This 30 minute short was the condensed
version of The Book of the Dead used as a sales tool by Sam Raimi,
Robert Tapert, and Bruce Campbell to show potential investors in order to raise
the money they needed for the feature film. Thankfully, this version was
never quite realized in feature form. While some of the basics of what
eventually became The Evil Dead were laid out in Within the Woods
it is a much more awkward and ineffective piece of work both in story and
execution. In fact, it seems to work more as a rough draft for the
sequel to Evil Dead.
It starts out much like
the first chapter in the trilogy, with the unseen evil force swooping and
flying low over leaf-covered ground -- the shaky cam being perhaps just a tad
more shaky. The evil approaches a rustic farmhouse, much larger and less
secluded than the cabin locations in later films. We are then introduced to
four characters (two couples) who we assume are vacationing there. Ellen
(Sandweiss, Cheryl in Evil Dead) packs a picnic lunch as Scotty
(Spiegel) and Shelly play Monopoly. The board game is featured almost as
predominately as any of the actors.
Ellen admires some odd
stones that have been left on the table and Bruce (looking unbelievable young,
and gawky, and nothing like the suave heartthrob we know him to be) explains
that they're arrowheads he found right outside the front door. I could hear the
phantom groans* of
potential investors past at this moment. Maybe at the time Indian curses were
not yet so clichéd, but I doubt even the grocers and the dentists they
pitched the project to didn't see this one coming. Ellen tries to coax Shelly
and Scotty into living "like Indians" and going to the picnic, but
the two are engrossed in the game and decline. I can't decide whether or not
their playing Monopoly serves some symbolic purpose. That they're also
listening to cheesy disco music suggests they're the city-dweller babes in the
woods, as it were(with Bruce and Ellen more willing to "live like
Indians"). And that never bodes well for characters in a horror movie
Cue the ominous music as
Ellen and Bruce venture into the woods. The area is nowhere near as remote as
the other Evil Dead locales. The trees are rather sparse and definitely
less evil. Bruce tells Ellen that he grew up in the area and knows a lot about
Indian legends -- boy scouts, ya know.
Want to know something interesting?
For a change you mean?
You know this place we're staying? Used to be part of an old Indian burial
ground. Very sacred and holy.
Ooh, scary. What
is it cursed or something?
As a matter of fact, it is.
Turns out you're only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate
the graves of the dead. Anyway, Bruce is there to protect them. Ellen laughed
as hard as I did at that. Bruce sends Ellen off for firewood -- as any
self-respecting boyfriend would -- then begins to prepare the ground for a fire
(I guess). As he digs, what do you think he discovers, and subsequently
violates? Just beneath the surface he finds some 'ancient' pottery, and a
dagger. When Ellen returns Bruce shares what he finds and explains the
"When the medicine man of a
tribe died, they used to bury one of his possessions with him to have in the
next life. All that's left now is TINGA! the Indian spirit of the woods who
watches over and protects the medicine man's grave for all eternity."
Boy, I wonder what chapter of the scouts Bruce
We leave Bruce and Ellen
as they drift off for a nap and return to the board game already in progress.
Scotty's irate. He's no longer wining at Monopoly -- a game he explains as
being "for fat old spastic people that don't know any better, or can't
do any damn thing!" I'd have to say that, as in Evil Dead,
Scotty is my favorite character here. And you just know he's gunna get it...
Ellen wakes up to find
Bruce gone. As darkness approaches, she wanders into the woods in search of
him. She stumbles and looks up to see Bruce's bloody face, hanging upside down
from the tree in front of her. A weird creaking sound in the woods distracts
her and she calls out for whoever it is to answer. She screams, and as the
shaky cam approaches, takes off. Ellen stumbles her way through the woods and
comes home to a locked door. Why in the world the couple would get up and lock
the back-door remains as big a mystery as any unseen evil in the woods. She
screams for Scotty and Shelly to open the door, which appears only to annoy the
couple. Having lost the game seems to have taken a lot out of Scotty as he
casually strolls in the direction of his friend's pounding, shrieking, and
desperate cries from outside. Ellen fumbles for the keys resting over the door
-- Scotty pauses by the fridge for a beer. As Ellen drops the keys the scene
builds the same as in Evil Dead, after Cheryl's foliage folly.
