Shock-O-Rama: Within the Woods - Mania.com



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Shock-O-Rama: Within the Woods

Whose woods these are I think I know...

By Chuck Francisco     April 03, 2013
Source: Mania.com

With Evil Dead hitting theaters this Friday it's been damned near impossible go anywhere on the 'net without coming across press for it (or being startled at 2 a.m. by it's brilliant "Don't Skip it" add on YouTube). The reaction to a remake of a franchise as venerated as this one began predictably enough, with explosive and virulent fury sounding from every message board and comments section. As far I'm concerned this week might as well be a national holiday, with our whole populace coming together to agree on one thing: practical gore effects are wonderful. You may not believe me, but Evil Dead may just be the best remake since John Carpenter's The Thing. We'll hold that argument for the weekend though (tweet me with your reaction once you see it). Today, let's dissect where the series all began.

 

Within the Woods is the prototype proof of concept created by Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tappert to raise funding for The Evil Dead. Shot on Super 8 for a budget of only $1,600, this thirty-two minute trip through the psyche of a group of young film friends should feel like déjà vu to any hardcore deadite fan. Many of the famous shots and camera techniques which are now so recognizable as part of Raimi's repertoire are on display here, and a good number of the exact shots or sequences were reincarnated in either The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. The sequence which sees Annie stab Jake in the stomach with a novelty dagger in a fit of panic, then slams the door into him over and over originated here.  As did the concurrent sequence with a possessed Campbell smashing his way through wooden porch lattices to get at his prey. So did the trope of a character frantically trying to unlock the cabin door, the spirit of the woods on her heels but dejectedly backing off once she's inside the relative safety of the cabin. The list of shots and sequences which would go on to become scripture got their genesis in this ambitious short film!

 

Stitching this further into the flesh of the series are sounds effects which passionate fans have come to recognize as fondly as the Wilhelm scream. The distinct reverberated dirt bike groan of the evil spirit speeding between the trees, the hallowed echo most famous from when Cheryl recites the playing cards then transforms, even notes of scene shaking solitary piano existed first as part of Within the Woods.

 

I don't want you thinking that this is a shot for shot prototype on which the films you worship were built, but their magic DNA sauce simmered in the same pot. For all of the cataloged similarities this short lacks the famed Necronomicon ex Mortis, instead attributing the evil spirits to Native American folk lore. They're angry because Bruce (played by Campbell) disturbed their sacred ground while picnicking with his girlfriend Ellen (played by Ellen Sandweiss, who also played Cheryl in The Evil Dead and whose voice is used in the new Evil Dead). It's actually Campbell's character who is the primary Deadite, making Ellen our protagonist. Yes there's still a cabin, it still has a creepy cellar with bum stairs, and a guy named Scott dies horribly, but there's enough here demanding fans of the series seek it out (those that haven't already, mind you).

 

So, now that I've wet your whistles, knotted your shorts, and teased you bigger than Slippery When Wet era Jersey hair; where can you view this grand daddy of it all? I've linked the commonly available version below, which is the same version that's been available since file sharing still hung out with Limewire. The first thing you'll notice is that it's clearly an early VHS bootleg of a Super 8 showing (possibly from the only public showings at a Detroit theater proceeding midnight Rocky Horror Picture Shows- but unlikely since there's no accompanying audience noise). This is clearly a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy times infinity, with massive tracking issues in a number of spots. There has to be a better, crisper version out there, right?

 

No. Or more accurately: not currently available to the public. The German market release (entitled Tanz Der Teufel - literally "Dance the Devil") includes the poor quality copy available around the web. The early reason it wasn't available is because Raimi used unlicensed music from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Jaws, Sorcerer, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Deadly Mantis, and Deathwish. This is the most commonly believed rumor surrounding the last minute removal of a remastered version of Within the Woods from Anchor Bay's 2002 release of The Evil Dead (the one which came in a cuddly foam rubber book of the dead case). However that's simply not the reason. Anchor Bay had gotten around the licensing rights by replacing the score while remastering it. The truth emerged sometime later: Sam Raimi put the personal kibosh on it at the zero hour for currently unknown reasons. 

