Within The Woods


The guy behind the guyThis 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 like this.

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 significance:

"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 belonged to!

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... and good.

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. Bruce gives Shelly a pick-me-upShe 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.

Ellen makes 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. ARMED and dangerous

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 cheaply.

For more on Within the Woods, and what lead up to the making of Evil Dead, please see our articles section.

©1999- Bri

*Really the Bruce-Monster from WTW