Naturally Scotty and
Shelly have a hard time believing her when Ellen tells them that Bruce is dead.
Scotty thinks maybe Bruce is hurt and goes out to look for him. Shelly comforts
Ellen, assuring her that a shower and clean clothes will do the trick.
"I betcha in 30 seconds
Bruce and Scott will come through that door, laughing their heads off!"
After some time has
passed and no one has yet laughed their head off, Shelly goes out to look for
the two -- just stepping outside.
She screams as Bruce -- his
skin somewhat mottled and an eyeball hanging grotesquely from its socket --
steps out of the shadows and lifts her by the neck off the ground.
"Join us," he demands just before plunging the dagger deep
into the side of her neck. Shelly spews a disgusting consistency we can assume
is blood leaving Bruce to turn his attention to Ellen. She runs and slams the
door, heading for the kitchen where she secures a sizable knife from a drawer.
The doorknob on the kitchen door jiggles and turns as she stands at the ready,
knife poised for action. The door flies open and Ellen thrusts the knife --
right into Scotty's gut. The scene that follows is exactly as the one played
out in Evil Dead II. Bruce is tearing his way across the front porch
(swing and all) and Ellen struggles to get the door closed while the injured
Scott lays in the doorway. Scott does a wonderful job of looking like he's in
pain as he gurgles on his own blood, while trying to tell Ellen to go to the
cellar for the gun.
it to the cellar and rummages through some books on a desk, finding the handgun
underneath. Holding it out in front of her, she returns upstairs. Scotty now
lies face down, the sharp and pointy end protruding through his back. Bruce
attacks, and Ellen takes a knife, and cuts through his hand... well, most of
it. He chews off the last bit of skin keeping it attached (something Bruce
Campbell had to improvise, when Ellen failed to sever the hand entirely), and
tosses his hand -- still clutching the dagger -- aside onto the Monopoly board.
Forever after, you can see Bruce's real arm poking out from where he's hiding
it under his jersey T-shirt. It's glaringly, laughably, cringe-inducingly, bad.
Ellen and Bruce
struggle -- during the course of the affray, Bruce is momentarily disposed
under a bookcase, as Bruce is wont to do. Ellen assails him mercilessly,
eventually stabbing him in the back with the dagger -- his own amputated hand
still gripped around the hilt. Finally, Bruce throws her against the piano. She
clanks across the keys, and spies an axe resting conveniently nearby, which she
then employs to dispose of the Bruce-thing once and for all. As with Ash in
Evil Dead, Ellen suffers a mental collapse. She slumps, and sobs next to
the couch, where we see that Bruce has also gone to pieces, if in a more
literal sense. In the tradition of most -- good and bad -- horror movies, it
doesn't end there...
Suddenly, A bloodied Scott pops into frame, and casts
a sinister glance in her direction. Roll credits.
All in all, it's not
good. Then again, it's not any worse than a lot of cheap horror movies of the
day. Here, it's just a handful of guys trying to get a handle on how to make a
scary movie. The result is pretty messy, but impressive too, all things
considered. Perhaps the movie was made more with the intent to showcase their
ability to properly place the camera, light the scenes, direct the actors,
provide special make-up effects, and piece it together as a finished product.
It's probably unfair to compair it with any of the features it spawned, or even
the other shorts they made as amateurs. What makes it different is that it was
specifically crafted for the purpose of promotion of their skills as
filmmakers. Knowing they would be marketing it not to their fellow college
students, but rather to businessmen -- from whom they wanted more than a buck
or two -- Within the Woods was unique. It demonstrates what they needed
it to -- their capacity to make a movie that is moderately entertaining, has
some semblance to other movies that were making modest amounts of money (in
places like the drive-in circuit), and to be able to do so relatively
For more on
Within the Woods, and what lead up to the making
of Evil Dead, please see our articles section.