WITHIN THE WOODS (1978) Review

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Mary Valenti, Scott Spiegel

A lot of people seem to refer to WITHIN THE WOODS as a prequel to THE EVIL DEAD or simply just THE EVIL DEAD 0, which isn't strictly accurate but it is easy to see where they're coming from. Sam Raimi's WITHIN THE WOODS was created as a prototype; a way of proving  - not only to the filmmakers themselves but also potential investors - that they had what it took to make a successful full length feature film.

The scenario portrayed in this short is basically a stripped down version of THE EVIL DEAD and fans will recognize a lot of elements which were carried over into the latter film. The swinging chair banging against the  wall, Raimi's distinctive camera work and a lot of the action sequences have all made this transition. Even the basic plot in which a small group of friends are terrorized in an isolated cabin after unleashing an evil entity was later reused, albeit with a lot of expansion.

Unfortunately WITHIN THE WOODS has never received an official release and it most likely never will, especially with Sam Raimi being against a release, citing his film is amateurish. Also, if you've read Bruce Campbell's autobiography you may remember his mentioning that this film was hauled all over the place and screened many a time for audiences and potential investors so it's safe to assume that even the original print is probably in a pretty sad state. There are plenty of bootleg dvds available online if you look in the right places and the entire film is available to watch on Youtube, but they all seem to be sourced from a beyond-terrible VHS rip. The quality of these unofficial releases seems to range from terrible to absolute crap. The video is grainy and scratched and some scenes are almost unrecognizable and the audio is not much better. It's easy to get a general feel for the overall film but a lot of details are distorted or lost in this lower-than-low quality.

What is easy to see however is the potential shown in this film. From Raimi's instantly recognizable roaming camera work to the buckets of blood and gore used - both of which would be a staple of THE EVIL DEAD movies.

Quality issues aside I'll bet that in it's original state WITHIN THE WOODS was probably quite a site to behold and it's undoubtedly an important piece of horror history. The half hour film is surprisingly well done considering the limited shooting schedule (3 days) the limited cast and low budget. It's an energetic horror film with plenty of gore and is essential viewing for any Deadites out there.

This short may not have the best acting, a deep story or the best dialogue but it was the basic blueprint for THE EVIL DEAD which is now one of the greatest horror films ever made.  It's simple, solid and has some pioneering camera work, a good fast pace and plenty of gore. If you're an EVIL DEAD fan then you need to seek this out, and I also recommend reading Bruce Campbell's autobiography which gives some pretty cool insight into the making of this film.

I don't feel I can give this a proper rating due to the fact that the shit copy I watched had such terrible quality.
So much so that a lot of the details are lost and unrecognizable. If Sam Raimi ever decides to green-light an official release maybe then I will give it a star rating.

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