Like the other Super-8 short films made by Sam Raimi and his close-knit group, it's a shame Within the Woods is unavailable on DVD, but with music from diverse film scores released by different corporate entities mixed into the soundtrack, the music clearances for this film alone are a legal nightmare, which is probably why Anchor Bay's plans to include the short in the 2002 Book of the Dead edition of The Evil Dead fell through.
As a precursor to Evil Dead, it's a fascinating work that contains the same basic storyline: ancient spirits have been angered by flippant youths, and blood will pour once evil rages out from the forest and kills the inhabitants of an isolated home. You've also got Bruce Campbell made up as a possessed cadaver by makeup man Tom Sullivan, lots and lots of blood, and the Raimi-Cam zooming through the forest, stalking its prey like a ballistic missile on espresso beans.
The story elements are a bit different – Bruce takes pretty Ellen for a picnic on an ancient Indian burial ground, but he becomes possessed when he shamefully doesn't stick to eating hotdogs and removes a medicine man's knife from a grave, releasing ancient anger and dooming himself and his friends – but the assault on the cabin is just as bloody as what Raimi and his colleagues devised for The Evil Dead.
Once Bruce knocks on the door, poor Shelly gets knifed in the throat, sputtering and gurgling for a few weeks before expiring. Later Bruce's hand is cut off, and he later bites off what's left, before getting is good in the back by his deeply upset girlfriend. The shocks are well done, and the sound mix is an inventive blend of tweaked vocals and commercial music elements, with excellent use of bit and pieces from Denny Zeitlin's whacked-out Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) score, and Herbie Hancock's Death Wish. (Also blendered into the film mix are bits from John Barry's On Her Majesty's Secret Service and John Williams' Jaws – all owned by very big music labels.) The shock finale also packs a nice little punch, and the makeup effects show some of the grisly ideas Sullivan carried over into the feature film.
As a demo work to show investors for The Evil Dead, it pretty much encapsulates the talents of Sam Raimi as director, Bruce Campbell as star, Tom Sullivan as makeup artist, and Robert Tapert as producer, and nicely swerves from two saccharine lovers eating hotdogs to a manic journey towards carotid artery gouging, and really remains the missing link to completing the extant Evil Dead artifacts released on DVD.
Available (of course) on YouTube, the original video transfer is vintage 1978 – likely a ¾” U-Matic dub – that's been copied to death by various sources from tape to tape to tape, and at this stage reveals little more than smeary watercolours, mushy details, garbled sound, and tape artifacts that snap the image into video snow, scratchy streak marks, and uneven playback sync that makes the audio waver, so while it's an available online reference for fans, like the remains of the film's medicine man, Within the Woods has disintegrated into a kind of sacred relic.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan