Long before he was the big-budget studio director behind Spider-Man and Oz, The Great and Powerful Sam Raimi was a film student who made this shoestring-budget horror film that turned out to be the ultimate cabin-in-the-woods chiller. (Other rookies who worked on it: future Oscar-winning director Joel Coen and B-movie actor par excellence Bruce Campbell.)
Full of innovative effects born of cheapness and desperation (most notably, the demon-cam that was just a regular camera mounted on a two-by-four, carried by two guys running through the forest), Evil Dead wrings maximum horror from its relentlessly paced narrative, which has five vacationing college kids reading a cursed book and unwittingly letting loose soul-swallowing demons, rapist trees, and gallons upon gallons of blood.
Raimi followed it up with a near-identical, slightly more tongue-in-cheek sequel (Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn), then a third movie (Army of Darkness) that sent protagonist Ash (Campbell) to fight “deadites” in the Middle Ages. (Plus, there was this year’s Raimi-approved reboot.) But the first remains the most inventive and most terrifying, serving up scares with diabolical verve.