Sam Raimi directed this 1981 horror feature fresh out of film school, and his anything-for-an-effect enthusiasm pays off in lots of formally inventive bits. The film is ferociously kinetic and full of visual surprises, though its gut-churning reputation doesn't seem fully deserved: if anything the gore is too picturesque and studied, an abstract decorator's mix of oozing, slimy color, like some exotic species of new-wave interior design. There's a weird comic energy in the frenetic physical playing—hysterical actors running in and out of rooms, zombies popping up from the floorboards and out of wall cabinets like jack-in-the-boxes—and the mad Punch-and-Judy orchestration takes on an almost choreographic quality at times (this may be the first commedia dell'arte horror film). There are lots of clever turns on standard horror movie formulas, and one image especially lingers in the mind: a woman splintering into an infinity of hairline cracks, like the suddenly shattered surface of a ceramic vase. With Bruce Campbell and Sara York.
By Pat Graham