The Evil Dead is a 1981 American supernatural horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi, produced by Robert Tapert and executive produced by Raimi, Tapert, and Bruce Campbell, who also starred alongside Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManicor, Betsy Baker and Theresa Tilly. The film focuses on five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in a remote wooded area. After they find an audio tape that, when played, releases a legion of demons and spirits, four members of the group suffer from demonic possession, forcing the fifth member, Ash Williams (Campbell), to survive an onslaught of increasingly gory mayhem.
Raimi, Tapert, Campbell and their friends produced the short film Within the Woods as a proof of concept to build the interest of potential investors, which secured US$90,000 to begin work on The Evil Dead. Principal photography took place on location in a remote cabin located in Morristown, Tennessee, in a difficult filming process that proved extremely uncomfortable for the cast and crew; the film's extensive prosthetic makeup effects and stop-motion animations were created by artist Tom Sullivan. The completed film attracted the interest of producer Irvin Shapiro, who helped screen the film at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. Horror author Stephen King gave a rave review of the film, which resulted in New Line Cinema acquiring its distribution rights.
The Evil Dead grossed $2.4 million in the US and between $2.7 and $29.4 million worldwide. Both early and later critical reception were universally positive; in the years since its release, the film has developed a reputation as one of the most significant cult films, cited among the greatest horror films of all time and one of the most successful independent films. It launched the careers of Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell, who have continued to collaborate on several films together, such as Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.
The Evil Dead spawned a media franchise, beginning with two direct sequels written and directed by Raimi, Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), a fourth film, Evil Dead (2013), which serves as a soft reboot and continuation, and a follow-up TV series, Ash vs Evil Dead, which aired from 2015 to 2018; the franchise also includes video games and comic books. The character of Ash Williams is also considered to be a cultural icon.
Five Michigan State University students – Ash Williams, his girlfriend Linda, his sister Cheryl, their friend Scott and Scott's girlfriend Shelly – vacation at an isolated cabin in rural Tennessee. Approaching the cabin, the group notices the porch swing move on its own but suddenly stop as Scott grabs the doorknob. While Cheryl draws a picture of a clock, the clock stops, and she hears a faint, demonic voice tell her to "join us". Her hand becomes possessed, turns pale and draws a picture of a book with a demonic face on its cover. Although shaken, she does not mention the incident.
When the cellar trapdoor flies open during dinner, Shelly, Linda, and Cheryl remain upstairs as Ash and Scott investigate the cellar. They find the Naturom Demonto, a Sumerian version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, along with an archaeologist's tape recorder, and they take the items upstairs. Scott plays a tape of incantations that resurrect a demonic entity. Cheryl yells for Scott to turn off the tape recorder, and a tree branch breaks one of the cabin's windows. Later that evening, an agitated Cheryl goes into the woods to investigate strange noises, where she is attacked and raped by demonically possessed trees. When she manages to escape and returns to the cabin bruised and anguished, Ash agrees to take her back into town, only to discover that the bridge to the cabin has been destroyed. Cheryl panics as she realizes that they are now trapped and the demonic entity will not let them leave. Back at the cabin, Ash listens to more of the tape, learning that the only way to kill the entity is to dismember a possessed host. As Linda and Shelly play spades, Cheryl correctly calls out the cards, succumbs to the entity, and levitates. In a raspy, demonic voice, she demands to know why they disturbed her sleep and threatens to kill everyone. She stabs Linda in the ankle with a pencil and throws Ash into a shelf. Scott knocks Cheryl into the cellar and locks her inside.
Everyone fights about what to do. Having become paranoid upon seeing Cheryl's demonic transformation, Shelly lies down in her room but is drawn to look out of her window, where a demon crashes through and attacks her, turning her into a Deadite. She attacks Scott before he manages to throw her into the fireplace and then stab her in the back with a Sumerian dagger, apparently killing her. When she reanimates, Scott dismembers her with an axe and buries the remains. Shaken by the experience, he leaves to find a way back to town. He shortly returns mortally wounded from the possessed trees, and dies while warning Ash that the trees will not let them escape alive. When Ash checks on Linda, he is horrified to find that she has become possessed. She attacks him, but he stabs her with the Sumerian dagger. Unwilling to dismember her, he buries her instead. She revives and attacks him, forcing him to decapitate her with a shovel and retreat to the cabin.
Back inside, Ash discovers that Cheryl has escaped the cellar. Cheryl manages to elude Ash for a while, culminating in her attempting to choke Ash. Ash manages to escape her grasp, and then shoots Cheryl in the jaw. As Ash is barricading the door, Scott reanimates into a Deadite. Scott attacks Ash, and inadvertently knocks the Naturom Demonto close to the fireplace. Ash gouges Scott's eyes out and pulls a tree branch from Scott's stomach, causing him to bleed out and fall to the ground. Cheryl breaks through the barricade and knocks Ash to the floor. As Scott and Cheryl continue to attack Ash on the ground, Ash manages to grab the Naturom Demonto and throws it into the fireplace. While the book burns, the Deadites freeze in place, then begin to rapidly decompose. Large appendages burst from both corpses, covering Ash in blood. Dawn breaks, and Ash stumbles outside.
As Ash walks away from the cabin, an unseen entity moves rapidly through the forest, rushes through the cabin, and attacks him from behind.