released by either Anchor Bay or Elite) and your decision will come down to which extras you prefer. My personal favourite is ‘The Book of the Dead’ edition with the Tom Sullivan designed latex casing resembling the book from the film. The commentaries are said to both be superb.
Although the sequel , ‘The Evil Dead 2’,was essentially a higher budgeted re-working of the original, its late 80s release never attracted anywhere near as much attention as its predecessor. Cut by a barely-worthwhile four seconds, it too was released uncut in 2001. Same goes for the third movie ‘Army of Darkness.’ This just goes to prove that no press is bad press, and bad press with a horror movie is always good press when it comes to the term ‘banned.’
So, after twenty years of pointless vindication, censorship and notoriety, ‘The Evil Dead’ can be enjoyed in the way its director, Raimi, intended. “Groovy!”
For any fans of the movie, its star Bruce Campbell (Ash) or low budget film-making in general, a strong recommendation is to purchase Campbell’s excellent autobiography ‘If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor’, as it carries some fascinating information on the making of the movie from the main star himself.
Work on a script for another film has started.
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