Evil Dead II (1987)
Those ghastly deadites are back, and this time it’s comedy. From the creepy, ghost-train opening it’s hard to discern whether Evil Dead II is really a horror film or not. By the time Ash starts chasing his hand around with a shotgun, it’s pretty evident that the film owes a lot to both comedy and horror. Filmlore tells us that The Evil Dead was so over-the-top that many viewers thought it was a spoof. So when director Sam Raimi decided to make a sequel, it became more of a comedy remake of the original. This would explain Ash’s otherwise perplexing behaviour: returning to the house in which he had, one movie ago, almost been killed by things which were evil and, moreover, dead. And all this without any mention of or allusion to the events of the first film. It’s as if The Evil Dead never was. But that’s just one of the things that makes Evil Dead II such a fab, crazy trip.
The ‘plot’ of the movie is simple at best. Ash (Bruce ‘I put the camp in’ Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) go to a scary-looking shack in the woods for no apparent reason. They find a tape recorder and, as one always does when one finds a tape recorder, they decide to listen to what has been recorded on it. Within seconds of grooving to the rockin’ sounds of a creepy archaeologist reciting lines to raise demons from their rest, Linda is stolen away by an invisible force, leaving Ash to deal with her possessed (and inexplicably naked) body. Before long, Ash is tearing up everything in sight with a gun and a chainsaw, and being generally bothered by lots of strange, gory goings-on. When the creepy archaeologist’s daughter and her boyfriend come along with two hillbillies that they picked up off the set of Deliverance, things start getting really bonkers.
Evil Dead II is never too far away from being a comedy. Sam Raimi was a huge Three Stooges fan, and some of the physical gags are lifted straight out of the Marx Brothers. Ash and Linda arrive in their car looking uncannily like Brad and Janet in a similar shot from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but their adventure is destined to be a whole lot less fun – unlike the movie. Campbell is sparkling, and creates a gloriously grating character in the arrogant, pseudo-charming Ash. ‘Who’s laughing now?!’ he babbles as he takes a chainsaw to his possessed hand, ‘Who’s laughing no – oooooooow!’ He is also very deservedly called a master of physical comedy. The part was basically an exercise in beating himself up, and he succeeds beautifully. Bruce Campbell truly makes the Three Stooges scary.
The physical comedy and scares in Evil Dead II are made real by an outstanding effects team. This is very much a film for fans of the old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies. Stop-motion animation is used to great effect, as are make-up and bodysuits, and other more complex effects. It is a joy to watch a film into which so much obvious love and effort has been poured. A making-of documentary is available on the 2001 region 2 DVD, which is quite as entertaining as the movie itself. It gives one an idea of the lengths that Raimi and his team went to, in order to make this movie on a ridiculous budget. Sure, there are mistakes (some of the interior shots reveal that the house – one big set – has no ceilings, and you can see a tear in one of the actor’s bodysuits), but that just adds to the homegrown charm of the film. The effects are physical, almost touchable, and very, very icky.
But it’s not only the hard graft that made this film a classic. The ideas behind the scares are just as inventive. Probably the best creepy, surreal moment is when the deer-head that is mounted on the wall turns its head towards Ash and begins laughing maniacally. All the inanimate objects in the room join in, one by one, until there is a cacophony of different timbres of horrible laughter. Ash stands in the middle, laughing, choking and sobbing. Another great, bizarre moment comes when one character remarks upon the sudden silence, and the house responds by pelting the merry band with random noises from all directions. Heckle-junkies like myself may like to shout ‘Janet! Dr. Scott! Janet! Brad! Rocky!’ as they turn their heads – it really does work! And what is that strange selection of noises? ‘Maybe something trying to force its way into our world,’ suggests one of the hapless characters. More like somebody playing a BBC Sound Effects L.P., if you ask me.
Evil Dead II is a great laugh. It’s also a positive delight to us old-school types who long for the days when fire was fire (not airbrushed-on CGI), and marvellous special effects were more than a mouse-click away. Watch this horrible/charming film, if possible, in conjunction with the making-of documentary, and realise that the love and energy that went into the Lord of the Rings movies, for instance, was very much alive in those ‘simpler’ times. And I think Ash aptly expresses the nature of the film in that much-quoted and classic line: What do we think of Evil Dead II? "Groovy."
Just released on Region 1 DVD is Anchor Bay's Evil Dead II: Book of the Dead Edition, a companion to their earlier Book of the Dead release for the first Evil Dead. Like its predecessor, the sequel comes packaged in a foam rubber "book" based on the designs of Tom Sullivan. Inside are pages of the Necronomicon taken from the film, along with the DVD in a plastic sleeve. The neat addition here is that when you poke the book in the eye, it screams -- a neat summation of the film's duelling horror and comedy sensibilities.
Inside, the disc isn't that different from the last time Anchor Bay gave us a Special Edition of Evil Dead II. "The Gore the Merrier" effects featurette is here, as is the theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and the highly amusing commentary with Raimi, Campbell, co-writer Sam Spiegel, and effects artist Greg Nicotero. New to the Book of the Dead Edition is "Evil Dead 2: Behind the Screams," a photomontage with narration by Necronomicon artist Tom Suillivan.
The film itself has been given Anchor Bay's DiviMax treatmment, so it looks very pretty indeed, if a little oddly soft around the edges. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is very awesome, especially during the "random noise from absolutely nowhere" scene mentioned above.
If you already own Evil Dead II on DVD and don't really need funky packaging, then don't worry about this new edition. If you don't have this classic splatstick film... well, what the hell are you waiting for? No horror collection should be without a copy of Evil Dead II.
Yuks away! Ash traps his dismembered
sentient hand under a copy of "A Farewell to Arms."
Look for a Freddy Kreuger glove in the woodshed, just above the door.