 

So for those of you who want to see Within in the Woods in all of it's original splendor, you only have two choices: find one of the two remaining Super 8 prints (an appropriate projector can be easily had on eBay) or pull off an Ocean's 11 op at the Anchor Bay offices. If you choose the latter, please do the Internet a solid by releasing it into the ether before your inevitable arrest. For the rest of you I suggest watching it in the spirit of reverent 80's horror fans who may have gotten a hold of a rare overseas bootleg (copied from a friend of a friend of a friend). And hey: as a life long fan of the series (even built an Army of Darkness themed Quake II level), I highly recommend the new Evil Dead. Don't forget to tweet me with your reactions (good or bad), I want to know what you thought of them both.
 

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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redhairs99 4/3/2013 7:39:19 AM

Chuck, I have to wholeheartedly disagree with you on your assessment of the new Evil Dead remake. The movie sucked, plain and simple. I saw a preview screening last night. I really, really wanted to like it, but just couldn't. The acting was horrendous, and not just bad in a good/funny kind of way. There was only one scene that had any kind of tension at all and nothing "jump in your seat" scary. The only cool part of the movie was the post credit shot and it was like 3 seconds long.

It had so much potential.  All the action was edited as such a frantic pace that I couldn't tell what the hell was happening.  It was almost seizure inducing.  I'm a huge fan of the orginials and this was just plain bland. 

There were only 2 moments that had be thinking "GROOVY" while I watched.  That was of course "The Classic" sitting outside the cabin and then the post-credit scene.  Aside from that, it was one of the most boring and tedious films I've ever sat through in a theater.

CyanideRush 4/3/2013 8:00:01 AM

 @Redhairs: Really? I mean it's totally cool, reactions are bound to be mixed. I didn't want to get into a full on review as Rob will have that handled later on, but a few quick responses to your points (from my perspective): I thought the only weak acting was from the Eric character. It was really weak, but I thought everyone else gave great performances, most especially Mia (Jane Levy). As far as being scary, I've been having a harder and harder time finding horror films which frighten me personally. Evil Dead really isn't going to scare horror fans/vets but it will freak the hell out of normal movie goers. I normally complain a great deal about quick "MTV" style cuts (see my Revolution review posted today), I didn't get that same jaring feeling about Evil Dead, in fact, I found the cinematography to be it's strongest point; I though it was shot beautifully. 

Anyway, I'm sorry you didn't like it but I respect the points you bring up. 

-Chuck

redhairs99 4/3/2013 8:47:42 AM

Chuck, I know some people will like it.  That's the beautiful thing about the movies.  I tried my best to curb my expectations, but I just couldn't get into it. Eric was definitely the worst of the acting troop.  The actress playing Mia was okay.

I'm not sure I'm expressing correctly what I mean by "scare." I think it's rare to find an "actual scary movie." But even some of the worst horror movies I've seen have some jump out of your sit shock reflex bits or even some cringe-worthy moments.  I just didn't feel that here.  I also didn't feel any "stand-up and cheer" moments in the movie as I really didn't give a crap about any of the characters.  As bad (in a good way) as the original performances were back in 80's, at least I liked the characters.

To avoid spoiling too much, the scene in bathroom (not the one with Mia) had probably the most tension in the movie, but then I felt was ruined by the frantic edit pace at the end of the scene.  

The creaky neck, almost robot like movements of the "deadites" in the film also bugged me a bit.

And this may be too picky, but I 'm not a fan of having an animal in a film (like a dog) just so it meets some gruesome end.  The dog served no purpose in the movie other than to have that one moment.  I know, nitpicky, but it bugged me and I would've been fine with that if the rest of the film were great.

The practical make-up effects were cool and I hope we get more of that when Sam gets into filming Evil Dead 4 (which supposedly is being written by he and his brother Ivan this summer).

 

CyanideRush 4/3/2013 9:00:13 AM

 Redhairs, I complete agree about animals in films. I can watch some helpless human sap get torn six ways from Sunday, but brutalize an animal and I'm mad. I can totally get where you're coming from, I guess I'm just seeing it differently. The bathroom scene I really dug. I'll pay particually attention to it when I see it again this weekend, to see what you mean. From speaking with Fede Alvarez and from what I've been seeing around the web, this film is a sort of sequel to The Evil Dead, and the film Raimi is making is a sequel to Army of Darkness. I don't know for sure, but I would guess they're going to run to parallel series, one as serious horror and the other as black comedy. 

