Evil Dead II (1987) / Horror-Comedy
aka Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
MPAA rated: R for strong, bloody violence throughout, pervasive gore, and language
Length: 84 min.
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Kassie Wesley, Dan Hicks, Richard Domeier, Denise Bixler
Cameo: Ted Raimi, Sam Raimi
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Evil Dead II is a sorta-sequel to director Sam Raimi's first work, The Evil Dead, and, if anything, showcases the ingenious mind of the writer-director in terms of his penchant for eye-popping visual styles. Many people, critics and fans alike, consider this to be the superior of the two films, as it does everything that the first film does (almost literally), does it better, and fills in all of the lengthy, quiet scenes with a frenetic, cartoon-like vibe that carries out from beginning to end seemingly without respite.
I say it is only 'sorta' a sequel because, depending on how you look at the events that play out, it is either a sequel, a re-imagining, or a remake, though the tone of the two films are wildly different in most ways. Most of the events of the first film are re-shot and crammed into the first few minutes of this film, except, instead of five college friends, it is only Ash (Campbell, The Hudsucker Proxy) and his girlfriend Linda (Bixler, Crisis in the Kremlin) who travel to the secluded Tennessee cabin. Ash discovers the Sumerian 'Book of the Dead' and the archaeologist's audio tape descriptions, releasing the demons who inhabit Linda until Ash must knock her head off with a shovel. Ash finds escape next to impossible, eventually fighting off the demons trying to inhabit his own body, in addition to Linda's corpse that refuses to stay buried.
The story then expands to include a new set of visitors to the cabin in the form of the archaeology professor's daughter, Annie (Berry, CHUD II), and her crony Ed (Domeier, future QVC host), who are seeking the whereabouts of her parents as well as to return some of the Book's missing pages. Getting them to the remote location are a couple of hillbilly locals named Jake (Hicks, Darkman) and Bobbie Joe ( Wesley, "Guiding Light"), and all four are beyond unnerved to find the cabin inhabited by a bloodied, frenzied Ash, whose grip on sanity is perhaps beyond the point of reparability.
While the first film paid a small homage to the Three Stooges in a visual gag, this one dips heavily in the slapstick bag for inspiration, and puts its actors through a series of gags that sees them all get glopped, gooped, chopped, sliced, diced, and ripped asunder, and yet does it in quite comical ways. The lion's share of the slapstick appeal goes to star Bruce Campbell, who goes off the rails in terms of a vastly over-the-top performance, mugging and flailing about as he interacts with environs that might give Beetlejuice pause.
Raimi (The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan) seems quite amused sending up his own mythos provided in the first film, and letting the mayhem rip, not unlike how fellow 'Looney Tunes'-lover Joe Dante would do with the Gremlins series. Just about every set prop comes to cartoonish life, threatening the human inhabitants, who are also in danger of being possessed and antagonizing the others into decapitating them in some pretty inventive ways.
Evil Dead II is quite gory, but isn't particularly scary, as Raimi is content to tilt the balance of horror and comedy of the first film completely to the latter until the tone is decidedly out of whack. This horror-movie funhouse is like a strange mix of George Romero and old animated featurettes; Raimi has made an action-horror cartoon come to life, where literally anything can and does happen in this realm where there are no rules except that which is sketchily referred to in the Book of the Dead. Eclipsing the cult status of its predecessor, I won't go so far as to proclaim Evil Dead II a truly good film as many others have, as the storyline and characterizations are still left wanting, but it sure is one hell of an inventive ride.
-- Followed by Army of Darkness.
©2013 Vince Leo