Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Off Script: Evil Dead II

Film: Evil Dead II
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I had a birthday recently. My family bought me a Nook. The new Nooks are essentially tablets; they still have the e-reader capabilities of the old ones, of course, but the new ones are all about tapping in to that tablet market. The other night, I downloaded the NetFlix app and watched Double Indemnity as a test. It worked great. Today, I thought I’d go with a classic of a different sort. When I saw Evil Dead II appear on the streaming menu, I knew what I was watching today. I have holes in my personal collection. I don’t own Casablanca, for instance. If you pushed me, though, I’d say not owning a DVD copy of Evil Dead II is a bigger miss.

Evil Dead II is less a sequel of the original Evil Dead and much more a remake with much more slapstick and comedic sensibilities. It doesn’t so much pick up from where the first film left as retell the first story quickly and with far fewer characters and then spin off from there. In this version, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) retreat to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, the cabin was being used by a professor and his wife to translate an ancient book called the Necronomicon. Reading the passages aloud causes a demon to escape and possess the wife of the professor. Ash and Linda know none of this, of course, but when Ash finds the professor’s tape recording and plays it, Linda is possessed. Ash kills here and then is prevented from leaving the cabin, meaning that the terrible events may well play out again.

Ash spends the day dealing with everything that has happened around him, going slightly crazy, and having his hand become possessed. In one of the more famous scenes in the film, Ash’s hand tries to kill him, and Ash retaliates by lopping it off with a chainsaw. In the meantime, the professor’s daughter Annie (Sarah Barry) and her assistant/love interest Ed (Richard Domeier) are trying to get to the cabin with newly discovered pages from the Necronomicon. Because the bridge has been destroyed, they can’t get there. Instead, they are led there by Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), a redneck hillbilly couple.

What happens can be pretty easily imagined. The four new arrivals find Ash and a bloody chainsaw and assume the worst. They shove Ash into the cellar, not realizing that this is where the dead body of the professor’s wife Henrietta (played in undead mode by director Sam Raimi’s brother Ted) is buried. She awakens, Ash comes up from the basement, and all manner of over-the-top, blood-filled insanity happens. Everyone gets picked off one by one. There’s another implied tree rape, someone gets hacked apart with an axe, there’s a stabbing or two, and eventually the film comes to the sort of end that only Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi could devise for their schlub of a hero, Ash Williams.

I won’t go into details here, because Evil Dead II isn’t really a film that works on knowing about the plot. More or less, it’s a chance to see something astonishingly gory that is simultaneously homage to the Three Stooges. One of the evident central ideas to the film is that if a quart of blood is good and a gallon of blood is better, a fire hose filled with blood will be the best of all. Blood erupts in massive geysers, spraying over everyone in the room. It comes in red, green, black, and any other color Raimi wanted. There isn’t any attempt to make this real. In fact, most of the effects (except for the Henrietta monster at the end) are ridiculously cheap. But it doesn’t matter, because this isn’t about the effects; it’s about the inventiveness of the filmmaker.

Anyone who has followed Raimi’s career can see exactly where he got a lot of his signature camera angles and shots—he tried them in the first two Evil Dead films first. It’s pretty easy to tell that Raimi is still a young filmmaker with this film. He learned from Evil Dead and put a lot of what he learned into this one.

It might be too much to call Evil Dead II a great film in the sense of classic films considered important to explaining the human condition. This isn’t that kind of film at all. It’s great in the way people who love horror movies use the word. It’s ridiculously fun, spectacularly bloody, filled with great moments of slapstick humor, and enjoyable from start to finish.

It’s worth saying a little bit about the character of Ashley J. Williams, the creation of Raimi and Campbell. In Evil Dead, Ash is merely the one who survives. In this film and even more in Army of Darkness, the third film in the series, Ash is a comic hero and close to a perfect loser. Ash is a terrible loser except in those moments when he is fighting terrible evil. He screws everything up except when everything is on the line. In those moments, he is one of the truly great action and horror heroes.

I do love this film. I love it despite the cheese, despite the obvious places where the effects show through and you can see the strings. It’s tons of fun, and a lot of the time, that’s all you really want from a horror movie.

Why to watch Evil Dead II: Because it’s damn awesome.
Why not to watch: It’s cheesy as hell.


  1. I need to re-watch all three Ash movies. The first two have bled together in my mind. I actually started out backward: saw "Army of Darkness" first, then went back much later and saw the two "Evil Dead"s. "Army of Darkness" was hilarious, sloppy fun; I likened it to a graduate film student's art project.

    I sometimes wonder how Raimi would have handled "Bubba Ho-tep" had he directed.

    Still haven't seen the "Evil Dead" remake, but if the preview is any indication, all the humor was sucked out of the picture.

    1. Evil Dead (the first one) isn't a comedy. It's straight-up horror, which a lot of people forget in favor of the campy sequels (in particular, many people seem to think the second is the first, since it's a pseudo-remake). And as the remake is a remake of the first film, it's of course a straight-up horror and not a comedy. That being said, I *have* seen it, and... it's alright. The first two thirds is ok, but the third act is great fun and a nice twist on the original.

    2. Yeah, Nick's right here. Any comedy that exists in the original Evil Dead is unintentional, and mostly there because it was an amateur cast and director making a movie on a budget that couldn't afford shoestrings.

      The three movies are very different in tone. Evil Dead attempts to be straight horror, and manages to succeed in places. Evil Dead II is a comedy remake that still has its share of horror elements. Army of Darkness is far more comedy than horror. I wouldn't let my kids see the first one, and wouldn't let the younger one see the sequel right now. They could both watch the third without many issues.

  2. I've only seen this one once. It was the last of the trilogy I saw. I can't remember if I saw the first or third first, but I love both. I've seen the first one the most, but I desperately want to watch Army of Darkness more--just never seem to get the chance. I liked Evil Dead 2 when I saw it, but I need to see it again before I pass any kind of ultimate judgment.

    1. It's worth seeing again. I enjoy all three, but I like them all for completely different reasons. Evil Dead II is the one I've seen the most--it was my introduction to the series.

  3. You know my feelings on horror films already. Of the three films in the trilogy I liked Evil Dead II the best and it's the only one of the three I can say that I genuinely liked. And I liked it because of the humor (all the little Ashes running around made me chuckle.)

    If you like Bruce Campbell and horror humor then Bubba Ho-Tep and My Name is Bruce are recommended, especially the first one. It's actually my favorite Campbell film.

    I do have to say that your collection suffers more for not having Casablanca in it (your choice for the best of all the Best Picture winners) than it does not having Evil Dead II in it.

    1. The little Ashes are in Army of Darkness.

      On a grand scale, Casablanca is a bigger gap, but on a personal level, Evil Dead II is more a part of my personal oeuvre.

  4. This movie is definitely the best of the three, and something I wish more horror-comedies in the modern age looked to when they're trying to do something cool, new, fun, or even innovative. Highly doubt it would work on anybody, but it'd be worth a shot considering how iconic this movie is, even 26 years after its initial-release. Groovy review SJ.

    1. I admit to both a big soft spot and a big ol' warm fuzzy for this film. I just makes me happy.