Written and directed by: Sam Raimi
Produced by: Rip (Rob) Tapert
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďOoo, scary. What is it cursed or something?Ē
ďYes. As a matter of fact, it is."
It took me until 1997 (I was 12) to even discover that The Evil Dead series existed, and it took me until a new video store opened up in my town to see it. I donít know how it happened, but The Evil Dead was never present on video store shelves in my town, and generally our horror sections had meat on their bones. After seeing it and having it blow me right the fuck away, I started researching the film and came across a short film entitled Within the Woods, which turned out to be the film that was made to entice investors to put money into The Evil Dead. It took me about 6 years after my discovery of the series, but I eventually got my hands on a copy and I will tell you right off the hop, the video quality is not pretty. Made in 1978, shot on 8mm and transferred God knows how many times by God knows how many people to get to my DVD player, ladies and gentlemen, Within the Woods.
Much like The Evil Dead, Within the Woods begins with a shot of some supernatural force looming over a swamp and also very similarly, a group of kids are making a trip out into the woods and staying at a rickety old house. Bruce (Bruce Campbell) and Ellen (Ellen Sandweiss) decide to go out for a picnic and head out with a basket and a blanket for a nice day in the woods. Bruce knows quite a bit about the area theyíre staying in, it turns out to be part of an ancient Indian burial ground and the grounds are cursed. Not to worry, though. The two will be eating hot dogs, and not violating the graves of the dead which would actually bring on the spirits, if you believe in that stuff. Bruce digs a fire pit to cook hot dogs and uncovers an old Indian dagger. The Indians used to bury an item of the deceasedís in the grave with them so they can use it in their next life. Uh-oh.
Iím just going to come right out and say it, Within the Woods kicks fucking ass. The video quality of the film is horrendous and itís hard to make some things out, but itís essentially a shorter, less comedic and more terrifying version of The Evil Dead with a slightly different plot and familiar faces. Iíve always been a huge fan of the Indian burial ground myth in horror movies, not to mention the horror films I relate to the most and find the most effective are set in the woods, isolated from civilization where no one can hear you scream. Seeing as Within the Woods has both of these aspects, thereís really nothing to hate for this horror fan. It doesnít help that thereís about 10 minutes at the beginning of plot information before the shit hits the proverbial fan. Itís clocks in at a mere half an hour long, but this adds to the tenseness of the film as for the last 20 minutes, all hell is breaking loose and much like the The Evil Dead, once it gets going it doesnít stop.
This short was supposed to make its debut on Anchor Bayís Book of the Dead version of The Evil Dead, but was kept off of it because of issues with the music. It sounds like a minor setback, but it actually is quite major. The music of the film is what makes it so good, the sounds are so unique, varying from whistling of the wind to rumbling to a sound that is like a demented swarm of bees coming straight up from hell and through your speakers. Thereís even piano, synth and some more traditional music featured, itís downright insane how diverse and effective the music is for such a film. The jump scares are as good as in The Evil Dead and when Bruce is possessed (yes, Bruce Campbell is actually the bad guy in this one!), he has a monstrous, rumbling voice that is very scary, itís as though the pits of hell are crying out through his body. The main issue is the aforementioned video quality. Other than things in direct light, you donít really see much, but what you do see is pretty grisly, but at the same time the poor quality adds to the feel of the movie. The main draw back is some tracking issues.
Bruceís possessed form is a hideous being with black and red-ish (hard to tell, but in Bruce Campbellís book he referenced black paint being used) grime all over his walking corpse. Thereís appropriate bloody stabbings, axe attacks and Ellen even cuts off Bruceís hand. It doesnít fall off though, as it hangs on much like a coyoteís foot caught in the trap, so he gnaws off his hand gruesomely and goes back to attacking Ellen. Thereís the usual Raimi abuse of his actors as someone is always crawling, screaming or getting the shit beat out of them, but itís a lot more serious than The Evil Dead. It is generally a straightforward horror flick and is all the more effective because of this, it is a very violent film. Within the Woods is a visceral attack on the senses without delving into the realm of bad taste and is a film that holds its own in the universe of the series. Without a doubt, this is a trip to the woods you just have to be a part of, youíre just probably not going to make it back. Essential!
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