Hail to the king, baby! Why metal is obsessed with The Evil Dead

Metal bands are obsessed with The Evil Dead. More than any other horror franchise, the DIY demonic possession movie and ts sequels have inspired countless songs, videos, album sleeves and more. So why is everyone losing their heads (pun intended) over a low-budget video nasty released nearly 40 years ago?

The Evil Dead hit U.S. cinemas in October of 1981. Banned from theatrical release in several countries and branded a ‘video nasty’  when it hit VHS, it took shock factor and gore to a new level. The film made such an impact that it spawned two sequels, a remake, a TV series, video games and even a short-lived musical.

The storyline is fiendishly simple: the book of the dead, Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, written in blood and bound in human flesh, is unearthed by five college students. They accidentally awaken Kandarian demons who possess and kill them one by one. Only the dawn can bring salvation…

The central themes are basically everything metal thrives on: futility, isolation, the occult, brutality, and the darkness within. Combined with the movie’s copious levels of gore, it makes for prime song-fodder. Death mainman and extreme metal pioneer Chuck Schuldiner was such a fan that he titled the 1987 track Evil Dead after it (“Voice speaks out, all will die tonight… Spirits within/Causing terror, fear and darkness”).

He wasn’t the only one. Necrophagia’s It Lives In The Woods was directly inspired by The Evil Dead, as were Mortician’s Exmortis and Noturam Demondo. Deicide’s 1990 classic Dead by Dawn borrows its name from the title of the second Evil Dead film, mentions the Necronomicon by name, and features lyrics such as: “Book of the dead, pages bound in human flesh/Feasting the beast, from the blood the words were said.”

One controversial moment in the original movie in particular has proven to be a magnet for bands: the scene in which Ash’s sister is attacked and raped by a demonic tree. The brutality of this single scene inspired Gruesome’s Raped By Darkness and Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn by The Black Dahlia Murder. “The vine rape scene was intense,” the latter’s frontman, Trevor Strnad, told Bloody Disgusting,  I love the idea of the forest coming alive.” (Raimi himself has become notably less enamoured of the scene over the years, with the director saying he regrets making it).

But The Evil Dead’s influence goes way beyond prompting a bunch gore-fixated death metal malcontents to write songs based on it. Sam Raimi’s unique filming style, quirky editing and striking aesthetic choices also iinspired several music videos.

Strapping Young Lad’s promo for their 2005 track Love? takes its intro and outro almost directly from the Evil Dead playbook, opening with a double speed POV camera moving through woodland (complete with howling wind and sound distortion) into an almost identical abandoned cabin. The song starts when a reel-to-reel recorder begins to play – the same type of recorder used to wake the demons in the film. The production quality has even been lowered to match the same grainy feel as the original 1981 film.

Former SYL mastermind Devin Townsend has admitted he isn’t a huge horror fan, but makes an exception for The Evil Dead: “I have a horrible time with sadism and guts and gore. I just don’t know why people invest their time making art like that? But, weirdly, I really like Evil Dead, particularly the third one, Army Of Darkness. I thought that was great.”

There are also homages to Raimi’s shooting style in the clip for Mushroomhead’s We Are the Truth, which is set in a similar twisting woodland and fog-shrouded, backlit cabin, while Lordi’s video for Blood Red Sandman is a mini remake of the film, complete with gory make-up and spinning clocks. Frontman and horror movie fanatic Mr. Lordi s vocal about his love for the Evil Dead films, telling Rocktopia, “My favorite horror film is Evil Dead 2. This is why Sam Raimi was once my favourite horror director.”

Raimi himself has never acknowledged the influence he’s had on metal, but it’s safe to say that his unique blend of ultra-gore, dark humour and iconic shock factor awoke an obsession which is unlikely to die any time soon.