Warnings: 2-3 female topless scenes, a lot of explicit gore
Time to post another review! First of all, I find Italian horror cinema strange and hard to define: it doesn't take itself seriously too much but it also has ridiculous amounts of gore and shocking situations. The directors don't like to sugarcoat things, as opposed to most of the movies pertaining to American cinema, and the monsters don't always look too convincing. I first tried to watch this a few years ago, but I obviously lacked patience and gave up; today, I watched it again, with patience and a more open mind...and some wine, but we'll get to that later.
Be very afraid, as this is the longest review I've ever written. I haven't written one in a long time, so I'm extra nitpicky today!
A group of friends travels to a cabin in the mountains to unwind and just have some fun; unsurprisingly, said cabin is old and fairly run-down, which is to be expected from the suspiciously low price they had to pay to rent it. After a little looking around, Scottie and Ash come across a cassette and play it; oddly enough, it's actually the log of a scientist who had found something unbelievable and documented his discovery. Upon playing the tape again later, things get ugly when an odd incantation-like speech awakes the very spirits the scientist had warned his listeners about.
Some examples of the style used in Evil Dead.
If I could pick a good point to start off with, that would be the humor: it doesn't devolve into slapstick and is pretty good for a horror movie. We get ironic twists (such as the bridge giving out just after Scottie says it's safe to drive over it) and the characters can be pretty funny themselves - though I'm not sure this is entirely intentional all the time. There's also one scene in the beginning when the door to the cellar flies open and dramatic, big reveal-type music starts playing; I thought that was a nice way to trick the audience into thinking they'd witnessed something major. Of course, the credits are also a joy to listen to - what can fix a massacre better than joyful, upbeat tunes?
Even though the characters are standard horror movie fare, they're pretty entertaining to watch. What I liked most was the fact that Ash isn't the typical action hero, he's actually quite reluctant to get involved - he lets Scottie go inside the house and basement first, he hesitates going into Shelly's room, even though she'd screamed earlier and doesn't get into the battle until near the end of the movie. Most of the time he's either talking or looking scared and doesn't really contribute to the "action" part until then. I found Cheryl kind of bland, but her breakdown is handled satisfactorily and she's hilarious (especially when she taunts Ash about the keys). As a group, you could tell they were close friends and I liked the interaction between them.
As for the cinematography, it's quite effective: we have "suspense" shots from above (and a very Shining-like beginning) or extremely low, not to mention extreme closeups focusing on characters' eyes. Late into the movie we have "circle" shots, which allow gradual observation and suspense because you "know" there's something off-camera yet you have to wait until it's revealed; I counted 3 of these and all are properly used.
There's also little to no color processing in the outdoor shots; the demons look kind of goofy but the surroundings are natural: Sam Raimi doesn't try to make the forest look more "optimistic", more colorful or even more bleak, it's just neutral looking, like a normal forest.
To back up the cinematography claim, here is a series of shots I love - a lightbulb slowly filling up with blood, only to explode:
I already mentioned the dramatic music, but there's not a lot of it actually. Most is just made up of "natural" sounds, like the wind blowing through the leaves, birds chirping and so on. The music only comes up in battle-like moments, especially near the end, and it's a good way to create tension because it doesn't look like anything is out of the ordinary.
We also have some decent imagery, like the broken swing slamming back and forth when they arrive at the cabin and the jump scares are well done, even though the movie relies on them a bit too much; they're effective because they pop up when you least expect them (not like today, when they're practically pointed out to you).