Within the Woods (1978) is a short film written and directed by Sam Raimi.
Raimi, longtime friend Bruce Campbell, and other associates shot this movie on Super 8 film in an effort to raise money to produce a feature-length version of it. The full length version was titled The Evil Dead and garnered a huge cult following, spawning two sequels, a reboot, a TV series that served as a sequel to the original trilogy, video games, comics and an off-Broadway musical.
Within the Woods is very similar to The Evil Dead in terms of plot devices, pacing, and effects. A group of four friends, Bruce (Bruce Campbell), Ellen (Ellen Sandweiss), Shelly (Mary Valenti) and Scotty (Scott Spiegel) rent a cabin in the woods.
The story begins with Bruce and Ellen going on a picnic together. While walking towards the field where they are going to have the picnic, Bruce tells Ellen that the place they are staying "used to be part of an old Indian burial ground" and it was "very sacred and holy." She nervously asks him if it was cursed, but Bruce assures her that it will be fine because according to Bruce, "you're only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead" and that they were only going to have a picnic.
Upon reaching the field, Bruce sends Ellen off to get firewood while he digs a fire pit. While digging the pit, Bruce digs up an old cross and an Indian ceremonial dagger, presumably belonging to a medicine man. Bruce takes the dagger to show Ellen, and tells her a legend about an "Indian spirit of the woods" that watches over medicine men's graves, and they fall asleep. However, the fire pit erupts with a flame that spontaneously started.
After Ellen awakes, she notices that Bruce is missing. She decides that he went back to the cabin, and walks back by herself. However, she trips on a tree and happens upon Bruce's horribly mutilated body. She panics, and realizes that something is watching her. She flees back to the cabin while being hunted by an evil spirit (à la Evil Dead). When she gets back to the cabin, she tells Scotty and Shelly about finding Bruce's body. Scotty tells Shelly that Bruce may be hurt and goes off to find him.
A while later, Scotty finds the picnic basket covered in blood and he drops it in shock. Back at the cabin, Shelly tells Ellen that she will shine a light in the woods to see if she can find Bruce and Scotty. However, she barely gets out of the front door before being brutally murdered by a possessed Bruce and being impaled to the ground by the cross. Bruce turns to Ellen, demanding in a demonic voice: "Join us." Ellen slams the front door on Bruce, who then tries to find another way in. Ellen looks around the cabin for a weapon and finds two knives, just in time to catch someone trying to get in. The door opens, and Ellen stabs at the person: Scotty. She backs away in shock and sees Bruce trying to get in through the back door. She closes the door on Bruce (after hitting Scotty a few times with the door), and Scotty tells her to get a gun he had in the basement.
After finding the gun and returning upstairs, Ellen finds Scotty impaled through the chest with the cross and a window open. She is confronted by Bruce, where she cuts his right hand off. He continues to chase her through the cabin, before catching her. In the struggle, Ellen finds Bruce's hand (with the dagger still firmly in its grasp) and stabs him with it. Bruce's body goes into death throes and seems to die. However, as Ellen goes to the phone, Bruce's body gets back up and Ellen attacks him with an ax. She manages to dismember Bruce's body and she sits next to it in a state of shock. However, just before the end of the movie, Scotty gets up, and is shown to be possessed by the spirit before turning towards Ellen, ready to attack. The screen cuts out, leaving the fate of Ellen ambiguous
Connections to The Evil Dead series
The name of Mary Valenti's character, Shelly, and Scott Speigel's character, Scotty, were re-used for The Evil Dead.
- The scene where Ellen cuts Bruce's hand off and he is forced to bite off his hand is reused, but with Scotty and Shelly in The Evil Dead.
- The scene where Ellen is being chased through the woods and tries to open the front door of the cabin is reused in The Evil Dead.
- The scene where Scotty gets up, possessed, is reused in The Evil Dead.
- The scene where the swing in front of the house begins hitting the house is reused in The Evil Dead.
- The shot of Bruce's dismembered body is similar to the shot of the dismembered Shelly in The Evil Dead.
- The scene where Bruce is stabbed with the dagger is reused in The Evil Dead, but with a few changes, where Scotty stabs Shelly in the back instead of the side.
- The scene where Ellen is walking past Bruce, who then grabs her ankle, is reused in The Evil Dead, again with Scotty and Shelly.
- The scene where Bruce tries to get in the cabin, along with the scene where Ellen stabs Scotty and Bruce breaking down parts of the cabin trying to get in the back door is reused in Evil Dead II.
The film was shown as a double billing with The Rocky Horror Picture Show when a critic saw it and gave it a very good review. This critique was one of the things that Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and producer Robert Tapert used to prove they could make a quality horror film. They eventually secured their funding for the feature-length version of the film, The Evil Dead, which was released soon after to massive success.
The film is now widely available in a bootleg format, though most copies are very poor and extremely blurry. It has been long-suggested by fans to include it as an "extra" on one of the various DVD releases of The Evil Dead, but due to copyright issues of music used in the film, it has not been possible. In response to a direct question from a preview audience in Austin in July 2005, Campbell asserted an alternative reason for withholding Within The Woods from DVD; he said that Raimi does not want to "show his pimply ass to the world." According to Campbell's remarks, Raimi considers the film amateurish and unsuitable for release.
The film is available from numerous sellers on online markets such as eBay.