1987 – USA
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks
Words: Oliver Innocent
Sam Raimi’s follow-up to his breakout horror hit The Evil Dead is something of an anomaly in the horror genre; a sequel widely regarded as better than the original. Even those who prefer the more visceral sucker punch of the previous film mostly concede that Evil Dead II is still a standout of the genre in its own right. In fact, it’s debatable as to whether the film is actually a sequel at all; it’s first half functioning as a kind of recap/remake due to Raimi being unable to secure the rights to use footage from its predecessor. This has actually worked in Evil Dead II’s favour as it performs just as well as a standalone entity as it does part of the ever-growing Evil Dead franchise.
Despite its familiar plot and set-pieces (protagonist Ash unwittingly summoning and then having to do bloody battle with the evil Deadites in a cabin in the woods), Evil Dead II is a very different beast indeed. Sure, there are minor cosmetic differences such as more refined effects, improved acting, and a wider variety of monsters, but the main difference is quite obviously in tone. Where The Evil Dead was an intensely gruesome and visceral experience shot through with an undercurrent of black humour, its sequel brings this humour to the fore. As much a symptom of a general shift in ‘80s horror towards a lighter, more playful tone as it is Raimi’s love of The Three Stooges’ good old-fashioned slapstick antics, Evil Dead II embraces comedy like few films in the genre had before.
Evil Dead II’s comedy is of the wonderfully silly variety, many of the laughs coming at hero Ash’s expense as he smashes through plates, walls and chairs, has a Tom and Jerry style battle with his own severed hand, and gets drenched by fountains of multi-coloured blood and bodily fluids. There are also ridiculous gags like Ash weighing down a bucket on top of his severed hand with a copy of A Farewell to Arms, an eyeball popping out of a monster’s head and shooting straight into someone’s mouth, and laughing furniture (including a lamp shade and deer’s head), not to mention iconic one-liners like “swallow this” and “groovy!”.
However, this is not to say the film is a slouch in the horror department. On the contrary, it’s incredibly tense, atmospheric, violent and bloody. Evil Dead II boasts unnerving sound design with constantly howling eerie wind, multi-tracked demon voices, and the low, inhuman groaning of the force that emerges from the woods all contributing to an exceedingly creepy atmosphere. There are also scenes which take place in near-silence, ratcheting the tension up so that the viewer’s nerves are already in shreds by the time Raimi delivers some of the biggest chair-jolters in jump scare history.
Further cementing the film’s cult classic status is its delightfully handmade feel. Despite its bigger budget and more refined effects work, it never comes across as overtly slick or mass-produced. From the minutely detailed production design grime of the cabin to the charming DIY aesthetic of the stop-motion effects, it always seems like a labour of love rather than a cash-in product. It also possesses a very dreamlike and surreal quality, especially in its first half where it’s impossible to tell what is actually happening to Ash in reality and what is merely a product of his cabin fever. Then there’s Raimi’s incredible signature bravura camerawork which charges, prowls and attacks the characters as the force in the wood’s POV.
Of course, a discussion of Evil Dead II wouldn’t be complete without mentioning cult B-movie legend Bruce Campbell. As the series’ extremely unfortunate protagonist Ash, Campbell is on fine form here, displaying great range from screaming coward to pratfalling fool, all the way to macho, one-liner spouting action hero. He also impresses with his stunt work, literally going through hell as he gets beaten up by muppet-like monsters and sprayed with gallons of green gloop. The film also proves just how compelling an actor Campbell really is, carrying the first half of the movie almost single-handedly, many scenes comprising of Ash entirely alone in the cabin battling nothing but his own swiftly dwindling sanity.
A true standout of the horror genre then, Evil Dead II remains one of the best horror sequels ever, a film that is at once utterly unforgettably and endlessly re-watchable.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of this iconic film, we’re holding a one-off film screening at the Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield.
Details here – http://bit.ly/2mJ1oYl