Evil Dead II (1987)
AKA Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
Starring Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Ted Raimi, Denise Bixler, Richard Domeier, John Peakes, Lou Hancock
Directed by Sam Raimi
Expectations: One of my favorites.
The Evil Dead is one of the few perfect films in my eyes. Sure, it’s low-budget and it definitely shows, but the experience is second to none and it’s a total blast from start to finish. The prospect of making a sequel must have been daunting to Sam Raimi and company, but the choice to go in a completely different, yet similar direction was every bit the right one. To simply retread the same ground would be useless and boring, so why not let everyone in on how much Raimi loves The Three Stooges? It’s as inspired a horror film sequel idea as there ever was.
But by going in this direction, I do think that Evil Dead 2 isn’t as good a film as the first. Evil Dead 2 doesn’t feel quite as tight, but it more than makes up for this with laughs and a ridiculous amount of madcap energy. Even though this was always my favorite film of the series, I think age has led me to appreciate just how impressive the low-budget success of The Evil Dead was. But when it comes down to it, these petty discussions of one film being better than the other are ultimately pointless, because both of them are pure, unbridled awesome.
For me, the most notable improvement in the sequel comes from Bruce Campbell. Not only is his acting sharper, he’s grown into his face. He’s more handsome, more photogenic, and more… groovy. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then Bruce Campbell is one maniacal motherfucker. In Raimi’s equally crazy and inspired shots, Campbell’s eyes are so expressive that the question of Ash getting out of the film with his sanity is ever-present. Writing a film that allows Campbell to go batshit crazy for the first half is a brilliant idea, but Campbell actually pulling it off in seriously hilarious fashion is downright impressive. Especially considering that he didn’t do much in The Evil Dead to make you think that he was capable of such a wide range. The character losing his mind is also the perfect response to his enduring the horrifying events of the first film.
Speaking of that “Ash going crazy” section, seeing the film on the big screen made me focus more on just how visual Evil Dead 2 is. There’s hardly more than a couple of lines of dialogue in the film’s first half, and honestly not a lot more than that during the second. The film is almost purely visual, like a silent film with all kinds of hellish screams, demonic groans and possessed, laughing inanimate objects and body parts. It takes a lot of directorial “umph” to pull this kind of thing off, and Raimi manages to pack Evil Dead 2 full of so much energy that I feel positive some country on the other side of the world derives their power from it and only it. If The Evil Dead was an energetic debut by a team of amateurs, then Evil Dead 2 is the hometown quarterback taking a victory lap around the field before blasting off into space and spiking the ball into the Moon’s cheesy surface.
Evil Dead 2 is probably the greatest horror sequel of all time, taking your expectations of another “demons in the woods” story and smashing them resolutely against the trunks of laughing, possessed trees. It’s an absolute joy from start to finish, no matter how many times I see it, and it remains one of my all-time favorite films. Do yourself a favor and give yourself some sugar by watching this one again. And if you haven’t seen it? Enjoy!