I also think expectations may be playing a huge deal in this. I saw the movie over two weeks ago, before the really huge press push really started; it wasn't yet so ubiquitious. I think the huge PR push is going to backfire with horror fans who may possibly have otheriwse liked it (I don't mean you, I'm speaking generally) but will pay off like gangbusters with the normal film going public, who otherwise would never have gone to see this. 

Thanks for the great discussion, btw. -Chuck

redhairs99 4/3/2013 9:21:39 AM

I was also trying to think of it as more of a sequel than a straight up remake.  There were a number of nods to the original throughout the film.

I liked the opening scene, particularly.  

I think the acting in that first scene when everyone gets to the cabin just took me completely out of the picture. I honestly can't tell you the names of any of the characters in the film aside from Mia and Eric and probably wouldn't have recalled Eric's name if you hadn't mentioned it earlier.

I do agree with you that the PR push for something like this could backfire by raising hopes too much.  I knew next to nothing about Sinister when it came out and that movie creeped me out at the theater (that doesn't happen often).  Granted that film ended up having one or 2 scenes (and an ending that shouldn've cut off about 3-5 minutes earlier) I thought that took me out of the movie and almost ruined the creepiness of it, btu I still enjoyed the experience.  

joelr 4/3/2013 10:06:56 AM

Chuck, great piece on "Within the Woods", obviously it's timely, but deserves to be explored.

We will spar over this on our podcast, but I really disliked the new Evil Dead. Paper thin characters, removal of one of the original's best ideas, very weak direction and forced Raimi-esque cinematography. Gore hounds will be pleased, but a horror film has to be more than that to make the grade. The gore literally gets boring and unrealistic for a film that tries to be grounded. I'll save the resr for future discussions, but I went in hopeful after the buzz begain to rise, but I feel it's no better than all the recent horror films of the past decade that fall into the same old traps.

redhairs99 4/3/2013 11:01:48 AM

 joel, I agree.  Well said.

TheFuzzyDan 4/3/2013 11:16:19 AM

I met Bruce Campbell at a book signing on Halloween of '01 and he announced then that Within the Woods was going to be an extra feature on the next DVD release.  I can't tell you how many hours I wasted searching the DVD for a hidden easter egg and scouring the internet for clues on how to find it.  I do remember though at that same book signing Bruce saying that Sam had re-mastered all the Super-8 films for he and his co-horts who made them but felt they were just too raw and un-polished for public consumption.  What a shame. 

That being said, you can actually go to Josh Becker's website and order the Super-8 films he directed with Sam and Bruce on DVD.  They are probably much better quality than what you find online.  He also included the Super-8 film Stryker's War on the DVD/Blu Ray pack release of Thou Shalt Not Kill....Except.

CyanideRush 4/4/2013 10:10:47 AM

 FuzzyDan, thanks for sharing Josh Becker's site. I had no idea he had thse films up for order. I think I may just pick one up. Have you seen any of them and have one you recommend as the most fun? Bruce was very likely talking about the Anchor Bay release mentioned in my story, if it was around '01 as you said. 

-Chuck

CyanideRush 4/8/2013 7:01:59 AM

 Hey Redhairs,

I did see Evil Dead again last night, keeping in mind what we'd discussed. Spoilers for the new Evil Dead below here.

Alright so you were mostly spot on about the bathroom scene quick cuts. The majority of the scene actually doesn't use them, but when she attacks him it is totally all fast cut hurkey jerky. If I had to guess why it didn't bother me as much as say, something from Revolution or action sequences, it's probably because they were stationary- she's astride him stabbing at him with the glass, then the needle. Because they really aren't repositioning, I don't think it bothered me as much as a sword fight sequence with all characters constantly in motion, in adition to trading sword strikes. I don't at all like that it's used, but I didn't hate it here as much as I do in action film/shows. 

Where I hadn't noticed it before and hated it upon second viewing in Evil Dead ('13) is in the flooded basement  sequence in the third act. It's REALLY evident here where Mia is throwing David around the room. It's a shame too because the moment of her unnaturally gliding across the room at him freaks me the hell out, but they didn't hold on it long enough. Another second would have made it terrifying. I found it to be the most frightening moment in the film. I know where that fear comes from too- the old woman from The House on Haunted Hill. 

Anyway, I still enjoyed the new Evil Dead. It's not as good as the originals, but still an enjoyable experience for me. It's totally fine that we don't agree, that's what makes films so much fun to talk about. 

-Chuck

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