Sam Raimi's low budget horror film tells the story of a group of young people who intend to spend some time at an isolated log cabin in the woods. Soon after arrival, they inadvertently unleash the forces of darkness and, one by one, are turned into rampaging zombies. Luckily for the special effects department, the zombies can only be stopped by the act of bodily dismemberment.
The Evil Dead was first seen by the BBFC in August 1982. Reaction within the BBFC was divided between those who felt the film was so ridiculously 'over the top' that it could not be taken seriously, and those who found it 'nauseating'. Realising that there was likely to be an equal division of opinion amongst cinema audiences, the BBFC's Director at the time felt that the best course of action would be to tone down the most excessive moments of violence and gore. It was hoped that cuts could retain the film's humour whilst neutering the most graphic violence. In total 49 seconds of footage was removed, taken from several scenes, before an X certificate was awarded. This included reducing the number of blows with an axe, reducing the length of an eye gouging, and reducing the number of times that a pencil was twisted into a person's leg.
It was unfortunate for the distributors of The Evil Dead that their film was released at the height of the 'video nasties' scare. At the time, there was no formal requirement that films must be classified for video release and this loophole had encouraged some of the smaller and more enterprising distributors to release a number of uncensored films on video that would not have been acceptable for cinema release.
Although The Evil Dead was quite different in tone to many of the so-called 'video nasties', in that its tongue was firmly in its cheek, it was not entirely surprising when the video version (which had already been cut in line with the BBFC's cinema cuts) was added to the list of 'video nasties'.
Although the cinema version had been approved by the BBFC, there were concerns that the lack of an effective age rating system on video - and the easy availability of videos once they entered the home - would inevitably lead to underage viewing. The video version was therefore seized from a large number of shops around the UK and, in many cases, the shop owners simply pleaded guilty to supplying an obscene article rather than incur the added expenses of trying to defend the film. Ultimately, the distributors themselves were taken to Snaresbrook Crown Court, where they successfully argued that the film was not obscene. The Evil Dead was therefore removed from the 'video nasties' list by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in September 1985.
With the introduction of the Video Recordings Act in 1984, under which all videos were now required to be classified by the BBFC, The Evil Dead needed to be formally submitted for a video classification. Despite the acquittal of the film at Snaresbrook and its subsequent removal from the DPP's list of video nasties, the BBFC remained concerned about the acceptability of the video version in its current form. Of greatest concern was that, regardless of the verdict at Snaresbrook, the film had nonetheless been found obscene by other courts around the country. Under the terms of its designation under the Video Recordings Act, the BBFC was obliged to avoid classifying any material that might be found obscene.
Furthermore, given the stricter tests imposed on the BBFC by the Video Recordings Act - which required that the BBFC should consider the suitability of a video for 'viewing in the home' - there was concern about whether the film as it stood would be acceptable under the new Act. Because the expressed purpose of the Video Recordings Act was to remove 'video nasties' from the shelves, it might seem indefensible at this stage to approve for video release what Mary Whitehouse had called the 'number one nasty'.
Accordingly a decision on The Evil Dead was put off until 1989, by which time the initial furore about the film had died away. Nonetheless, given the notoriety of the film - and the fact that it was the BBFC's cut and approved version that had been subject to prosecutions - it was decided that further cuts would be required before issuing a certificate for video release. The BBFC's lawyers advised that one or two minor cuts would be insufficient, since the BBFC needed to arrive at a noticeably different version of the film to avoid classifying something that had been found obscene. In many cases, scenes that had already been subject to cuts for cinema release were simply subjected to slightly deeper cuts.
However, some scenes that had previously been approved intact for cinema release were now also reduced. Most famously this included the sequence in which one of the female characters is assaulted by a tree. In total a further one minute six seconds were removed from the video version, meaning that The Evil Dead had now been cut by a total of one minute 55 seconds. This reduced version was agreed by the BBFC's lawyers to comprise a 'significantly different' version to the one that had been prosecuted and was thus rated 18 in January 1990.
In 2000, the uncut version of the film was finally resubmitted to the BBFC. The BBFC recognised that standards had changed since 1990 (and certainly since 1982) and that modern audiences were more accustomed to the excesses of horror films. Compared to films like Scream, The Evil Dead now looked rather tame. The BBFC therefore agreed, in line with the views of the public that the BBFC should only intervene when material was illegal or harmful, that The Evil Dead could now be classified 18 without cuts. The uncut DVD was released in 2001.