When taking a look at the Evil Dead franchise, it's natural to start with the short film that started it all:
Within the Woods (1978) is the film Sam Raimi made in order to get the funding for The Evil Dead.
A group of friends head up to a cabin in the woods for some relaxation. While one couple stays behind to play board games, the other, Bruce and Ellen, head out to have a picnic. As Bruce searches for firewood, he comes across some Indian artifacts. He jokes with Ellen about it and the pair drift off to sleep in front of the fire. Later, Ellen awakens to find Bruce missing. She searches the woods for him only to find his corpse. She panics and runs back to the cabin as the woods begin to slash at her.
Casual Native American racism aside, this film is surprisingly good for an amateur effort. It includes several of the shots and moments that would make The Evil Dead such a hit. The acting isn't half bad, though it is difficult to see much due to the poor quality of the film.
Ellen is Bruce's girlfriend. She is clearly unequipped to handle the Indian spirit. This leads to her closing the door on Scotty several times in a panic to get away from deadite Bruce (proto-deadite Bruce?). This scene was more a precursor to the humorous Deadites seen in The Evil Dead.
Seriously, Deadite Bruce gets ahold of Ellen and starts monologuing about revenge for his people. The change to vague Sumerian cult was a great idea, as this setup leaves little to be impressed by. The monster in 'woods' form also has a more sterotypically creepy sound than it would get in feature length version.
Not exactly a fair detractor, the video we have of Within the Woods is terrible. You can see more from the recreation photos posted here. That said, the camerawork is strong and reveals many of the moves that would become Raimi signatures.
In the End
The end is incredibly revealing with Ellen clearly cracking from the trauma she's been through. This is something that definitely appears in The Evil Dead.
If the quality were up to par, I'd recommend it more heartily. However, in its current state, it is probably only of interest to fans of Raimi or those interested in making horror films of their own. It stand as a fairly standard slasher with moments of interest. You can watch it here.
Okay, Okay, on to The Evil Dead.