I’ve bought The Evil Dead a total of four times: Twice on VHS and twice on DVD. And, just to prove how much of a consumer whore I am, I’d willingly purchase it a fifth time if Anchor Bay would just secure the god damned rights to Within the Woods.
Within the Woods (1978)
For those unaware, Within the Woods was Sam Raimi’s “pilot film” for The Evil Dead made back in ‘78. It was a thirty minute-long short film shot on Super 8 and was used to raise money for the production of The Evil Dead. It was never really meant to be seen by a wide audience and was certainly never meant to be anything more than a collection of ideas illustrating how cool a well-financed production might be. Still, Evil Dead fans are pretty hardcore, and this has become a highly sought after and requested gem among them.
So Bruce (Bruce Campbell) and his buddies, Scotty (Scott Spiegel), Shelly (Mary Valenti) and girlfriend Ellen (Ellen Sandweiss), have decided to go party down in a remote cottage built upon an ancient Indian burial ground. Nothing could possibly go wrong, that is, until Bruce digs up the grave of an Indian medicine man, marked by his unholy dagger. This trespass awakens a malevolent spirit who swiftly possesses Bruce and sends him on a bloody rampage.
In the days before DVD and the widespread popularity of the internet, bootleg tapes used to be a part of every determined horror fan’s diet. I recall a seedy independent video store that used to be well stocked in hard-to-find bootleg tapes; typically tremendously overpriced with picture and sound quality you children of the digital age couldn’t fathom in your worst nightmares. And I loved it. I got a lot of snuff flicks, cult classics, unrated cuts and foreign trash that helped build my horror pedigree. Among them was a seventy-fifth generation copy of Sam Raimi’s Within the Woods. Digging it out of my forgotten treasure chest of VHS tapes I flung into storage the moment DVD hit the big time really brought back some memories.
Like I said earlier, Within the Woods isn’t a real movie. It’s just a collection of ideas to show how cool The Evil Dead could be if investors were willing to finance it. So, as a “pilot” for The Evil Dead, Within the Woods shares numerous identical qualities. For instance, Sam Raimi deploys his “living camera”, which pans over the environment at ground-level, accompanied by a mysterious and unearthly roar. The scene in which Ellen accidentally stabs Scotty and then frantically tries to shut the door as the possessed Bruce approaches, is more or less exactly translated into Evil Dead II.
As for how Within the Woods differs from The Evil Dead, there are a few notable deviations. Firstly, Bruce Campbell’s character, a bespectacled proto-Ash, is the villain of the film while his girlfriend is the hero. At the end of the flick, Ellen ends up dismembering Bruce with an axe, rather than the other way around (granted, Ellen’s character was renamed “Linda” for The Evil Dead, but whatever). In one of the cooler moments of the movie, Bruce loses his hand, but in a very different way than how it happened in Evil Dead II. Here, Bruce chews it off and then spits it onto a Monopoly board.
I’d recommend Within the Woods to Evil Dead enthusiasts only. Almost all the ideas seen in this short film are redone and improved upon in the Evil Dead trilogy, making the events of this flick rather boring if you’ve already seen the subsequent films. I’ve never seen any higher quality versions of the film than what looks like scrambled cable porn; at times you can hardly even tell what’s going on. Basically, it’s a niche piece of Evil Dead history, not a film to really be enjoyed in a vacuum.