Within the Woods (1978)

within the woods

“JOIN US!”

The Scoop: 1978 NR, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss & Scott Spiegel

Tagline: No tagline

Summary Capsule: Guy desecrates an Indian burial ground, gets possessed, goes all wacky on his best buds. Ash, you’re needed in housewares. Ash to housewares.

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Justin’s rating: We can beat these Deadites… with History!

Justin’s review: Maybe we here at Mutant Reviewers have done the Evil Dead series to death — but really, is there ever enough coverage about our favorite anti-hero and his slew of quips? Perish the thought. But there is one chapter of the Evil Dead saga we’ve yet to cover, and this must be rectified today: presenting Within the Woods, aka Evil Dead 0.

Within the Woods was Sam Raimi’s first serious attempt at filmmaking, although it was never intended to be released in theaters. Often, aspiring indie filmmakers will put together demo reels that might consist of a few scenes or even a full-length film, in order to show them around to studios, which in turn would hopefully be impressed and agree to finance a “real” version of the demo. It’s like showing someone a piece of dog poo and going, “Hey, if you give me $500, I’ll scrounge up a really cool Doberman!”

Fortunately for Raimi, his slipshod student film raised just enough interest to finance Evil Dead, and the rest after that is history. Within the Woods quickly became a forgotten relic, an experimental testing ground for elements later used in Evil Dead.

It’s also Mr. Bruce Campbell’s first role, as “Bruce,” the put-upon boyfriend of Ellen. With geeky glasses and ’70s hair from here to eternity, this isn’t exactly the Ash we all know and love… but the spark is there.

This 30-minute movie doesn’t waste a lot of time getting around to the “scares” (quotes added around the word “scares”, because the bootleg copy I found of this movie was so dark and murky that I wasn’t ever scared so much as trying to identify which shape was a human, and which was, say, a lamp). Two couples are staying at a house that looks more at place in suburbia than the “deep woods”.

Bruce and Ellen head off into the “deep woods” (quotes once again added to let you know that this is more of a light thicket before they break into a clearing where a 7-11 hawks its wares), and Bruce starts reciting all sorts of impressive knowledge of Indian lore. Among such lore is “don’t violate their graves,” as curses and bad stuff and apocalyptic times would result. Satisfied that he has charmed his girlfriend with said lore, Bruce promptly violates an Indian grave, becomes possessed by EvilCam, and the fun begins.

Well, the “fun”, I guess. “Fun” here is represented by (1) girls running away from the growling, slowly moving camera, (2) jump scares where Bruce appears out of nowhere to throttle someone to death, and (3) Monopoly. Yes, before video games and insane amounts of internet pornography, Monopoly was the fashionable way to blow through six straight hours of intense loathing of the friends and family playing with you. For some reason, Monopoly figures big into Within the Woods, although the Shoe is never used as a physical weapon.

In the end, this movie exists only for its historical value — it’s sort of fun to recognize shots and elements that Raimi would later shoehorn into his Evil Dead flicks, and Bruce seems to have a blast running around shouting “JOIN US!” like a demented Amway salesperson.

Shop smart, shop somewhere else.

"SPRING BREAK! WOOOOO!"
“SPRING BREAK! WOOOOO!”

Intermission!

  • The several connections to Evil Dead, including: the haunted porchswing, the trees coming alive, EvilCam, the lopped off hand holding a knife, chopping up the possessed with an axe.
  • Definitely sounds amateur
  • Bruce Campbell with a bowl cut
  • Bruce knows a lot about Indians
  • Way to go, violating the graves of the dead like that, Bruce
  • Apparently Indians put crosses on their graves, too(?)
  • “What’s [the dagger] doing here?” Having a picnic? Checking out stock options? How many possible answers are there to that question?
  • TINGA! The Indian Spirit of the Woods! I love Tinga.
  • Monopoly makes people mad
  • She’d get a lot further if she wasn’t turning around every three steps to scream
  • If the dying body of one of your friends is blocking the door, you have every right to keep slamming it aside
  • This 32-minute film was shot over one weekend for $1600 in Marshall, MI. The shooting location was a farmhouse provided by Rob Tapert’s family (incidentally the same farmhouse was used to film the cellar sequences in The Evil Dead). It premiered to the public in August 1979 at a Detroit cinema known as ‘The Punch and Judy’. It ran before The Rocky Horror Picture Show on consecutive Saturdays.
  • The film helped raise $90,000 toward the shooting of Evil Dead.
  • Why won’t we ever see Within the Woods as a DVD extra or a standalone? Mostly due to legal tangles, and the use of unauthorized music. Copies of Within the Woods are fairly common on the internet and downloading services.
  • The scene in which Bruce Campbell gets his wrist cut, leaving his hand dangling, then he proceeds to bite off the rest of the hand was improvised. The hand was meant to have come completely off, but didn’t.
  • Due to not having rights to the music, Raimi and Campbell donated the film’s entire gross of less than $20 to the American Cancer Society.

Groovy Quotes

Bruce: You want to know something interesting?
Ellen: For a change, you mean?
Bruce: You know this place we’re staying? Used to be part of an old Indian burial ground. It’s very sacred and holy.
Ellen: Ooo scary! What is it cursed or something?
Bruce: Yeah. As a matter of fact, it is.

Bruce: You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hotdogs.

Possessed Bruce: You have violated the ancient ways, and so must die.

Ellen: Three sandwiches? You pig!
Bruce: Thank you dear. I like you too.

Scotty: [Monopoly’s] for fat old spastic people who don’t know any better.

Girl: Who’s there?

Evil Bruce: JOIN US!

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One comment

  1. I am a huge fan of the Evil Dead movies, and have been trying for years to find a copy of this short. Can anyone recommend a place to start looking?

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