Before The Evil Dead, there was “Within the Woods”. “Within the Woods” isn’t exactly a prequel to The Evil Dead franchise in terms of story, but rather in terms of style. Many of the motifs common in Raimi’s later works are present in this film, including his love of POV shots, his clear hatred for appendages and of course Bruce Campbell. I’ll warn you ahead of time, the only copy I could find on the Internet looks like it was filmed off a VHS that, similar to the Necronomicon, dates back to ancient Sumer. Sorry everyone, but until Raimi decides to release his Blu-Ray remaster of “Within the Woods” we’re stuck with this. On the plus side, the severe tracking problems kind of add to the eeriness.
The plot of “Within the Woods” is almost exactly the same as The Evil Dead. A group of kids decide to stay the night in a creepy cabin for no other reason than cabins can be stayed in. Where it differs from The Evil Dead is that instead of an ancient book causing all the trouble we get an Indian burial ground, because as movies will have us believe, Native Americans love to plague modern day white kids with posthumous curses. As the kids begin to poke around, people die, come back to life and begin killing to add to their ranks.
Upon watching “Within the Woods”, you’ll immediately begin to pick up on common Raimiesque film techniques. For starters, the famous, fast-paced POV “Raimi-cam” chase shot is in full effect here. Not only would Raimi reuse this shot famously in the Evil Dead series, but also its popularity would be further pointed to in other directors’ works. Perhaps this is due to “Within the Woods” low budget, but the audio techniques from Evil Dead 1 and 2 also seem present here. Like the scene in Evil Dead 2 where Ash loses his mind and the cabin becomes a Pee Wee’s Playhouse of Horrors, Raimi’s Foley work in “Within the Woods” is loud and has all the subtlety of a jack hammer, with loud grinding sounds that overpower any ambient noise.
“Within the Woods” was made for a paltry $1,600, which isn’t bad for half-hour short. It was also filmed on 8mm, which Raimi paid to have blown up to 35mm for theater showings, which might also explain the grainy look on YouTube.
Another thing to note is that “Within the Woods” marks the first pairing of Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi. The two would go on to produce a number of successful film and TV projects like The Darkman series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Tapert would also go on to produce many other popular films such as The Grudge, 30 Days of Night, and arguably Jean Claude Van Damme’s best film, Timecop.