CC: Within The Woods (1978)

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

CC: Within The Woods (1978)

Within the Woods is a 1978 horror short film written, directed and produced by Sam Raimi.  Raimi drew inspiration from his earlier short film Clockwork, deciding to produce a "prototype" horror film to help build the interest of potential investors.  Raimi cast his friends Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss as the two protagonists and produced the film for $1600.  Shot on location in a remote cabin in the woods, production was a difficult process because of the low budget.  Several of the special effects presented in the film were done in a severely low budget manner, some of which were improvised on set.  The film centers around demonic possession and mysterious forces originating from the woods.

Raimi convinced a local theater manager to screen the film alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show which sparked minor interest.  Initially a meager success, the film screened well to test audiences and inspired a larger budget remake directed by Raimi, called The Evil Dead (1981).  The film was the first in the Evil Dead franchise, and launched the careers of both Campbell and Raimi.  Several of the aesthetic qualities found in Within the Woods later defined Raimi's films.

In addition to Raimi's interest in various horror films, one of the main inspirations came in the writing of H. P. Lovecraft, who introduced the concept of the "book of the dead" to Raimi.  Raimi studied the concept of magical books, in particular the Necronomicon, which formed the basis of the film.  Campbell described the film as a combination of "creative writing and ancient history".  In order to flesh out of the idea, Raimi came up with a concept where a group of teenagers went into the woods and were attacked by demonic spirits, summoned by the disturbance of an Indian burial ground.  The book of the dead concept was not present in the finished film, but appeared extensively in later films by Raimi.

Within the Woods (1978)

  • Genre: Horror – Short
  • Directed: Sam Raimi
  • Produced:
    • Bruce Campbell 
    • Sam Raimi 
    • Robert G. Tapert
  • Written: Sam Raimi
  • Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Mary Valenti, Scott Spiegel
  • Music: Unknown
  • Cinematography: Tim Philo
  • Editing: Sam Raimi
  • Studio: Unknown
  • Distributed: Unknown
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 12 October 2003
  • Running Time: 32 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Two romantic couples, consisting of four teenagers, decide to spend a weekend together located in a remote cabin found in the woods.  An unseen force stalks and watches the group without their knowledge. Ellen and her boyfriend Bruce enter the woods to have a picnic lunch.  The other couple, Scotty and Shelly, remain at the cabin playing Monopoly to pass time.  During their lunch, Bruce announces to Ellen that they're camping on an Indian burial ground.  Ellen is concerned, but Bruce assures her that they will be fine as long as they don't disturb the graves of the dead.  Bruce then explores the area and discovers an ancient dagger belonging to the Indians.  Ignoring his own advice, he takes the dagger with him.

After lunch, Ellen takes a nap.  When she awakes, she finds Bruce missing and wanders into the woods looking for him.  To her horror, she finds Bruce's dead body, horribly mutilated with apparent knife wounds.  She is then startled by the presence of an demonic entity hiding within the woods, and quickly runs back to the cabin.  While fleeing, she is attacked by unseen forces.  She runs back to the cabin and screams to be let in immediately, being let in just as the entity is approaching her.  Ellen tells her friends that Bruce has been murdered, but Scotty dismisses the whole thing as a joke and goes to find Bruce.  Shelly, Scotty's girlfriend, and Ellen are concerned when Scotty doesn't return right away.  Shelly walks outside to begin a search for the missing men, but a possessed Bruce assaults and strangles her, eventually stabbing her in the neck and killing her with the dagger that he found, moaning "join us."

Ellen encounters her possessed friend and flees into another room, grabbing knives to protect herself.  Something attempts to enter the room where Ellen is hiding, and she blindly lashes out with a knife - mistakenly stabbing Scotty who had just returned to the cabin.  While horrified, Ellen is then attacked by the possessed Bruce.  Ellen manages to trap Bruce outside, stabbing Bruce's hand several times in the process.  The bleeding Scotty tells Ellen to look into the cellar for the gun they brought along.  While walking down the stairs to the cellar, she trips on a broken step and injures herself.  After finding the gun, she goes back up stairs and discovers that Scotty had been stabbed to death while she was downstairs.  The demonic Bruce then attacks her, but she manages to cut off his hand.

Ellen attempts to flee but is severely beaten by the possessed Bruce, who throws her around the cabin.  While being strangled, Ellen picks up Bruce's mutilated hand which is still holding the dagger found from before, and she uses it to stab Bruce.  A large amount of blood is expended by Bruce, who lies motionless for a moment, only to then continue his assault on Ellen.  Ellen mutilates Bruce's body even further with an axe, chopping off nearly every limb from the writhing body.  Severely disturbed by the things she has witnessed, Ellen rocks back and forth muttering to herself.  The corpse of Scotty unexpectedly springs up, before turning towards the oblivious Ellen, ready to attack.  The screen then cuts to black, leaving the fate of Ellen ambiguous.

In order to produce a follow-up picture, Raimi needed nearly $150,000.  Raimi approached Phil Gillis, a lawyer to one of his friends, asking if he wanted to invest money into the production of a remake.  Gillis was unimpressed with Within the Woods, but offered Raimi legal advice on how to approach further productions.  Raimi approached several investors, "begging" for money, and eventually acquired nearly $90,000 of the funds needed and set out to make the movie anyway.

Within the Woods was later retooled by Raimi with a vastly higher production value and a full-length running time as the 1981 film The Evil Dead.  The Evil Dead would go on to be the first installment of a film franchise spawning two sequels, Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992), both of which were directed by Raimi and featured Campbell as Ash Williams.  A remake, with Raimi and Campbell as producers and creative consultants, was released in 2013.  Several aspects of the film were later presented in future Raimi films, including the use of the "Raimi-cam", a camera rig that creates a fluent flow of camera movement.  Other elements, such as graphic imagery, bleak endings, and mutilations, defined many of Raimi's other films.  Raimi has put Campbell in cameo roles in all three of Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, as well as several other films.

Academy Award winning film-making duo the Coen brothers were inspired by Raimi's decision to produce a short film as a trailer, utilizing the concept to produce funding for their debut Blood Simple (1984).  The Coen brothers served as editors for The Evil Dead, and developed a friendship with Raimi.  The duo have cast Campbell in some of their films such as The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and Fargo (1996), the former of which was co-written by Raimi.

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